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Kosovo: KFOR Crackdown on Albanian Rebels

Fresh arrests in Kosovo are the latest move in a KFOR campaign against Albanian hardliners throughout the region.
By Arben Qirezi

Six Albanians were arrested on Monday, August 12, by NATO-led peacekeeping forces in Pristina and accused of plotting to re-ignite war in neighbouring Macedonia.


KFOR officers said the suspects were part of "armed extremist groups posing a threat to regional security" and had been using the protectorate as a safe haven to plot violence in Macedonia. The arrests were planned as part of a crackdown on Albanian hardliners in the region.


The six suspects included Nevzat Halili, a former prominent politician in Macedonia, who served in the leadership of the main Albanian party in the early 1990s and was later accused of fomenting armed insurrection.


Some of the others arrested were identified as Ismet Kryeziu from Prizren, Kosovo; Sadik Jashari from Medvedja, southern Serbia, and Hamdi Ajdini from Presevo, southern Serbia.


Macedonian prime minister Ljupco Georgijevski recently named Halili as a ringleader of a paramilitary group called the Republican Army of Illirida, and claimed it was planning to derail the fragile peace process.


The arrests came a day after Kosovo's UN police, supported by KFOR troops, arrested Rrustem Mustafa, a former commander in the disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, who is better known by his nom de guerre, Remi.


Remi's arrest provoked a protest by thousands of Albanians on Tuesday in the northern town of Podujevo, where he served as a regional commander of the KLA during its conflict with Serb forces in 1998-99.


The UN mission said Remi was suspected of murder, torture and the illegal detention of 11 Albanian civilians during the war. However, his supporters see him as a hero who fought against repressive Serb rule.


Remi's detention was the latest in a series of arrests and indictments against former KLA members charged with committing crimes during the Kosovo conflict.


KFOR Commander General Marcel Valenten said in a BBC interview that the "extremists" arrested on Monday were "trying to fuel fresh conflict in Macedonia in an attempt to disrupt the electoral campaign in that country. Some people are trying to resume the fighting and are trying to use Kosovo as a safe haven".


The security force's spokesman Drew Anderson told IWPR that the recent arrests were "intelligence-led operations" aimed at curbing armed radical groups that pose a threat to the region and its peacekeepers.


Armed conflict in Macedonia between the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army, NLA, and the Macedonian government was ended by an internationally brokered peace deal in August 2001. The Ohrid agreement called for the dismantling of the NLA, granted ethnic Albanians more civil rights, recognised Albanian as a second language in Macedonia and created a multi-ethnic police force in mixed areas.


However, some ultra-nationalist Albanian groups remained dissatisfied and oppose the former NLA leader, Ali Ahmeti, who agreed to participate in upcoming elections through a new ethnic Albanian party, the Democratic Union for Integration.


Several armed groups opposed to the Macedonia peace settlement have announced themselves, including the Albanian National Army, ANA, which has been accused of provoking political violence against its fellow ethnic parties. Many former NLA and ANA members are Kosovars who formerly served in the KLA.


NATO is also concerned about lingering tension in the Presevo Valley in southern Serbia, where ethnic Albanians and the Serb security forces clashed two years ago. The violence was settled in an agreement providing for the return of displaced persons and more powers for local government in towns with Albanian majorities. However, some hardliners still want to see the area annexed to Kosovo.


In another sign of an increasingly tough approach by the UN mission, international prosecutors this week handed down indictments against high profile members of the KLA's successor, the Kosovo Protection Corps, KPC, in western Kosovo. A prominent local politician was also indicted.


Ramush Haradinaj, Kosovo assembly member and president of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, was indicted this week in connection with a gunfight in 2000. Haradinaj, his brother Daut and a group of men allegedly exchanged fire with a rival family in Strellc in western Kosovo.


Although KFOR has sometimes used the term "armed extremist groups" in describing the target of its recent operations, it declines to confirm the existence of organised insurgencies in the protectorate.


Last weekend, KFOR launched a search operation named "Iron Fist" in the Drenica Valley, a stronghold of former KLA members. Among the weapons found were 17 rifles and two anti-tank grenade launchers. The house of Nuredin Lushtaku, commander of the Kosovo Guard, an elite formation of the Kosovo Protection Corps, was believed to have been part of the search.


In a statement, a security force spokesperson said that the search operation was "consistent with our responsibility to provide a safe and secure environment across the protectorate and with our long term strategy to help the people of Kosovo drive out extremism and organised crime."


Arben Qirezi is a regular IWPR contributor in Pristina


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