Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
The KLA's New Model Administration
For two months last summer, before it fell to Serb forces, Malishevo was the pride of Kosovo Albanians - an oasis controlled entirely by the Kosovo Liberation Army. Now it is again under KLA control and a peace-time administration appears to be putting down roots.
As the KLA's main stronghold, Malishevo served as an experiment in what life free from Serbian authority might be like: KLA soldiers ran a checkpoint at the southern entrance to the town; put up a sign saying "Liberated Territory of Kosova"; dispatched uniformed KLA civilian police to direct traffic in the town centre; and staged press conferences.
While Serbian forces pounded away at not-distant Drenica villages and other parts of the province, children in Malishevo swam in a pool next to the town mosque, enjoying a bit of summer-time normalcy.
Today, all of Kosovo is living the reality that the KLA in Malishevo dreamed of last year: that they would finally be free to run their own territory; put up their own signs; make laws; police the streets; and have their own checkpoints. Or almost. A shadow remains - a UN Security Council resolution which designates the UN Interim Mission in Kosovo UNMIK) as the province's only legitimate government.
Kosovo's KLA-led provisional government, headed by 31-year-old Hashim Thaci, hopes that the UN Security Council resolution is mostly so much ink. And given the slowness of the UNMIK deployment throughout the province, there has been little to dispel his government from this view.
While the UNMIK recruits some 2,000 international staff to administer Kosovo (as well as some 3,000 international police), Thaci's provisional government has appointed local administrations for all of the province's 28 municipalities. Malishevo's KLA-appointed governor is one Gani Krasniqi.
A middle-aged economist who previously worked in the Democratic League of Kosova (LDK)-led local government, served time as a political prisoner, and then joined the KLA last summer, Krasniqi comes across as a capable and committed public servant. He estimates that about 60,000 people, and 45 villages, come under the zone of his authority - one of the most devastated during the past year and a half of conflict.
Krasniqi works out of a cement public administration building in Malishevo, that flies the red and black Albanian flag. Locals mill around the front steps of the building, seeking help from Krasniqi and his staff in solving their multiple problems: missing family and friends; contaminated water wells; destroyed property; money owed; possible jobs.
Given that no one else is there to help them, local residents seem to view Krasniqi as the man to get their water and electricity turned on, report missing relatives, and figure out how to proceed with their broken lives. He serves as a kind of clearing house for their problems.
To date, no UNMIK representative has made it to Malishevo to tell Krasniqi that his administration may be illegitimate. Meanwhile, Krasniqi is getting on with the business of government.
Krasniqi's eyes light up when he talks about water. It may be Malishevo's most pressing problem. He goes to get a three-ring binder from an office bookshelf that contains the plans for a water project for the region.
"This is the dryest area of Kosova. The centre of Malishevo does not have running water," Krasniqi explains. Before the war, we had a referendum which passed, and then collected money from local people to make a water system for Malishevo and eight nearby villages, that would have capacity for six litres per second."
Krasniqi describes the fine details of the project: the water source, the pipes, the costs. He comes across as an able civil servant, patient, committed, detail-oriented and helpful.
Sergio Vieira de Mello, the Brazilian diplomat who served as interim UN administrator for Kosovo, told a press conference last week in New York that his successor Bernard Kouchner would be willing to work with KLA-appointed civil authorities such as Krasniqi, if they "carry out their functions democratically and inclusively". If not, he warned, they would be removed by KFOR.
For his part, Krasniqi says he is open to working with representatives of other political parties. There are no Serbs in the area with whom the Albanians might be asked to share power.
"I have two explanations for why I should be the local president for now. For one, I was previously in the local government, so I have experience.
And also I was previously elected as a deputy to the local government, so I had the respect of people before."
Krasniqi says the UN shouldn't be afraid of the KLA.
"The UCK [KLA] is our pride," Krasniqi says. "The Serbs had everything: weapons, sophisticated technology, communications. The Serbian military and police and paramilitaries, they had so many more weapons than we had. They treated Kosova as a colony. Nobody could accept this situation. But the KLA was the first group to say 'No' to the Serbs. To say 'Stop'."
Even if unrecognized by the international community, the KLA's power is felt in Kosovo's towns and villages.
Outside the public administration building where Krasniqi toils over plans for a Malishevo water plant, stands Adem Bajrami. He says he is from the village of Bubavec, where out of 151 houses, only one is not damaged. But he has come to the regional center of Malishevo to report missing friends..
Last year, as his family fled Serb forces into the woods, Bajrami, 40, was among 14 Kosovo Albanian men arrested and charged with being members of the KLA. He spent five months in jail, and still cannot locate six of his comrades.
"I am waiting here for help from the government. I believe in the provisional government," Bajrami, a school teacher and father of six children, says. "I believe in Thaci."
Analysts say the appointment of local governments by Thaci and the top KLA leadership is part of a strategy to translate the popular post-war appeal of the KLA into future political power. In other words, the local KLA-appointed governments will in future elections help "get out the vote".
In an interview in Pristina on Monday, Thaci said he would soon announce the formation of a new political party, that would "represent the interests of the KLA".
Laura Rozen has been reporting on the Balkans since 1996.
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