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Kosovo: Bin Laden Propaganda War

Kosovo Serbs are mystified by reports that mujahedin have set up a training camp in their village.
By Nehat Islami

Bogus reports of bin Laden training camps in Kosovo have been made before, but the latest claim has taken the Balkan propaganda war to the borders of the absurd.


In the latest round of scare-mongering, it's been alleged that the village of Ropotova, in south-east Kosovo, is a focal point of the Saudi dissident's al-Qaeda network.


Ropotova is, however, an ethnically-Serb village, a place where even a single mujahedin would, needless to say, stand out somewhat from the crowd. But try telling that to the Russian and Macedonian media


On October 16, the Moscow-based RIA Novosti news agency, citing an unnamed correspondent in Kosovo, claimed a group of some 50 Algerian and Afghan mujahedin were training at a camp in the Kamenica municipality, located in the US K-For sector.


The camp, RIA Novosti alleged, was being run by Ayman al Zavahiri, one of bin Laden's closest collaborators and employed as instructors Albanian deserters from the Yugoslav army. The trainees, the report went on, would make up terrorist units for operations in Kosovo and Macedonia.


Three days later, Dnevnik, a leading Macedonian newspaper, quoted "reliable sources" as confirming the RIA Novosti reports and pinpointing the location of the camp in the village of Ropotova.


The reports failed to mention that Ropotova's 150 homes are all occupied by ethnic Serbs, who were mystified how anyone might imagine that their village was home to mujahedin - their sworn enemies.


"What sort of mujahedin would dare to come to our village," one local told me. "Ropotova is surrounded from all sides with Serb villages."


Zoran Jovanovic, a Serb municipal official from Kamenica, said, "I am in permanent contact with the Serb and Albanian locals, but have never heard from Ropotova villagers about any such camp. This is a small territory. If there was something, we would know."


The claims of mujahedin activity have also been rubbished by US K-For units patrolling the area. "The regular air and ground patrols conducted by the Russian and American troops in close cooperation with the Serb and Albanian communities in the region have not discovered such information," said K-For spokesman Major Randy Martin.


Shaip Surdulli, head of the Kamenica municipality, believes the training camp claims were circulated to create tension between Serbs and Albanians ahead of the upcoming elections; to brand Albanians "allies of the 'terrorist' Osama bin Laden" and to discredit US troops operating in Kosovo.


The Kamenica municipality is home to around 55,000 people, 18 per cent of whom are Serb. Kamenica town, with a population of 10,000, suffered few casualties during the 1999 war. Serbs and Albanians continue to live and work together there, in a rare example of ethnic tolerance.


The municipal assembly has 11 Serb advisors on its books and 23 Serbs work in the local administration, two in senior positions. They also serve in the local police force and travel freely to their church and to a local market they share with Albanians. And, perhaps most significantly, since the end of the Kosovo war, there has been no violence between the two communities.


Nehat Islami is the IWPR project manager in Kosovo.

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