Comment: Kosovo Honeymoon Ends.

America is running out of patience with Kosovo Albanian leaders over their failure to curb militant members of their community.

Comment: Kosovo Honeymoon Ends.

America is running out of patience with Kosovo Albanian leaders over their failure to curb militant members of their community.

Tuesday, 21 March, 2000

The recent visit to Pristina by United States State Department spokesman James Rubin and White House Balkans advisor Chris Hill marked the end of Washington's honeymoon with Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leaders.


Following the recent violence in Mitrovica and Presevo and continued revenge attacks by ethnic Albanians on Serbs, Rubin and Hill conveyed a stern message from Washington - put an end to the aggression.


The message, however, has arrived too late and is addressed to leaders who, despite holding positions of power, may lack the necessary influence to deliver on the demands. The recent emergence of new political parties and new militant movements has raised questions over the influence of established ethnic Albanian leaders at local and regional level.


Washington was clever to send Rubin and Hill. From the time of the Rambouillet talks, Rubin has won the trust and confidence of Hashim Thaci, former leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army, UCK, and the present chairman of the Party for Democratic Prosperity of Kosovo, PPDK.


Before the NATO bombing campaign, Rubin met Thaci several times in Kosovo, Albania and Macedonia. Likewise Hill, a critic of the UCK, has been a constant supporter of Ibrahim Rugova, president of the Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK. Their relationship dates back to 1991.


The United Nations mission in Kosovo, UNMIK, stripped Thaci and Rugova of their respective, self-appointed titles of prime minister and president, leading most Albanians to understand that UNMIK was now in full control.


For that reason, Washington's public and private reprimand of Albanian leaders for their failure to control their constituency has left many Albanians puzzled.


At the same time, Rubin and Hill made little mention of Belgrade's continued role in destabilising the province or Europe's failure to effectively administer the province. The pre-war understanding was that the United States would finance the war, and Europe Kosovo's post-war reconstruction and development.


An array of local analysts, journalists and activists briefed Hill and Rubin, explaining that neither Thaci nor Rugova are in a position to halt Albanian revenge attacks on Serbs. To date there is no proof that Thaci or Rugova have been involved in orchestrating these attacks.


As in the past, Rugova has assumed a passive approach to the issues facing Kosovo. He returned to Pristina last autumn and has yet to leave the city or indeed his home. Rugova continues to behave like a mystic, pedalling his pacifist philosophy through the media.


When asked by the international administration to become more engaged in the practicalities of running the province, Rugova's most concrete response was to present a gift of a crystal rock as a sign of his appreciation for the international communities efforts.


Thaci, in contrast, has adopted a more active role, visiting those villages and towns most affected by violence. He was most recently in Mitrovica. But in recent months Thaci has lost much of his party structure and with it, his influence over former UCK fighters.


Naim Maloku, one of the better-known and influential former UCK leaders, recently broke ranks with Thaci's party to form the Liberal Party of Kosovo. Maloku took with him a number of key former UCK members.


Now Ramush Haradina, another former UCK leader, has abandoned the PPDK to create his own party, the Alliance. At the same time, two other key figures in the PPDK, Bardhyl Mahumti and Jakup Krasniqi, have dropped from the Kosovar political radar screen. The young Thaci has been left to deal with the demands of the West, isolated and with a limited base of influence.


The two flash points that worry NATO are Mitrovica and Presevo. In Presevo former UCK fighters are joining the newly formed Liberation Army of Presevo, Bujanovac, Medvegje, known by the Albanian acronym UCPBM. Jhefket Hassani, a sixty-year-old former poet, is believed to be the leader of the UCPBM.


The municipalities of Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvegje, located in the southeast of Serbia bordering Kosovo, are populated by ethnic Albanians and have seen a spate of clashes in recent weeks between UCPBM fighters and Serb forces.


International humanitarian organisations estimate that over 6,000 ethnic Albanians have already been forced to flee into Kosovo.


The owner of a small bar in Pristina, popular with local artists, said he and 20 fellow UCK veterans would be leaving for the area at the end of the week. "We have sworn to defend our people and that's what we will do," he said.


At present the UCPBM is thought to number between 40 and 50 men, but its membership is almost certainly growing. Lirk Celja, a former UCK fighter and now the director of the Kosovo National Theatre, believes that, should the international community fail to assist Albanians in Presevo, the UCK will have to fill the vacuum.


"There are about 20,000 unemployed UCK fighters, shunned by the internationals and the locals and with nothing to do, " said Celja. " Meanwhile Presevo is saying the UCK forgot about them. Not too long ago we Kosovars said the same thing about Albania and its failure to come to our rescue. So it should come as no surprise that, if the internationals are not willing to assist the Albanians in Presevo, the UCK will."


Recently, US troops seized more than 200 uniforms, 22 crates of rifle and machine-gun ammunition and other military supplies bound for Presevo.


In Mitrovica, Bajram Rexhepi, the moderate mayor of the southern Albanian populated part of the town and a PPDK member, noted that Albanian demonstrations were "spontaneous and very often a photo opportunity". But he also said the Serbs in the northern half of the town are "organized and are taking direct orders from Belgrade."


A number of international aid workers in Mitrovica agree, at least partly, with Rexhepi's assessment. "I have witnessed members of the international press asking young people to create some chaos in the hope of sparking an incident for their cameras," said one US worker in Mitrovica.


The hate, crime and militancy Rubin and Hill warned the Albanian leaders to control are the work of individuals and renegade groups, outside the Albanian leaders' sphere of influence.


Under the terms of UN Resolution 1244, UNMIK is responsible for the security and administration of Kosovo. Thaci and Rugova are, at best, only advisors to the international administration.


Special Representative of the UN Secretary General, Bernard Kouchner, has openly complained that UNMIK is understaffed and lacks the necessary funds to administer Kosovo properly. Only 3,000 of the promised 6,000 international police officers are currently on duty in the province and only about half of the $2.2 billion in foreign aid has been delivered.


Meanwhile, both Washington and Brussels have acknowledged that Belgrade is co-ordinating efforts to destabilise Kosovo and the region. The NATO powers point to the recent build-up of Serbian troops along the Montenegrin and Kosovo borders and Belgrade's direct involvement in organising militant groups in the Serb controlled-part of Mitrovica.


Kosovo's ill-defined status, the ineffectual authority of the international administration and internal party political divisions have reduced the role and influence of the Albanian leaders to that of village politicians.


With their power diminishing daily and the international administration's failure to deliver adequate security and reconstruction, an ideal climate has emerged for criminals and militant groups to prosper. Meanwhile, the ever-present threat to the region emanating from Belgrade remains beyond Western diplomatic rhetoric and stern warnings from Rubin and Hill.


Fron Nazi is a regular IWPR contributor


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