Serb 'Illegals' Operate Behind Enemy Lines In Kosovo

Despite denials from all sides it appears the Yugoslav Army (VJ) has left several officers behind in the north of Kosovo. But are these so-called Serbian 'illegals' abducting foreign journalists and aid workers?

Serb 'Illegals' Operate Behind Enemy Lines In Kosovo

Despite denials from all sides it appears the Yugoslav Army (VJ) has left several officers behind in the north of Kosovo. But are these so-called Serbian 'illegals' abducting foreign journalists and aid workers?

Thursday, 10 November, 2005

Jakup Krasniqi, secretary of the Party for Democratic Progress of Kosovo, firmly believes it to be true. "Serbian secret enemy services are active in Kosovo," he has told KFOR commander General Klaus Reinhardt, "killing the elderly and children."

But these reports - that Serbian army and paramilitary police continue to work underground in Kosovo - are repeatedly denied by sources inside KFOR and Belgrade.

Former KFOR commander General Mike Jackson has already dismissed the idea and even former Yugoslav army chief Momcilo Perisic has denied the reports to IWPR when asked. "I join the opinion of Generals Jackson and (former commander of Serb forces in Kosovo General Nebojsa) Pavkovic who claim that there are no members of the Yugoslav armed forces in Kosovo," he said.

However, there is evidence that indicates that these esteemed officers either lack up to date intelligence or are for some reason, being economical with the truth.

"In principle, we are trying to be very low key," said one 'illegal' operative in an interview with IWPR. "Especially, not to touch foreign journalists and aid workers since we are aware that the world is very touchy about them.

"We catch them only if we know with certainty that they are spies or are taking part in the transfer of arms to the Sandzak (a largely Muslim populated region of Serbia). But even these ones, we maltreat only a little and possibly take to Serbia and hand over to the police. Shiptars (a derogatory Serbian phrase for Albanians) are another matter...

"However, not even there are we exposing ourselves."

Pavkovic, commander of the VJ Third Army, may be denying the existence of the illegals to people like Perisic, but he is reportedly being more than frank about the difficult conditions faced by his men in his reports to his commanders.

Members of one Yugoslav Army (VJ) unit, the 125th motorised brigade, remained behind in Kosovo after the rest of the VJ withdrew under agreement with NATO forces. When asked to define the phrase "remained behind in Kosovo", IWPR's source, an former VJ officer (who may still be on active service) said they stayed inside Kosovo and still actively serve the VJ.

"They are officers, even though there are policemen as well, who spent many years in Kosovo on active service, started their families there, built houses, acquired property, etc, and who eagerly accepted the high command's proposal that they remain in Kosovo. I cannot tell how many of them are there and what their tasks are, but they are there and they will act on orders at any given moment," he said.

However despite a lot of fighting talk from Belgrade, hopes of an early return that the Yugoslav Army to Kosovo get thinner by the day - a fact that the 'illegals' are all too aware of.

"They left us here for several months," another source said. "Our superior officer suggested to us that we 'melt into the environment and wait.' 'For how long?' I asked. 'Several months' - he responded. 'In any case, we will return before winter'." But it didn't happen.

"The winter has arrived now and I have taken my family to Serbia," he said. "It is much too dangerous there (Kosovo). I occasionally go for a day, but even that is rarer and rarer."

Word is going around that the VJ is prepared to offer material benefits to such people, providing bigger flats and higher salaries. One gets the impression that the VJ does not consider its mission in Kosovo ended and wishes to encourage as many of its people as possible to stay in the province.

There are rumours within the VJ that all units and institutions of the army received an announcement and accompanying questionnaire aimed at encouraging active servicemen to return to Kosovo, offering these recruits various benefits.

During the last month however, plans went awry and all the orders and questionnaires were retrieved and sent back to Belgrade.

"A man came and collected all the papers without offering any explanations. I assume that everything has been destroyed. Again I assume that the entire campaign went much too widely and that too many people knew about it," the former VJ officer said.

The VJ continues to treat the now Kosovar Albanian-held territory, what Belgrade calls Kosovo and Metohija, as a part of the territory of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

Indeed the next draft of recruits to the VJ will include youths of Serbian nationality from Kosovo born in 1972, whether they are still resident in the province or refugees currently displaced inside Serbia. How the draft papers are to be distributed is not known.

In order to facilitate the drafting of conscripts from Kosovo after the arrival of KFOR, the VJ headquarters of the Pristina military district created a network of military departments around the municipalities of Serbia bordering on Kosovo.

But youths, currently displaced as refugees inside Serbia, are refusing to report to the relevant authorities at their new locations.

At a recently convened round table discussion dedicated to the problem of refugees, Marijana Pavlovic, in charge of social issues at the UNHCR Office in Kraljevo, said her office has registered some 17,000 refugees in her area. But as she points out, very few of those registered were young men. To register would reveal their whereabouts to the army draft and there is much resistance to the idea of serving in Milosevic's army, even its reserves.

Stojan Smigic, from the vicinity of Istok, a small town in Metohija, lives as a refugee on the outskirts of Kraljevo. Smigic said, "I was in the war in Slovenia as a regular soldier. I hardly made it back alive because I was wounded. In Bosnia, I was a volunteer.

"Here, in Kosovo, I defended my own village until Milosevic betrayed us. If I register on any of Milosevic's lists, he will draft me again and betray me again. That is out of the question. Stojan Smigic has fought enough in Milosevic's wars."

The author is an independent journalist in Serbia.

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