Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Serb Agents Fuel Kosovo Violence

Belgrade has dispatched agents provocateurs to Kosovo in an effort to undermine international peace-keeping efforts.
By Miroslav Filipovic

Slobodan Milosevic has been smuggling elite police and federal army units into Kosovo to foment unrest between local Serbs and Albanians, Yugoslav military sources have told IWPR.


Special forces left behind in the province as "sleepers" following the withdrawal of Milosevic's forces last June have also been activated. [See "Serb 'Illegals' Operate Behind Enemy Lines in Kosovo", BCR No. 103, 17-Dec-99]


Both groups were involved in orchestrating the recent violence in Mitrovica, these sources say, including snipers from elite Serbian police forces. At least four Albanians have been shot dead by snipers.


The admissions by senior military sources in southern Serbia add weight to NATO claims that Yugoslav forces were directly involved in the unrest in the ethnically divided northern Kosovo town.


The IWPR sources reveal that while Belgrade officials were publicly denying any involvement in the violence, which left eleven people dead, they were privately exhilarated by the success of their intervention.


Milosevic's main aim is to sabotage the international peace-keeping efforts in Kosovo.


But at the same time, the sources say the Yugoslav president is keen to bolster support at home by casting the Serb minority in the province as defenceless victims of Albanian aggression.


A police centre in the village of Brzece in southern Serbia, close to the border with Kosovo, is reported to have been the base for the infiltration of Serbian forces into Kosovo.


IWPR sources say that Yugoslav troops and policemen change into civilian clothes and go on missions deep into Kosovo territory.


There are also suggestions they disguise themselves as NATO troops. Eye witnesses claim they have seen KFOR uniforms in storehouses at the Brzece base.


Policemen deployed at the base speak Albanian and would have no trouble passing themselves off as Kosovo Albanians. Interior ministry officials are also able to issue them with valid identification papers.


Staff at the centre are replaced every 15 days. Arrivals and departures take place at night to maintain the cloak of secrecy around the operation.


The last reinforcement, three buses of policemen armed to the teeth, arrived in Brzece on February 15.


The infiltrators are joining forces with a small number of Yugoslav Army and Serbian police officers left behind in Kosovo after the withdrawal of Milosevic's forces last year.


They spent many years on active service in Kosovo, built houses, bought property and started families there. It is also believed that the army has persuaded many of them to stay by offering them bigger flats and higher salaries.


There have also been reports that the federal military authorities have sought secretly to encourage servicemen to return to Kosovo with a range of inducements.


The "sleepers" have kept a low profile for the last few months, but have now been activated as part of Belgrade's attempts to undermine KFOR and the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).


"In this phase of the Kosovo crisis, the activation of a small number of 'sleepers' is designed to make KFOR and UNMIK appear incompetent," a Yugoslav military source told IWPR.


The IWPR sources say the Yugoslav military believes its intervention in Mitrovica has frustrated KFOR peace-keeping efforts in the town.


Certainly, NATO appears to be rapidly running out of ideas how to unify the town, especially after the recent clashes. Increasing numbers of troops have been brought into the town, and NATO leaders have made calls, so far deferred, for Alliance members to dispatch more troops to the province.


Miroslav Filipovic is an independent journalist from Kraljevo in Serbia.


More IWPR's Global Voices