Kosovo: ANA Menace Growing?

Extremist Albanian group says it's recruiting members of region's civilian protection force.

Kosovo: ANA Menace Growing?

Extremist Albanian group says it's recruiting members of region's civilian protection force.

Tuesday, 6 September, 2005

The leadership of the shadowy extremist group the Albanian National Army, ANA, has told IWPR that it has links to Kosovo's civil defence organisation.

Alban Vjosa, who claims to be the political leader of the ANA, said the radical group counts members of the Kosovo Protection Corps, KPC, amongst its ranks but that it does not specifically target the force for recruitment.

In a telephone interview with IWPR, Vjosa - speaking from Liege in Belgium - confirmed suspicions that KPC member Hamze Behrami, who was killed attempting to bomb the Kosovo Polje-Lesak railway line in northern Kosovo on April 11, was an ANA operative.

"Nobody, not even the KPC commander of Mitrovica zone, where the incident took place, knew that Hamze Behrami worked for KPC by day and ANA by night," he said.

Alban Vjosa, believed to be a pseudonym, is understood to be general secretary of the ANA, a militant group, dedicated to the unification of Albania with Albanian-populated territory in the Balkans, which emerged during the Macedonian conflict.

Thought to be originally from Albania, Vjosa has given numerous interviews to Albanian language newspapers in Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania. IWPR acquired his telephone number after making initial contact via the ANA's website and through reputable sources in the protectorate.

Asked what he felt motivated Behrami, Vjosa said, "Hamze Behrami felt himself superfluous in the KPC - he was unhappy and frustrated with the post-war political situation in Kosovo and with the ambiguity that surrounds the question over the region's status and that of the KPC [a reference to the fact that force is not the official army of Kosovo].

"Ultimately, Behrami was a man of action and it was a matter of days before he was going to leave the KPC."

The apparent admission by the ANA comes after KPC chief Agim Ceku last week dismissed three force commanders responsible for the area around the town of Zvecane in northern Kosovo where last month's bombing occurred.

KFOR suspicions that members of the KPC were involved in outlawed groups such as the ANA prompted it earlier this month to freeze KPC training programmes outside the protectorate until measures are introduced to weed out extremists from the force.

Doubts still remain over who the ANA are, despite UNMIK chief Michael Steiner's decision last month to officially declare it a terrorist group.

UNMIK police spokesman Barry Fletcher told IWPR last week that the group appears to be organised primarily via the internet. Fletcher emphasised that until the railway blast the ANA site was the only tangible thing about it. "We view the website as a money-making system from the Albanian diaspora," he said, adding that the bombing may have prompted by a need to reassure funders. "Perhaps the donors wanted to know where the action is."

But Steiner's decision may have backfired, since it appears to have served to bolster ANA recruitment. Vjosa told IWPR that since the decision to outlaw the group, membership applications are up by around 20 a day.

But while the ANA's stock amongst Albanians appears to be rising, the KPC leadership is increasingly coming under fire for failing to control what some of the corps do outside working hours. According to the rules of the organisation, members must not be associated with any political movement.

Ceku says his force has come under pressure to act against radicals within its ranks, but claims there is little he can do. "We are asked [by UNMIK and KFOR] to take concrete action on something which we have no power over. I have very limited authority to have an efficient control over my people. As a commander of KPC I am not even entitled to discharge or nominate KPC officers," he told IWPR.

UNMIK's chief coordinator for the KPC, General Andrew Cummings, confirmed that while this is the current situation the civilian defence force does have the authority to recommend that UNMIK take disciplinary action against those suspected of insubordination. "In a technical sense they are right," Cummings told IWPR, "but they are by no means powerless."

The KPC was officially constituted in January 2000 in a ceremony that was supposed mark the transformation of the former Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, into a civilian agency charged with providing emergency response and reconstruction services to Kosovo.

Modelled on the French Sécurité Civile, the KPC has 3,000 active members and an auxiliary branch of 2,000, who see their role as the future armed forces of an independent Kosovo.

While many Kosovars are unhappy with speed of negotiations on the final status of the protectorate, there are very few who believe that blowing up bridges is the best way to advance nation-building.

Even those considered to be radical nationalists believe the ANA's actions are foolhardy. One former KLA man, Ramiz Lladrovci, suspended from the KPC in July 2001 after the Bush administration expressed suspicions that he was among those who "undermine peace and stability in the region", believes that the ANA, whoever they may be, are fighting a losing battle. He pointed out that there are legal political parties in Kosovo who have a similar platform to the extremists but who don't condone violence to achieve their aims.

But while the likes of Lladrovci doubt whether the ANA poses a serious threat, others are taking them, and their alleged KPC links, seriously.

UNMIK spokesperson Isabella Karlowicz said at a press conference on May 6 that the KPC "is required not only to identify those members involved in the ANA but also to remove them. We want to see action".

While UNMIK and KFOR expect the KPC to give them names of the people involved, Ceku asserts that since responsibility for security in Kosovo lies with the two international forces, they are the ones who should investigate the incident.

"We don't want to avoid responsibility but we have asked to get special training in doing internal investigations of KPC members and we have received no assistance in that regard," he said.

Nonetheless, the ban on KPC training abroad is not going to be lifted unless the international community is convinced serious measures have been taken to ensure members are not involved with ANA or other groups.

Asked if he felt the ANA's actions would damage the KPC by restricting their training, Vjosa remained unrepentant, "We don't see that this will even slightly damage the KPC - these measures are in fact good for their officers because there is no need for them to go and train abroad as this experience will only soften them as soldiers."

Jeta Xharra is IWPR project coordinator in Kosovo

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