By CHRIS HEDGES
The campaign, in which as many as half a dozen top rebel commanders were shot dead, was directed by Hashim Thaci and two of his lieutenants, Azem Syla and Xhavit Haliti, these officials said. Thaci denied through a spokesman that he had been responsible for any killings.
Although the United States has long been wary of the KLA, the rebel group has become the main ethnic Albanian power in Kosovo. Rebel commanders supplied NATO with target information during the bombing campaign. Now, after the war, the United States and other NATO powers have effectively made Thaci and the KLA partners in rebuilding Kosovo. The agreement NATO signed with Thaci, for example, envisions turning the KLA into a civilian police force and leaves open the possibility that the KLA could become a provisional army modeled on the U.S. National Guard.
While none of the KLA officials interviewed saw Thaci or his aides execute anyone, they recounted, and in some cases said they had witnessed, incidents in which Thaci's rivals had been killed shortly after he or one of his aides had threatened them with death.
"When the war started, everyone wanted to be the chief," said Rifat Haxhijaj, 30, a former lieutenant in the Yugoslav army who left the rebel movement last September and now lives in Switzerland. "For the leadership, this was never just a war against Serbs -- it was also a struggle for power."
Thaci's representative in Switzerland, Jashae Salihu, denied accounts of assassinations. "These kind of reports are untrue," he said. "Neither Thaci nor anyone else from the KLA is involved in this kind of activity. Our goal has been to establish a free Kosovo and nothing more."
The accusations of assassinations and purges were made in interviews with about a dozen former and current Kosovo Liberation Army officials, two of whom said they had witnessed executions of Thaci's rivals; a former senior diplomat for the Albanian government; a former police official in the Albanian government who worked with the rebel group, and several Western diplomats.
But the State Department Wednesday challenged some aspects of these accounts. "We simply don't have information to substantiate allegations that there was a KLA-leadership-directed program of assassinations or executions," James Rubin, the State Department spokesman, said.
Rubin said he could not exclude the possibility that the rebel leaders were somehow tied to the killings. But he said department officials had checked a wide range of sources in the past 24 hours and could not confirm the accusations.
A senior State Department official and a Western diplomat in the Balkans, citing intelligence reports and extensive contacts with KLA officials inside and outside Kosovo, said they were aware of executions of middle-grade officers suspected of collaborating with the Serbs, but said they had no evidence to link those killings with Thaci.
The Western diplomat in the Balkans said, however, that Thaci is legendary in the region for ruthless tactics.
"Thaci has engaged in some pretty rough intimidation" of officials in a rival party, the diplomat said, "but none of them have been killed." He added: "There have been detentions, and the victims allege beatings. We cannot prove that. Thaci, according to them, was in charge of the team that detained them and was in charge of the interrogation and personally threatened them.
"Thaci has a reputation for being pretty tough," the diplomat continued. "Haliti and Syla are not known for their sweet tempers. This is a rough neighborhood, and intimidation and assassinations happen."
Former and current KLA officials also charge that a campaign of assassinations was carried out in close cooperation with the Albanian government, which often placed agents from the Albanian secret police at the disposal of the rebel commanders.
Rubin said the State Department did not have any information to suggest that the KLA leadership directed an execution program in conjunction with the Albanian security services.
The Western diplomat in the Balkans said he knew of at least two Albanian secret police officers who were fighting with the KLA. "The two officers are brigade or battalion commanders, and they've been in the field fighting," the diplomat said. "They're volunteers from Albania."
Albania has long waged a campaign to unite with Kosovo, a Serbian province where Albanians are in the majority. Such unification was briefly achieved during Fascist occupation in World War II and was held out as a goal by radical groups financed and backed by Tirana in the later part of the century.
Indeed, the close relationship between Thaci and the Tirana government, which has a reputation for corruption and has been linked by Western diplomats to drug trafficking, is one of the factors that disillusioned many former fighters who were interviewed in Germany, Switzerland and Albania. The fighters said they had fought to create a more Western, democratic state, free from Albanian influence and control.
The Albanian minister of information, Musa Ulqini, said that there was "never any violation of our constitutional law." He added: "The Albanian government has relations with all of the political and military forces in Kosovo, but it insists that these forces unite and speak with one voice."
Two former rebel leaders and a former Albanian police official, interviewed in Tirana, said that Haliti, who is officially Thaci's ambassador to Albania, was working in Kosovo with 10 secret police agents from Albania to form an internal security network that would be used to silence dissenters in Kosovo.
Thaci, 30, has named a government, with himself as prime minister, and denounced Ibrahim Rugova, who for nearly a decade was the self-styled president of Kosovo and ran a successful campaign of nonviolent protest after the Serbs stripped Kosovo of its autonomy in 1989.
Thaci has long ties to radical groups that called for the violent overthrow of the government in Belgrade. He joined a clandestine organization known as the Kosovo Popular Movement that existed on the fringes of Pristina University.
The group was financed and backed by the Stalinist dictator of Albania, Enver Hoxha, until his death in 1985. Its members, including Syla, whom Thaci appointed his defense minister, and Haliti have become the core of the leadership that dominates the Kosovo Liberation Army.
Violence has long swirled around Thaci, whose nom de guerre was Snake.
In June 1997, in an incident that many in the underground guerrilla movement found ominous, a Kosovar Albanian reporter who had close links with the movement was found dead in his apartment in Tirana, his face disfigured by repeated stabbings with a screwdriver and the butt end of a broken bottle.
The reporter, Ali Uka, was supportive of the rebel movement, but he was also independent enough to criticize it. At the time of his death, he was sharing his apartment with Thaci.
Thaci inspired fear and respect in his home base of the central Drenica region in Kosovo as he organized armed units and carried out ambushes against Serbian policemen. In the early days of the rebel uprising, in March 1998, Thaci moved about from his hometown of Broja in a small compact car with a few bodyguards and wore an unadorned camouflage uniform.
There were persistent reports at the time that he personally carried out executions of Kosovar Albanians whom he had branded as traitors or collaborators, but no witnesses have surfaced.
Thaci was involved, along with Haliti, in arms smuggling from Switzerland in the years before the 1998 uprising, say current and former senior rebel commanders.
Thaci and Haliti both have wives and children in Switzerland, although Haliti has formed a new family in Tirana, where he has a large villa and close links with senior government leaders, say former and current rebel officials in Albania.
When the uprising began, and money and volunteers flooded into Albania from the 700,000 Kosovar Albanians living in Europe, Thaci and Haliti found themselves in charge of thousands of fighters and tens of millions of dollars.
The arms smuggling mushroomed into a huge operation that saw trucks loaded with weapons, most bought from Albanian officials, headed for KLA camps on the border. By the war's end, former and current KLA officials estimate, the KLA. paid $50 million to Albanian officials for weapons and ammunition.
In April 1998, a KLA commander who transported many of the weapons, Ilir Konushevci, was ambushed and killed on the road outside Tropoja in northern Albania. A few days earlier, in a heated meeting with senior commanders, he had accused Haliti of misusing funds, according to commanders who were present.
The commander had charged that Haliti was buying boxes of grenades at $2 apiece and charging the movement $7 for each grenade. The killing, although it took place in a rebel-controlled region in northern Albania, was blamed on the Serbs.
Other killings of rebel commanders and political rivals ascribed to Thaci are attributed to a struggle to consolidate control and eliminate potential challengers.
"Cadavers have never been an obstacle to Thaci's career," said Bujar Bukoshi, the prime minister in exile in Rugova's administration, which is often at odds with the KLA. One Western diplomat, citing intelligence reports, said that Thaci planned an unsuccessful assassination attempt on Bukoshi last May. "Thaci has a single goal and that is to promote himself, to be No. 1," Bukoshi said.
As the rebels suffered reverses on the battlefield in the summer and fall of 1998, in large part due to inexperience and a lack of central command, they turned to Kosovar Albanians who had served in the former Yugoslav army.
The most experienced was a former colonel named Ahmet Krasniqi who had organized some 600 former officers, most living in Switzerland and Germany, to join the fight. Krasniqi had surrendered his garrison in Gospic, Croatia, in 1991 rather than defend Slobodan Milosevic's regime in Belgrade.
Krasniqi had the blessing of Bukoshi, who allowed him to pass on $4.5 million to the KLA raised by Rugova's administration. He swiftly set up training camps in the border region and formed special units. Bukoshi named him commander of a rival military structure known as the Armed Forces of the Kosovo Republic. The effort to join the armed struggle was a belated attempt by the Rugova administration, which had swiftly lost political support in Kosovo, to regain credibility by playing a role in the "liberation" of the Serbian province.
Thaci and Haliti accepted the money and the trained volunteers, integrating them into KLA units, but began to thwart Krasniqi's attempt to build an independent military force. In June 1998 the KLA, which controlled the border, began to divert or block arms being taken over the mountain to these rival units fighting around Pec and Decane. As tensions rose, Thaci and the Albanian authorities decided to eliminate Krasniqi, according to former rebel commanders and two former Albanian officials interviewed in Tirana.
They said that in the middle of September 1998, Albanian police stopped Krasniqi and several aides and confiscated their weapons. Krasniqi's office in Tirana was raided by about 50 policemen and emptied of guns and munitions. On Sept. 21 at 11 p.m. on the way back from a restaurant in Tirana, Krasniqi ran into a police checkpoint about 300 yards from his office, according to a former KLA commander who was with Krasniqi. Krasniqi and his two companions were again frisked for weapons, and their vehicle was searched. The two cars behind Krasniqi, which carried aides, were not allowed through the checkpoint.
When Krasniqi and his two companions got out of their gray Opal jeep they saw three men emerge from the shadows with black hoods over their faces. The men, speaking in an Albanian accent that distinguished them from Kosovar Albanians, ordered the two men with Krasniqi down on the ground.
"Which one is it?" asked one of the gunmen, according to one of the commanders who was prone on the asphalt.
"The one in the middle," said another. The gunmen, who held a pistol a few inches from Krasniqi's head, fired a shot. He then fired two more shots into Krasniqi's head once he fell onto the pavement.
American officials also had reports that the KLA killed Krasniqi, but said there were also subsequent, conflicting reports from the region that he was killed by disaffected members of his own unit.
After Krasniqi's death, former KLA commanders said, the killings, purges and arrests accelerated. KLA police, dressed in distinctive black fatigues, threw into detention anyone who appeared hostile to Thaci. Many of these people were beaten.
One commander, Blerim Kuci, was taken away in October 1998 to a KLA jail and hauled before a revolutionary court. He was held for weeks on charges that he was a Serb collaborator and then suddenly released in the face of a large Serb offensive and allowed to rejoin the fight.
"I saw an accused collaborator tried before a revolutionary court and then tied to the back of a car in Glodjane and dragged through the streets until he died," said a former KLA officer in Albania, who asked not to be identified. A senior State Department official and a Western diplomat in the Balkans confirmed this account.
As NATO bombs fell on Kosovo this April, two more outspoken commanders, Agim Ramadani, a captain in the former Yugoslav army, and Sali Ceku, were killed, each in an alleged Serb ambush.
Although a former senior rebel officer in Tirana said that Thaci was responsible, a Western diplomat contends that that Ceku was killed by a Serb sniper. He said that his contacts indicated that Ramadani was killed in battle, but those contacts did not mention an ambush, or politically related killing, in either case.
The former KLA officer said, however, that rebel officials had told Ceku that he and his lieutenant Tahir Zemaj should leave the movement, but the stubborn Ceku had refused to depart. Zemaj, however, fled to Germany. "Tahir knew they were serious, and he got out," said the officer said. "Sali stayed, and he was killed."
"freedom fighters" financed by organised crime
Heralded by the global media as a humanitarian peace-keeping mission, NATO's ruthless bombing of Belgrade and Pristina goes far beyond the breach of international law. While Slobodan Milosevic is demonised, portrayed as a remorseless dictator, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) is upheld as a self-respecting nationalist movement struggling for the rights of ethnic Albanians. The truth of the matter is that the KLA is sustained by organised crime with the tacit approval of the United States and its allies.
Following a pattern set during the War in Bosnia, public opinion has been carefully misled. The multibillion dollar Balkans narcotics trade has played a crucial role in "financing the conflict" in Kosovo in accordance with Western economic, strategic and military objectives. Amply documented by European police files, acknowledged by numerous studies, the links of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) to criminal syndicates in Albania, Turkey and the European Union have been known to Western governments and intelligence agencies since the mid-1990s.
" ... The financing of the Kosovo guerrilla war poses critical questions and it sorely tests claims of an "ethical" foreign policy. Should the West back a guerrilla army that appears to partly financed by organised crime."
While KLA leaders were shaking hands with US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at Rambouillet, Europol (the European Police Organization based in The Hague) was "preparing a report for European interior and justice ministers on a connection between the KLA and Albanian drug gangs." In the meantime, the rebel army has been skilfully heralded by the global media (in the months preceding the NATO bombings) as broadly representative of the interests of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.
With KLA leader Hashim Thaci (a 29 year "freedom fighter") appointed as chief negotiator at Rambouillet, the KLA has become the de facto helmsman of the peace process on behalf of the ethnic Albanian majority and this despite its links to the drug trade. The West was relying on its KLA puppets to rubber-stamp an agreement which would have transformed Kosovo into an occupied territory under Western Administration.
Ironically Robert Gelbard, America's special envoy to Bosnia, had described the KLA last year as "terrorists". Christopher Hill, America's chief negotiator and architect of the Rambouillet agreement, "has also been a strong critic of the KLA for its alleged dealings in drugs." Moreover, barely a few two months before Rambouillet, the US State Department had acknowledged (based on reports from the US Observer Mission) the role of the KLA in terrorising and uprooting ethnic Albanians:
" ... the KLA harass or kidnap anyone who comes to the police, ... KLA representatives had threatened to kill villagers and burn their homes if they did not join the KLA [a process which has continued since the NATO bombings]... [T]he KLA harassment has reached such intensity that residents of six villages in the Stimlje region are "ready to flee."
While backing a "freedom movement" with links to the drug trade, the West seems also intent in bypassing the civilian Kosovo Democratic League and its leader Ibrahim Rugova who has called for an end to the bombings and expressed his desire to negotiate a peaceful settlement with the Yugoslav authorities. It is worth recalling that a few days before his March 31 Press Conference, Rugova had been reported by the KLA (alongside three other leaders including Fehmi Agani) to have been killed by the Serbs.
financing of "freedom fighters"
According to author Alfred McCoy, the pattern of covert financing was established in the Indochina war. In the 1960s, the Meo army in Laos was funded by the narcotics trade as part of Washington's military strategy against the combined forces of the neutralist government of Prince Souvanna Phouma and the Pathet Lao.
The pattern of drug politics set in Indochina has since been replicated in Central America and the Caribbean. "The rising curve of cocaine imports to the US", wrote journalist John Dinges "followed almost exactly the flow of US arms and military advisers to Central America".
The military in Guatemala and Haiti, to which the CIA provided covert support, were known to be involved in the trade of narcotics into Southern Florida. And as revealed in the Iran-Contra and Bank of Commerce and Credit International (BCCI) scandals, there was strong evidence that covert operations were funded through the laundering of drug money. "Dirty money" recycled through the banking system--often through an anonymous shell company-- became "covert money," used to finance various rebel groups and guerrilla movements including the Nicaraguan Contras and the Afghan Mujahadeen. According to a 1991 Time magazine report:
"Because the US wanted to supply the mujehadeen rebels in Afghanistan with stinger missiles and other military hardware it needed the full cooperation of Pakistan. By the mid-1980s, the CIA operation in Islamabad was one of the largest US intelligence stations in the World. 'If BCCI is such an embarrassment to the US that forthright investigations are not being pursued it has a lot to do with the blind eye the US turned to the heroin trafficking in Pakistan', said a US intelligence officer.
and Germany join hands
The covert activities of Germany's BND were consistent with Bonn's intent to expand its "Lebensraum" into the Balkans. Prior to the onset of the civil war in Bosnia, Germany and its Foreign Minister Hans Dietrich Genscher had actively supported secession; it had "forced the pace of international diplomacy" and pressured its Western allies to recognize Slovenia and Croatia. According to the Geopolitical Drug Watch, both Germany and the US favoured (although not officially) the formation of a "Greater Albania" encompassing Albania, Kosovo and parts of Macedonia. According to Sean Gervasi, Germany was seeking a free hand among its allies "to pursue economic dominance in the whole of Mitteleuropa."
fundamentalism in support of the KLA
Mercenaries financed by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait had been fighting in Bosnia. And the Bosnian pattern was replicated in Kosovo: Mujahadeen mercenaries from various Islamic countries are reported to be fighting alongside the KLA in Kosovo. German, Turkish and Afghan instructors were reported to be training the KLA in guerrilla and diversion tactics.
According to a Deutsche Press-Agentur report, financial support from Islamic countries to the KLA had been channelled through the former Albanian chief of the National Information Service (NIS), Bashkim Gazidede. "Gazidede, reportedly a devout Moslem who fled Albania in March of last year , is presently  being investigated for his contacts with Islamic terrorist organizations."
The supply route for arming KLA "freedom fighters" are the rugged mountainous borders of Albania with Kosovo and Macedonia. Albania is also a key point of transit of the Balkans drug route which supplies Western Europe with grade four heroin. Seventy-five percent of the heroin entering Western Europe is from Turkey. And a large part of drug shipments originating in Turkey transits through the Balkans. According to the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), "it is estimated that 4-6 metric tons of heroin leave each month from Turkey having [through the Balkans] as destination Western Europe." A recent intelligence report by Germany's Federal Criminal Agency suggests that: "Ethnic Albanians are now the most prominent group in the distribution of heroin in Western consumer countries."
laundering of dirty money
The narcotics trade nonetheless uses respectable banks to launder large amounts of dirty money. While comfortably removed from the smuggling operations per se, powerful banking interests in Turkey but mainly those in financial centres in Western Europe discretely collect fat commissions in a multibillion dollar money laundering operation. These interests have high stakes in ensuring a safe passage of drug shipments into Western European markets.
Industry and agriculture in Kosovo were spearheaded into bankruptcy following the IMF's lethal "economic medicine" imposed on Belgrade in 1990. The embargo was imposed on Yugoslavia. Ethnic Albanians and Serbs were driven into abysmal poverty. Economic collapse created an environment which fostered the progress of illicit trade. In Kosovo, the rate of unemployment increased to a staggering 70 percent (according to Western sources).
Poverty and economic collapse served to exacerbate simmering ethnic tensions. Thousands of unemployed youths "barely out of their teens" from an impoverished population, were drafted into the ranks of the KLA ...
In neighbouring Albania, the free market reforms adopted since 1992 had created conditions which favoured the criminalisation of state institutions. Drug money was also laundered in the Albanian pyramids (ponzi schemes) which mushroomed during the government of former President Sali Berisha (1992-1997). These shady investment funds were an integral part of the economic reforms inflicted by Western creditors on Albania.
Drug barons in Kosovo, Albania and Macedonia (with links to the Italian Mafia) had become the new economic elites, often associated with Western business interests. In turn the financial proceeds of the trade in drugs and arms were recycled towards other illicit activities (and vice versa) including a vast prostitution racket between Albania and Italy. Albanian criminal groups operating in Milan, "have become so powerful running prostitution rackets that they have even taken over the Calabrians in strength and influence."
The application of "strong economic medicine" under the guidance of the Washington based Bretton Woods institutions had contributed to wrecking Albania's banking system and precipitating the collapse of the Albanian economy. The resulting chaos enabled American and European transnationals to carefully position themselves. Several Western oil companies including Occidental, Shell and British Petroleum had their eyes riveted on Albania's abundant and unexplored oil-deposits. Western investors were also gawking Albania's extensive reserves of chrome, copper, gold, nickel and platinum.... The Adenauer Foundation had been lobbying in the background on behalf of German mining interests.
Berisha's Minister of Defence Safet Zoulali (alleged to have been involved in the illegal oil and narcotics trade) was the architect of the agreement with Germany's Preussag (handing over control over Albania's chrome mines) against the competing bid of the US led consortium of Macalloy Inc. in association with Rio Tinto Zimbabwe (RTZ).
Large amounts of narco-dollars had also been recycled into the privatisation programmes leading to the acquisition of state assets by the mafias. In Albania, the privatisation programme had led virtually overnight to the development of a property owning class firmly committed to the "free market". In Northern Albania, this class was associated with the Guegue "families" linked to the Democratic Party.
Controlled by the Democratic Party under the presidency of Sali Berisha (1992-97), Albania's largest financial "pyramid" VEFA Holdings had been set up by the Guegue "families" of Northern Albania with the support of Western banking interests. VEFA was under investigation in Italy in 1997 for its ties to the Mafia which allegedly used VEFA to launder large amounts of dirty money.
According to one press report (based on intelligence sources), senior members of the Albanian government during the presidency of Sali Berisha including cabinet members and members of the secret police SHIK were alleged to be involved in drugs trafficking and illegal arms trading into Kosovo:
(...) The allegations are very serious. Drugs, arms, contraband cigarettes all are believed to have been handled by a company run openly by Albania's ruling Democratic Party, Shqiponja (...). In the course of 1996 Defence Minister, Safet Zhulali [was alleged] to had used his office to facilitate the transport of arms, oil and contraband cigarettes. (...) Drugs barons from Kosovo (...) operate in Albania with impunity, and much of the transportation of heroin and other drugs across Albania, from Macedonia and Greece en route to Italy, is believed to be organised by Shik, the state security police (...). Intelligence agents are convinced the chain of command in the rackets goes all the way to the top and have had no hesitation in naming ministers in their reports.
The trade in narcotics and weapons was allowed to prosper despite the presence since 1993 of a large contingent of American troops at the Albanian-Macedonian border with a mandate to enforce the embargo. The West had turned a blind eye. The revenues from oil and narcotics were used to finance the purchase of arms (often in terms of direct barter): "Deliveries of oil to Macedonia (skirting the Greek embargo [in 1993-4] can be used to cover heroin, as do deliveries of kalachnikov rifles to Albanian 'brothers' in Kosovo".
The Northern tribal clans or "fares" had also developed links with Italy's crime syndicates. In turn, the latter played a key role in smuggling arms across the Adriatic into the Albanian ports of Dures and Valona. At the outset in 1992, the weapons channelled into Kosovo were largely small arms including Kalashnikov AK-47 rifles, RPK and PPK machine-guns, 12.7 calibre heavy machine-guns, etc.
The proceeds of the narcotics trade has enabled the KLA to rapidly develop a force of some 30,000 men. More recently, the KLA has acquired more sophisticated weaponry including anti-aircraft and anti-armor rockets. According to Belgrade, some of the funds have come directly from the CIA "funnelled through a so-called 'Government of Kosovo' based in Geneva, Switzerland. Its Washington office employs the public-relations firm of Ruder Finn--notorious for its slanders of the Belgrade government".
The KLA has also acquired electronic surveillance equipment which enables it to receive NATO satellite information concerning the movement of the Yugoslav Army. The KLA training camp in Albania is said to "concentrate on heavy weapons training--rocket propelled grenades, medium caliber cannons, tanks and transporter use, as well as on communications, and command and control". (According to Yugoslav government sources).
These extensive deliveries of weapons to the Kosovo rebel army were consistent with Western geopolitical objectives. Not surprisingly, there has been a "deafening silence" of the international media regarding the Kosovo arms-drugs trade. In the words of a 1994 Report of the Geopolitical Drug Watch: "the trafficking [of drugs and arms] is basically being judged on its geostrategic implications (...) In Kosovo, drugs and weapons trafficking is fuelling geopolitical hopes and fears"...
The fate of Kosovo had already been carefully laid out prior to the signing of the 1995 Dayton agreement. NATO had entered an unwholesome "marriage of convenience" with the mafia. "Freedom fighters" were put in place, the narcotics trade enabled Washington and Bonn to "finance the Kosovo conflict" with the ultimate objective of destabilising the Belgrade government and fully recolonising the Balkans. The destruction of an entire country is the outcome. Western governments which participated in the NATO operation bear a heavy burden of responsibility in the deaths of civilians, the impoverishment of both the ethnic Albanian and Serbian populations and the plight of those who were brutally uprooted from towns and villages in Kosovo as a result of the bombings.
Roger Boyes and Eske Wright, Drugs Money Linked to the Kosovo Rebels,
The Times, London, Monday, March 24, 1999.
Vreme, Belgrade, FR Yugoslavia, June 19 1999
"They only brought me four planks. A coffin. Now, we're here, as you can see... His wife and children, the other son with his wife and children and me. We've left everything behind: a full house, land, what's the use..."
Other family members sit on the grass next to the fence and are quiet. Two young women and two teenage girls who do not seem any different from Belgrade teenagers. They look at the grandmother and listen. Their eyes are welling over with tears.
"They gave us an hour to pack and leave. Had our neighbor, a Serb, not given us a tractor, we would have not had a way to run away, to save the children," continues Momirka Mladenovic. Her daughter in law does not have strength to speak. She almost sighs through tears: "I can't, I can only cry".
A hot and humid day. Clouds are massing on the southern horizon. They've been chasing us since the morning, and will catch up with us in the evening in time to flood Belgrade.
Probably, before that the rain will have poured over the convoys of tractors, cars and all sorts of vehicles which have been traveling from Kosovo for days along the curvy Ibar highway.
Narrow paved road through the village of Lapovo is now a highway. It serves as a detour around the part of the Belgrade-Nis highway, impassable due to the NATO bombardment damage. We find people from Prizren and the surrounding villages and the town of Suva Reka in the convoy of tractors in Lapovo. The locals have received them warmly. That is not surprising, since almost a third of them hail from Kosovo.
"Magdalena, Magdalena!" shouts a man sitting on a tractor.
"She is in the yard, here, playing with my daughter," responds Vesna Savic, pointing at two girls playing in the grass in front of the house. Her husband, Milan, came 25 years ago from Suva Reka. She was born in Lapovo.
Started to Flee
"I see that you're treating them as if they were your own family."
"What else can I do. May God save us from their fate."
She offers them coffee. Some of them accept and ask if they can wash themselves somewhere. Vesna shows them a tap. On tractors one can see mostly bags with clothing, a few house appliances, nothing large, a radio, a kitchen mixer... Obviously, they didn't have time to pack the rest. Slavica Veljkovic from Prizren says that the local authorities let it be known last Friday that the local Serbs had three hours to pack and prepare to leave.
"They came and said: 'As soon as the Army and Police pull out, KLA will come from the mountains and you're all dead! You better get lost!' Then the people panicked and fled.
"We reached Suva Reka, but there the Police wanted to send us back. They had been attacked by KLA and were fighting to get out. What were we supposed to do once the Police left? How were we supposed get through [to Pristina]? Horrible!"
Zvezdan Lazic (19) from Suva Reka, employed by the local Red Cross, says that "the people began to talk that we had to flee".
"First a rumor spread about that, and than the local authorities, the Police and everyone informed us to prepare to leave. We asked the mayor and he responded: 'What can I tell you, no one guarantees anything'. We asked the Police commander and he said: 'Starting tomorrow I am not a policeman anymore'. What else could we do but to pack what we had time for, leave the rest and go into exile."
His uncle had been killed two days before the first bombs fell on Kosovo.
"They entered our shop and shot him," says Zvezdan.
"We didn't touch those Albanians who were in Suva Reka. Only those whose sons were with the terrorists were hiding in the woods. The rest lived normally in the town. Even when the bombardment started and some left over the border, those who stayed behind were not mistreated by anyone. They came regularly to the Red Cross office to get assistance, every week. Although they were supposed to receive aid once a month, I was giving it out weekly."
is Spitting on us
Her sixteen-year-old daughter Jelena, who until then had sat quietly next to her mother, simply cannot hold back the words which suddenly burst out.
"English journalists were there. They had arrived with their soldiers. They were also cursing us and making comments. They had no idea that I understand English and knew what they were saying about us. I told one of them that I understood what he had been saying and he got confused. Then he asked, 'who had thrown stones at you' and then 'our forces are here, they'll protect you'. Who can protect us when even NATO had turned their guns at us, onstead of at those who were attacking us!? "When we were passing through the village of Dulje, all of us, even girls, had a gun or a grenade in their lap. That was in case KLA attacked, so that we could defend ourselves or commit suicide," she says through her clenched teeth. "I had a bullet in the barrel... I'd rather kill myself than be raped by one of them."
"They attacked us incessantly," adds Zvezdan Lazic. "In Suva Reka, when we crossed the Caf Dulj pass, in Lipljan... In front of Pristina they threw stones at us although NATO was there. They attacked a girl and wanted to pull her away. Her father almost could not save her."
Zdravko Mladenovic from the village of Donja Srbica near Prizren does not hide his bitterness.
"When we passed through Stimlje, these troops that had arrived, the so-called peacemakers, instead of chasing away gathered Shqiptars who were stoning us - three of us were hurt - turned their guns at us. They were laughing at us and their journalists were taking photos."
President of the temporary Kosovo Executive Council, Zoran Andelkovic tried to keep some of the refugees in Pristina. He offered them temporary accommodation - in empty apartments of local Albanians! Overwhelming majority rejected his offer.
A majority of our colocutors distinguishes between the events a year ago when the Police fought against KLA and the events since the beginning of the bombardment.
"We had to defend ourselves when they attacked," says a man from the convoy. "But I haven't burned anybody's house. And what they are doing to us now..."
"I lost my brother in this war. What did he die for? Why didn't they tell us to evacuate on time, instead of fleeing like this," says Zarko Mladenovic. "Milosevic has turned into Gorbachov!
"He gave Kosovo to NATO. This is a third exodus of Serbs: Krajina, Bosnia, and now Kosovo! That is what we will be remembered for."
"The television shows Milosevic opening reconstruction of a bridge. 'Reconstruction begins,' he says. Where are we on television? It seems we do not exist," interjects someone.
"They shouted on rallies 'Kosovo is Serbia'. Let them have their Kosovo! There is nothing left down there. The police has left, army has left, who represents Serbia there!?", a middle aged man poses a rhetorical question. "That Percevic was in Prizren until NATO arrived. He said: 'We have preserved the integrity and sovereignty of our country'. What fucking integrity!? I asked him, who defends sovereignty and preserves integrity? He didn't know what to say. He was almost killed by the Serbs there. A man put a gun against his head, but the others calmed him down."
Weariness, anger, they all speak at once.
"The local authorities were disbanded, no one was there. All along the way from Prizren to Stimlje, we didn't see a single Serb!"
"There is no border control. Anyone and everyone is entering Kosovo. Yesterday they were driving through Prizren in cars with Albanian number plates from Kukes."
one to show the way
"I was late leaving. I left at almost 5 a.m. I was at work all the time, so the others apparently forgot about me. Had I not been late, my neighbor would have been left behind," Zivorad says and points at a man with dark glasses. "He is totally blind, but has a wife and three children."
When they reached Raska his wife went to the local store to buy bread and food for children.
"The shop assistant asked if I was from Kosovo, a refugee. When I said I was, he refused to charge me for anything and gave me three bags of candy for the children."
In the village of Dragobraca we are looking for the family which has taken in 56 refugees from Kosovo. The head of the family refuses to give us his name. He is from Kosovo, has a house in Pec. He has built a house in Dragobraca, but it is still not completed.
"Now, it's worth gold," he says.
Same stories, enormous bitterness and anger with the local authorities. No one told them which route to take towards Serbia, nor were they greeted by anyone once they left Kosovo.
"I've worked for ten years as a policeman in Pec," says a thirty-year-old man sitting with us at a table in the yard. "When they signed [the military-technical agreement in Kumanovo], they told me in the station to burn my uniform, hide the weapon and stay. Supposedly no one would know that I was a policeman. Nonsense!"
Nevertheless, the extended families which gathered in the village, had sent "a reconnaissance patrol" to Pec to check the developments there. They are among a few of our colocutors who expressed the desire to return to their homes. Most of refugees respond to the question about return with a counter-question:
"What return!? Where!? As soon as we got half a mile from our homes, they were already on fire!", says Slavica Veljkovic. "They are burning everything, only smoke, everything is on fire... There is nothing left... Nothing."
"Common man, it's finished," says Zarko Mladenovic. "NATO protects KLA. They will allow them to kill those [non-Albanians] still left in Kosovo until all of them are expelled."
"I would return now," says a man from Istok. "If only they could guarantee my safety, I would immediately go back. Everything I have is in Kosovo. I have nothing and no one in Serbia! But who can offer me guarantees? Milosevic? He can only betray me as in the past."
Would Go Back
"When we arrived to Serbia, gentlemen ordered that our weapons be confiscated," says a middle aged man leaning against a tractor. "I didn't hand my weapons over to KLA, nor to NATO, nor will I give it to this lot. I was issued a weapon by the Djakovica Corps and I will return my weapon in Djakovica and to the Djakovica Corps of the Yugoslav Army!"
"All of us are prepared to go back and fight, to the last, all males, aged fifteen and up," says a man standing next to him while the others approve. "We would leave women and children here and go fight for our Kosovo..."
"And not only against KLA, but also against NATO if necessary!"
"Because, we have nothing here. Everything we had was left behind in Kosovo."
"Sir, do you know what's sad?", says Miroslav Veljkovic (47), a man in the group which has gathered around us. "As we were leaving Prizren, the local Turks and [Slavic] Muslims joined the stoning. And during the month of Ramadan, our police allowed that all their shops and tea-houses be open all night long and they didn't touch anyone, and this is how they pay us back. My parents stayed there. I tell you now: if they kill them I'll kill all the Albanians I can find in Serbia! Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth! No more forgiveness."
On the road between Kragujevac and Kraljevo there are several Police check- points. They register refugees and their number plates. There are no official data about the number of the refugees from Kosovo. The figures of 30,000 to 50,000 have been mentioned.
"In the last two days, at least 10,000 refugees have passed through," says one of the policemen on the check-point in Raska. "I had the same duty in 1995 when Serbs came from Knin to Serbia. Now, it's hundred times worse."
Two volunteers of the Red Cross in Kraljevo agree. They put up a tent that day, the only one we have seen on our journey.
"We have been approached by 297 families since this morning, when we arrived. Multiply that by at least four and you get an idea how many have passed until 3 p.m.," says one of them. "Most of them seek shelter, but also food or medical assistance. We cannot offer shelter - there are a few tents, but that's not enough. We can't even give them fuel. We expect the first delivery of oil [since the beginning of the crisis] today, but that's hardly enough for these convoys."
A doctor on call in the ambulance set up in a nearby school tells us that the refugees usually seek treatment for the injuries suffered on the road, but that there also people with chronic and heart diseases and asthmatics.
"All of them are under tremendous stress," she says, adding that she has found her experience of work with the Krajina refugees in 1995 very helpful.
Leaving Kraljevo towards Cacak, on a large, fenced in parking lot for trucks, we encounter an improvised collection center for refugees. The Police are directing them from check points towards the parking lot. Those with relatives in the area can leave once the relatives come to pick them up. Others wait for "officials" to come and tell them where to go. In vehicles and on tractors we find mostly people from Istok, Djakovica...
"That's it, my friend. We left, there was only smoke behind," says one of the recent arrivals. "I have relatives in Serbia but I do not want to be a burden to anyone. I do not expect anything from the authorities. Just consider what they did with Kosovo... that's enough."
"We have been expelled from our homes and the television goes on about peace! Not even a word about what is happening to us. Well, the powerful in Belgrade should know that if we can't find shelter elsewhere, we're on our way to the capital".
"We are not refugees, no way! We were expelled," says an agitated man standing next to me.
"They shouldn't lie to the people," says and elderly man, who obviously commands respect. He is surrounded by a group of young men and women. "I could see my house on fire while they were saying 'we don't burn Serb houses'. I listened down there to London, Washington and Prague. We also listened to what our authorities were saying. We are not fools. Those who think they can hide the truth are stupid, not us!"
In the improvised collection center we encounter a Roma family from Istok. Three brothers with wives and all together ten children. The youngest one is still in the cradle.
I ask two girls playing next to the tractor-trailer loaded with possessions whether they have forgotten something at home. What would they liked to have taken with them?
"Everything," says one of them.
INSECURITY IN KOSOVO - THE FEAR OF DEATH
escalating crime plaguing post-conflict Kosovo is forcing the people
By Albert Ademi & Imer Mushkolaj in Peja and Pristina
Daci, 19, was found dead by the side of a road in Peja, a town in
inhabitants in Peja are intimidated by daily killings, kidnappings
dies by five o clock in the evening. We do not dare go out after
Albanian women appear to be particularly "attractive" to the
people tried to abduct me right in the center of the town, at
girls now venture out to the cafes in Pristina. "I prefer to stay
have heard about girls being abducted and sent to Albania, Italy and
fact Seamson complains that his police officers receive a great deal
it is not only women and young girls who are caught up in violent
Pristina, two cigarette sellers were found dead only a few meters
Berisha from Klina, a small town close to Peja, was robbed at
Demaj, the head of the Council for the Defense of the Human Rights
some believe there is more to the level of crime than simply
does not rule out that a 'higher authority' is orchestrating the
to official reports from UNMIK, 9.5 per cent of the total
has always denied that they are at fault for the escalating crime
Kosovo Albanian officials also blame UNMIK for failing to address
argues that crime would be defeated through closer collaboration
have arrested about 30 criminals and handed them over to the Italian
killing and abduction of minors and women form part of a
has called on the citizens of Kosovo to collaborate with them in
few people enjoy "freedom" in Kosovo and many compare the
months into the KFOR intervention in Kosovo and people still live in
Ademi and Imer Mushkolaj are trainee journalists working with
destruction of Orthodox churches is part of a campaign to expunge Serb
Kosovo BY a happy millennial coincidence, the holy Muslim fasting season of Ramadan falls this year at the same time as Christmas. In Kosovo, Orthodox monks and Mohammedan imams will therefore be fasting at the same time. Outside the mosques and churches, however, neither feast is likely to be celebrated much in the war-torn province.
nine out of 10 mosques in Kosovo have emerged apparently unscathed from
the fighting, their white minarets glinting above the red roofs in the
bright winter sun, the Albanians, most of whom are nominally Muslim,
are a pretty secular lot. Ramadan is more likely to be celebrated with
a beer and a kebab at lunchtime than with fasting during the daylight
hours or by
is, in any case, precious little for the Albanians to celebrate. Six
day, Kosovo resembles India. The throng and press of people on the
the Serbs, meanwhile, there is little trace. During the summer, Kfor
specifically ethnic nature of these attacks is emphasised by the
Holy Trinity church in Muutite, built in the 14th century and with a
the words of Hieromonk Jovan Culibrk, a priest from Montenegro on
the border on foot back into Serbia proper, I found myself on a
IS SO SHORT...
Jared: Has there been any improvement in Orahovac?
Simca: There's total chaos. The German [NATO or KFOR] troops are all gone; only the Dutch remain. There was a complete turnover among the Dutch troops on Dec. 7th. A whole new group came in.
I was there Monday, Dec. 13th, before the shooting, the murder. I was allowed in at 3:30 and stayed till 7:30. It was raining and there was no electricity; we were in the dark the whole time. I didn't visit other people because my mother is sick and I wanted to be with her.
I asked whether there is a way to help and Simca said the only
I went to Orahovac on the 13th with a huge truck full of humanitarian
left Belgrade Thursday and returned the following Tuesday and in all
A Belgian journalist said that's a ghetto too, like the one in
Yes, yes. It's a big village. The noose around it isn't as tight as
trucks were held outside Orahovac a very long time; the Dutch have really
stepped up their inspections. They opened all food parcels, studied
My brother said people in the town thought the Germans were bad but now that the Dutch are alone it's clear they're worse.
Dutch troops were so grim faced, so hostile. And yet, as I was going
While the German soldiers were there they kept barbed wire around our ghetto which so at least the more homicdal Albanians couldn't get in. But the Dutch removed, and they don't stop the Albanian cars to inspect them, so the Albanians can drive through when they like.
Albanian women walk around freely, shouting propaganda. I heard this
Jared: Do these women travel around in cars?
Simca: No, no, on foot. I heard this one woman right outside my mother's -
Jared: She was outside the house?
Yes, in the street. Screaming up at us. I wanted to go to the window
Some Roma ["Gypsies"] bought some fruit and vegetables from Albanian shops to resell to the Serbs. But my mother told me that these Albanian women intercepted the Roma and took their baskets and threw all the food on the ground and said, "Not for the Serbs!" It was daylight. KFOR soldiers were watching. They did nothing.
don't know what to say. The Serbs feel totally lost. Their agony has
Jared: It's beyond belief.
Simca: - rope. One woman had a nervous breakdown and was sent to a hospital in Nis. You can get out if you have a breakdown or get shot.
I'm trying not to lose hope.
was amazed that [UN Kosovo chief Bernard] Kouchners' recently said he's
Jared: In Orahovac?
Simca: No, in Djakovica. Nearby. Fifteen miles.
I don't know what's going to happen with these poor souls in Orahovac.
I believe they're trying to step up the psychological war to
Yes. Yes I think so too. There was a building, a store before the war,
Jared: Was that Zoran Vuksovic?
Simca: Yes. I knew him well. He was my friend.
Jared: I'm so sorry.
Three people were gravely wounded, five lightly. But it was a large
Jared: Like gangsters.
Or perhaps the real gangsters are the ones defending this ghetto.
It even happens in broad daylight. Albanians just drive through. KFOR
I don't know what's going to happen. We were hoping that when the new group of Dutch troops came on December 7th things would be better. But in fact it seems that every new group is indoctrinated first. These are young people; they may not be twenty years old yet, perhaps not shaving. They are not experienced. Who knows what craziness they are told about Serbs? They have such fierce looks on their faces. Fear and hatred.
had some hopes. I always had hopes that things would change, butâ¦Now
Jared: My expectation when we last spoke was that we here in the West, in the US and Europe, would have accomplished more by now than we have. I thought we would have been able, by now, to send a delegation to Orahovac. That hasn't happened. We have to find ways to bring this situation to people's attention more effectively.
Please don't misunderstand - I wasn't - I wasn't accusing you and the
Well the way things work in this world is that the squeaky wheel gets
good things have been done. Orahovac has been raised in the English
need to make clear to people that this is a scandal. A horrible political
When I look at these tough Dutch soldiersâ¦their
faces are so grim.
I would like to be a fly on the wall during their training. Did you
Simca: Yes I saw on TV. I said to my husband. "Look! Democracy!"
Some people pointed out that U.S. Federal officials had training
Simca: Perhaps they're telling the Dutch troops the same sort of things about us. Perhaps.
am very much concerned for the people in Orahovac. About half are left.
This convoy is the first help in two months. Time is so short.
soon: interviews with three of the convoy from Orahovac which was
an interview with an Albanian driven from Kosovo by the KLA, click on
An Albanian Tragedy or go to
The Tragic Blunder in Kosovo
led the way in Suez, so why didn't we know better than to be led into
bombing of Yugoslavia in the closing days of the 20th century has raised
participation in this undeclared war against a sovereign state was
months have passed since the end of the bombing. Now the war is over,
political leaders and much of the media have said that the bombing of
UN estimated that close to 200,000 ethnic Albanians were displaced
a UN resolution, the Yugoslav government in November, 1998,
a number of credible OSCE observers have publicly stated that
immediate reason for the air strike was the Serbian refusal to sign
The bombing began on March 25, 1999. NATO expected Yugoslavia to capitulate in a matter of days. When this did not happen and the bombing was extended to more and more civilian targets, public support in some NATO countries began to wane. The alliance found itself in trouble: None of its objectives had been achieved and the bombing was creating a humanitarian catastrophe and pulverizing a modern European state.
negotiated settlement was essential. But NATO had to save face. Although
UN approved the terms of this peace agreement; it remains to be seen
bombing of Yugoslavia was a tragic mistake. There have been dreadful
foreign minister would have us believe Kosovo marked a turning
when great issues were at stake in Kosovo - issues of life or death,
didn't have to be this way. Another Canadian foreign minister faced
Canada is to play an effective role in international affairs it must
Bissett was Canada's ambassador to Yugoslavia from 1990 until 1992,