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<nettime> Foreign Affairs: Hedges, "Inside the KLA"

Foreign Affairs May/June 1999 (volume 78, number 3)

Kosovo's Next Masters

By Chris Hedges


The rumbles of yet another nationalist earthquake are
shaking the former Yugoslavia. Rising from the fetid hovels
of Pristina and the concrete-block family farms of rural
Kosovo is the newest political and military force to beset
the Balkans -- the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), known to
Albanians as the Ushtria Clirimtare e Kosoves.

The emergence of this militant armed group, now numbering
several thousand fighters, has dimmed hopes that even a
compromise agreement with Belgrade could be successfully
implemented. Emboldened by NATO's March bombing of the
Serbian military, the KLA will wage a protracted guerrilla
war in the Serbian province that could ignite a wider war in
neighboring Macedonia and Albania, potentially even dragging
in Greece and Bulgaria. The KLA is uncompromising in its
quest for an independent Kosovo now and a Greater Albania
later. And it has, to the consternation of Washington's
would-be peacemakers, supplanted the ineffectual leadership
of the moderate voice of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority,
Ibrahim Rugova.

The KLA is important out of all proportion to its size --
not merely because it will probably eventually get Kosovo to
secede from Serbia, but because it now represents the
aspirations of most Kosovar Albanians. To understand the
current conflict in Kosovo and America's stakes in its
resolution, one must understand the KLA, how it came into
being, who leads it, what drives it, and why it now speaks
for a majority of Kosovars. Even a truly vicious,
Bosnia-like wave of atrocities by the Serbs in reprisal for
NATO's attacks will only pour fuel on the separatist fire.

The grim reality is that we had better get to know the KLA
-- because it is not going to go away.

                                         THE NEW RADICALS

Kosovo's Albanians have grown increasingly embittered. By
attempting to include the KLA in the peace process that
began in February at the French chateau of Rambouillet, the
Western alliance is working feverishly -- even as it bombs
the Serbs -- to blunt the momentum toward a war of
independence. The allies want NATO troops to separate the
province's warring factions, although Belgrade is wary. The
underlying idea behind creating a theoretically temporary,
NATO-enforced military protectorate in Kosovo is to buy time
for a three-year transition period in which ethnic Albanians
will be allowed to elect a parliament and other governing
bodies -- meeting enough of their aspirations, it is hoped,
to keep Kosovo from seceding.

The good news is that the Western alliance's response to the
Kosovo crisis, however ragged, shows that some lessons have
been learned from the bumbling in Bosnia. The Europeans no
longer talk about handling matters alone but demand the
presence of the United States. Threats have been backed up
by force. There is also a consensus that if some kind of a
solution is not found soon, the fighting inside Kosovo -- an
area the size of Connecticut -- will accelerate and make
future intervention difficult, if not impossible. Even the
Pentagon officials who fought like wildcats to keep U.S.
forces out of Bosnia accept that some 4,000 U.S. troops will
have to be deployed in Kosovo to make any peacekeeping force

But, as in Bosnia, the West is wedded to a solution that
might have worked earlier in the conflict but is now
untenable. Serbian ethnic cleansing has taken on a somewhat
different character inKosovo than in Bosnia. In Kosovo,
Serbian ethnic cleansing is to a large degree tactical,
designed  to deny the rebels succor from civilians and
therefore aimed primarily at the inhabitants of KLA
strongholds. But the Serb campaign has been more than brutal
enough to make autonomy for Kosovo a nonstarter. The ethnic
Albanians in Kosovo, who make up 90 percent of its 2 million
inhabitants, cannot remain in Serbia after the horrific
recent bloodshed, the displacement of a quarter of a million
people, and the razing of scores of villages. They do not
trust Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic or the Serbs --
and given Belgrade's bloody campaigns against ethnic
minorities over the past decade and its habit of breaking
agreements, who can blame them?

The Albanians have been radicalized, and their new voice is
the KLA. Rugova, the old pacifist, is more a symbol of
outmoded moderation than a leader. By ignoring the plight of
the Kosovar Albanians for nearly a decade, the West lost
much of its credibility before NATO began bombing. Many
Albanians feel let down by the world and their own meek
leaders. What is most striking, then, about the KLA
insurrection is not that it occurred but that it took so
long to occur.

The KLA fighters are the province's new power brokers.
Whatever political leadership emerges in Kosovo will come
from the rebel ranks, and it will be militant, nationalist,
uncompromising, and deeply suspicious of all outsiders. U.S.
intelligence agencies, preoccupied with tracking militant
Islamist groups and Iranian agents in Bosnia, were caught
off guard by the Kosovo rebel force's emergence, strength,
and popularity. Indeed, some diplomats argued as late as
last year about whether the shadowy group really existed --
even as small armed bands roamed Drenica in central Kosovo.

The first KLA armed attack took place in May 1993 in
Glogova'c, killing two Serb police officers and wounding
five more. But the rebel group -- its membership largely
drawn from a few clans in Kosovo and radicals in the
Albanian diaspora -- was founded eight years ago. Most of
its leadership has spent years in prison for separatist
activity, many having been jailed earlier by Tito's
communist government. Like all revolutionaries who have
spent years underground or in jail, the KLA leaders are wary
of the outside world and given to secrecy, paranoia, and
appalling mendacity when they feel it serves their
interests, which is most of the time.

The KLA splits down a bizarre ideological divide, with hints
of fascism on one side and whiffs of communism on the other.
The former faction is led by the sons and grandsons of
rightist Albanian fighters -- either the heirs of those who
fought in the World War II fascist militias and the
Skanderbeg volunteer SS division raised by the Nazis, or the
descendants of the rightist Albanian kacak rebels who rose
up against the Serbs 80 years ago. Although never much of a
fighting force, the Skanderbeg division took part in the
shameful roundup and deportation of the province's few
hundred Jews during the Holocaust. The division's remnants
fought Tito's Partisans at the end of the war, leaving
thousands of ethnic Albanians dead. The decision by KLA
commanders to dress their police in black fatigues and order
their fighters to salute with a clenched fist to the
forehead has led many to worry about these fascist
antecedents. Following such criticism, the salute has been
changed to the traditional open-palm salute common in the
U.S. Army.

The second KLA faction, comprising most of the KLA leaders
in exile, are old Stalinists who were once bankrolled by the
xenophobic Enver Hoxha, the dictator of Albania who died in
1985.  This group led a militant separatist movement that
was really about integration with Hoxha's Albania. Most of
these leaders were students at Pristina University after
1974, when Belgrade granted the province autonomy. Freed
from Yugoslav oversight, the university imported thousands
of textbooks from Albania, all carefully edited by Hoxha's
Stalinist regime, along with at least a dozen militant
Albanian professors. Along with its degree programs,
Pristina University began to quietly school young Kosovar
leaders in the art of revolution. Not only did a huge
percentage of the KLA leadership come out of the university,
but so, ominously, did the ethnic Albanian leadership in
neighboring Macedonia.

The two KLA factions have little sympathy with or
understanding of democratic institutions. Split bitterly
between radical left and radical right, they are now arguing
over whether to carry the fighting to the pockets of ethnic
Albanians who live in western Macedonia and neighboring
Montenegro. The only thing they agree on is the need to
liberate Kosovo from Serbian rule. All else, menacingly,
will be decided later. It is not said how.

Given these deep divisions, it is no accident that the KLA
has failed to create a political organization or even a
vague platform. "I do not think we have an ideology," Jakup
Krasniqi, the KLA's mercurial spokesman, told the
Albanian-language daily Koha Ditore on July 12, 1998.  "And
in fact we do not have time for such things even if we were
interested in them, because we have our main job to do,
which is the task of liberation."


I first stumbled into the KLA in February 1997, shortly
after a police car was ambushed by armed "terrorists," as
the Serbs called them. Three uniformed ethnic Albanians
equipped with automatic weapons were killed in the
firefight. I took a taxi that had seen better days to attend
the wake for one of them. As I approached the village of
Orlane, a few lean men in track suits were standing about 20
feet apart on either side of the dirt road. Several of the
mourners proved hostile, lashing out at my translator as a
"spy" for Rugova.

That day in Orlane, with its crude outhouses, simple wooden
structures, and roaming flocks of goats and noisy chickens,
offered a glimpse into an armed rebellion that was still a
year away.  The slain man, Zahir Pajaziti, 34, had studied
English at Pristina University before dropping out.  He had
never held a steady job and had been on the run for several
months, appearing unannounced at night, armed and in
uniform, to visit his family and then disappearing before
dawn. He and his two companions had been stopped by police,
who apparently were looking for them, and were killed inside
their car. Mourners told of other small bands setting up
roadblocks to collect "war taxes" and holding political

But it was hard to penetrate the group from the inside.
Only in Switzerland, where there was less danger in speaking
with a foreign reporter, did it prove possible to establish
links with the organization. This proved easier than I
expected, in large part because the KLA had then built close
ties or melded with much of Rugova's League of Democratic
Kosovo (LDK). It was no coincidence that once the rebellion
erupted a year ago, local LDK leaders immediately picked up
weapons and became commanders of village units. By the time
of the uprising, Rugova had lost control of his own party.

Through the LDK, I arranged a meeting with a rebel commander
in Geneva -- the first such meeting with the press. My
interlocutor was nearly killed some months later when two
men with ski masks arrived at his unmarked office in Geneva
and pulled out pistols with silencers. The assistant who
answered the bell, although shot in the stomach, managed to
slam shut the security door, no doubt saving the official's
life. The would-be assassins were never apprehended. The
office has since been closed.

"We all feel a deep, deep sense of betrayal," the KLA man
told me, echoing a sentiment that seemed to speak for most
ethnic Albanians. "We mounted a peaceful, civilized protest
to fight the totalitarian rule of Milosevic. We did not go
down the road of nationalist hatred, always respecting
Serbian churches and monasteries. The result is that we were
ignored." The Dayton peace negotiations, which dealt with
Bosnia but not Kosovo, "taught us a painful truth, [that]
those that want freedom must fight for it. This is our sad

The Albanians were spurred by the collapse of Tito's
Yugoslavia. Croatia and Serbia, whose political ideology is
often overtly racist, unleashed a war in the early 1990s
largely against unarmed civilians to try to form ethnically
"pure" enclaves and states. Militias stormed through
minority communities in drunken frenzies, looting, burning,
raping, and murdering. They set up detention centers,
carried out mass executions, and ignored tepid international
protests. But after Milosevic revoked Kosovo's autonomy in
1989, Rugova insisted on a very different road to
independence, a Gandhi-like plan to withdraw from all state
institutions and create a parallel government. His was to be
a peaceful revolution and an example of civility and
tolerance that would earn the backing of the Western

The former literature professor, with his glasses constantly
sliding down his nose and a scarf loosely draped around his
neck, has the distracted look of an aging Left Bank poet.
Rugova is the self-styled president of Kosovo, although even
his supporters in Tirana, the Albanian capital, do not
recognize his "state." Remote and out of touch, he rarely
leaves his small office in Pristina, even to attend a
funeral a few blocks away.

Under Rugova's leadership, the ethnic Albanians set up their
own schools, clinics, and a shadow administration that
levied taxes, drawing on the resources of a diaspora of more
than 600,000 ethnic Albanians in Europe and some 300,000 in
Canada and the United States. The civil resistance lasted
nearly a decade. Streams of delegations from Kosovo traveled
to Scandinavian countries to take expenses-paid seminars in
nonviolence.  But the protest, unsustainable in the long
term and a victim of international indifference, collapsed.

Its death notice came after the 1995 Dayton agreement was
swiftly followed by the European Union's recognition of
Yugoslavia -- even though the EU had earlier demanded that
Yugoslavia first resolve the Kosovo issue. Kosovar
Albanians, with understandable rage, did not grasp why the
Bosnian Serbs, responsible for some of the worst acts of
genocide since World War II, were handed nearly half of
Bosnia at Dayton. The recognition of Radovan Karadzic's
gangster statelet, Republika Srpska, was the final insult.
It shattered all hopes for peaceful change in Kosovo.

The situation in Kosovo, a mountain-ringed bowl long at the
heart of the struggle for a Greater Albania, swiftly began
to unravel. Money, especially the three percent levy on all
earnings abroad, was diverted to the KLA's Homeland Calling
fund.  Albanian newspapers outside the province, such as the
Zurich-based Voice of Kosovo, started to print communiques
from the rebel group and run ads calling for donations.

The young men who had sent home remittances from menial jobs
in Europe to support their families began to be deported
under a series of agreements signed between Belgrade and
countries such as Germany, Switzerland, and Sweden.
Burdened by close to a million refugees from Bosnia, these
governments were unwilling to see the numbers swelled by a
new influx from the Balkans. The fighting in Kosovo has
ended the repatriations. A huge number of disenchanted and
angry youth who saw no benefits from Rugova's rule and who,
unlike their parents, did not speak Serbo-Croatian, began
giving up on multiethnicity.  The unemployment rate among
ethnic Albanians is 70 percent, and this pressure, coupled
with the highest birthrate in Europe (23.1 births per
1,000), has created a deep recruiting pool for the KLA.
Seventy percent of the population is now under 30.

Kosovo has undergone a generational shift much like that in
the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip at the start
of the intifada in 1987. The war of the Palestinian youth
was as much directed against their parents' generation,
which had been cowed by the Israeli military, as against the
occupiers themselves. In Kosovo, young Albanians have
bitterly repudiated not only Serb rule but also Rugova's
older, urbane, and educated leadership. Pristina's elites,
they say, have betrayed the Albanian cause.

On April 6, 1998, in the town of Jablanica, 30 miles north
of Dakovica, I bumped into a group of surly KLA fighters,
dressed in a motley collection of uniforms and equipped with
an odd assortment of hunting rifles, pistols, automatic
weapons, and hunting knives. The killings by Belgrade, along
with the humiliation of ten years of abuse, had left them
seething with resentment.

"This is our territory," said a gaunt, nervous rebel with a
scraggly black beard and a chrome-plated pistol protruding
from his belt. "We are through with these Albanian
intellectuals in Pristina, with journalists, diplomats, and
everyone else.  No one saved our women and children from
slaughter. Now it is up to us."


Belgrade, blind to the looming rebellion, blithely continued
to rule Kosovo like a colonial backwater. On several
occasions, I saw two or three beefy Serb police officers,
who I suspect are often recruited by the pound, walloping
young ethnic Albanians with their clubs in the center of
Pristina. I once watched a cop shove a young boy of about
ten, who held a small wooden tray of individual cigarettes
for sale, onto the sidewalk. The cop laughed as the
frightened child scrambled to rescue the cigarettes from the
mud puddles.  Many of the Serb police were sent to Kosovo as
a demotion or a punishment for misbehavior. One of their
favorite pastimes was to set up roadblocks and collect money
from a long line of cars for invented traffic violations.
Drivers that did not have money or did not pay had their
documents seized.

All this, however, paled in comparison with the brutal
treatment in Serb jails. People were beaten, tortured
(usually while chained to radiators), and held incommunicado
for days and weeks. Some simply vanished.

Bejram Shehi, 39, a laborer in Switzerland, came home last
year to visit his family and was arrested by Serb police.
They accused him of carrying in money for the KLA. He had a
black hood pulled over his head, was handcuffed, and was
then pushed through the back door of the police car onto the
car floor.

"They joked that they were taking me to see the Kosovo
Liberation Army," he said. "We drove for about an hour. I
was taken out and brought to a basement, where I was
stripped and handcuffed to a radiator. I stayed like this
for five days.  They beat me until I fainted, all the time
asking about the Kosovo Liberation Army, who belonged to it,
how it raised money abroad, and where it got its weapons."

On the fifth day he was forced to sign a confession. "I
promised to collaborate with them, and they gave me the name
of a police contact," he said, unfolding a small slip of
white paper from his wallet with a Serbian name and phone
number written in pencil.

The Serbs, meanwhile, lived as if Kosovo were the raj, with
all civil and state jobs and a private police force to
ensure their privileged status in the birthplace of modern
Serb nationalism.  Milo'sevi'c, presiding over a decaying
economy, clung to the millions of dollars a year in hard
cash brought in by Kosovo's massive Trepca mine complex,
valued at $5 billion. The mine alone made him loath to give
up the province to the ethnic Albanians; the
ultranationalist bigotry he had ridden to power reinforced
his obstinacy. Kosovo came to have the elements of a
political time bomb, ticking louder and louder while the
world looked the other way.


On a rainy afternoon in April 1997, I stood with one of
Rugova's top officials in front of the McDonald's in
downtown Geneva. He told me that at six o'clock that
evening, in the Buffet des Premieres Classes at the Geneva
train station, I would find a man seated in a front booth
with a copy of the Journal de Geneve. The paper, I was told,
would be completely unfolded. I was to come alone. The
conversation would take place in French.

This was my first encounter -- indeed the first interview by
any reporter -- with a rebel commander. Although a few
ethnic Albanian reporters had spoken to the Jasharis, the
clan that made up much of the KLA at the start of the
rebellion, none dared write about them or the KLA.  This
deeply angered the Jasharis and aided my efforts to reach
them. I walked into the station and saw a lean man in his
late thirties dressed in black jeans, a gray jacket, and a
purple T-shirt.  He looked up and motioned for me to follow
him out the door. We weaved quickly through the crowds
outside the station until we came to another cafe, where he
took a seat along the back wall facing the door. The rebel,
who gave his nom de guerre as Alban, would within a year
lead a group of a few hundred fighters over the border from
northern Albania into Kosovo. The last I heard, he was
commanding a large unit in the province.

He spoke quietly and without rancor. He said that, like most
of the leadership, he had spent years in prison for
separatist activity. "We have no Tito," he said. The KLA
leadership, he told me, was divided between about 30 people,
with no paramount leader.  These men were drawn primarily
from the 5,000 or so ethnic Albanians who had fought for the
Muslim-Croat Federation in Bosnia against the Serbs.

Until the uprising in Kosovo last spring, the KLA had only a
couple hundred members. The most prominent inside Kosovo was
Adem Jashari, a gruff, taciturn peasant who, with his
brother Hamza, had been on the run from Serb authorities for
months. They were among the handful of militants who founded
the KLA in 1991 before it mushroomed into a popular army,
much like the Islamist resistance in Algeria. In the early
days, they came closest to running the organization, and
many of their lieutenants and relatives -- at least the ones
that have survived -- now run the KLA.  I tried fruitlessly
over three days to speak to the Jasharis, spending an
afternoon pleading with Shaban, their 70-year-old father, to
pass on a message. He refused. His sons were increasingly
wanted men. Just a few weeks before, on November 28, 1997,
uniformed KLA fighters had, for the first time, appeared
before a large crowd. Before some 20,000 mourners at the
funeral of a schoolteacher slain by the Serbs, two KLA
leaders delivered a rousing call for liberation that was
greeted with a roar of approval and thunderous chants of

The only way to arrange a trip to the Jasharis ran through
Switzerland, something I did with some trepidation, since I
was afraid that Serb security agents might intercept my
communications. I made the request, however, and a few days
after Ramadan ended I was called to Geneva and told that on
February 17 I should be waiting outside the old religious
school in Pristina at eight o'clock in the morning. I would
be allowed to bring a photographer.

At the assigned hour, Wade Goddard, our photographer, and I
stood in the cold as two young men, both in jeans and
wearing combat boots, walked swiftly towards us. "Be here at
three o'clock tomorrow, and make sure you are not followed,"
said one in broken English. In less than a minute, they had

We spent the next morning darting in and out of taxis and
walking through back alleys to make sure we were not being
tailed. A KLA official in Switzerland, in an insight into
what has become a respectable intelligence network, had
thoughtfully provided me with the name of the undercover cop
who hung out in my small hotel in Pristina to report on my

As we traveled the next day to Prekaz, the small town in
central Kosovo that was the Jasharis' headquarters, the
group's well-oiled underground network was evident. Men
along the road signaled with their hands that the way was
clear of Serb checkpoints. When we entered Prekaz, the
driver honked the horn three times, and a group of about a
dozen men emerged from a shed to watch us. We turned up into
a field covered with a thin layer of snow and were stopped
by a half-dozen heavily armed men in camouflage uniforms.
All wore on their shoulders the red-and-black KLA patch with
the double-headed Albanian eagle.

We were escorted through the fields and along dirt roads.
As our patrol walked over the thin layer of snow, I noticed
that no one seemed to find the presence of the rebels
unusual; even the children hardly gave us a glance. We
reached a small stone farmhouse surrounded by a wooden
fence. Inside, on cushions set on the floor along the wall,
were Adem and Hamza Jashari. The room, filled with acrid
cigarette smoke, was lit by a single kerosene lamp. Two
burly bodyguards, clutching automatic weapons, stood by the
door. The two dirt roads leading into the village had also
been closed after we passed by bands of armed fighters.

This would be the first and last interview the Jasharis
would give to a reporter. In three weeks, I would be
standing over their bodies in a warehouse. Adem's neck had
been slit, probably after he had died of multiple bullet
wounds. Shaban, his elderly father with whom I had spent an
afternoon, lay not far away. There were 51 corpses, 20 of
them members of the Jashari clan, many of them shot in the
head at close range. About two dozen of the victims were
women and children, and some of the bodies were blackened by
the flames that had engulfed their homes.

But that day, the encounter with the Jasharis offered a
revealing look at the contrasts within the KLA. Adem, with
his drooping bandito mustache and hostility, had none of
Alban's polished charm. The fighters around him were
suspicious peasants, prone to lash out at everyone,
including Rugova, who was not part of their inner circle.
They insisted that they would never flee from the village if
it came under attack. Most, in fact, died in their homes, as
have scores of other Kosovar Albanians who have yet to
master the basic tenets of guerrilla warfare.

As we spoke, we heard the low drone of a single-engine plane
circling lazily overhead, no doubt taking infrared
photographs of heat sources for the coming Serb assault.
Nervous fighters in the courtyard peered up at the craft in
the moonlight.

In another era the Jashari clan, which oversaw a large
black-market smuggling network, would have faded away into
local folklore. The Balkans are filled with small-time
renegades who combine criminal activity with thin,
separatist ideologies.  Instead, by leveling Prekaz with 20
mm antiaircraft cannons and killing more than 50 people,
including many old people, women, and children, the Serbs
made the Jasharis into martyrs. U.S.  Special Envoy to the
Balkans Robert Gelbard gave what many have interpreted as a
green light to Belgrade to go after the rebel bands by
announcing in Pri'stina on February 23, 1998, that the KLA
"is without any question a terrorist group." He went on to
add that the United States "condemns very strongly terrorist
activities in Kosovo." Within two weeks Serb forces had
turned Prekaz into a smoldering ruin, killed close to a
hundred people, and ignited the uprising.

A few days after the Jashari compound was flattened with
mortar and cannon shells, I wandered among the piles of
brick and cement. In the ruins of one room lay a blackened
book with a map that showed a Greater Albania that included
Kosovo, parts of Serbia, much of Macedonia, and parts of
present-day Greece and Montenegro. The map was drawn up on
July 1, 1878, when the bajraktars, or clan chieftains, from
the Turkish realms of the southwest Balkans founded the
League for the Defense of the Albanian Nation. The book was
a potent reminder of what the war was about -- especially
since, with most ethnic Albanians concentrated in
homogeneous areas bordering Albania, the drive to extend
Albania's borders remains feasible.

That drive is not only a wider threat to European stability
but also to Albanian moderation.  Kosovar Albanians in exile
-- and even some who have gone back to fight -- express deep
frustration at the provincialism of the leadership within
Kosovo, but to little avail. Leaders of the KLA, especially
those who have not lived abroad, are convinced that they
have embarked on the century-long dream of a Greater
Albania. Many KLA commanders tout themselves as "a
liberation army for all Albanians" -- precisely what
frightens the NATO alliance most.


Both the Serbs and the ethnic Albanians are now confident
that force of arms can solve the impasse. The Serbs have
huge stockpiles of heavy weapons they have yet to unleash,
and the KLA has a large reserve of volunteers and a porous
border with Albania to smuggle in supplies and newly trained
recruits. Neither side has much incentive to lay down its
weapons, despite NATO's air strikes.

Settling in for a long fight, the KLA probably has 30,000
automatic weapons, made available at bargain prices after
Albanian military arsenals were looted in the chaos after
the spring 1997 economic meltdown. The rebels have made a
concerted effort to acquire German antitank weapons, heavy
machine guns, sniper rifles, and rocket-propelled grenades.
Most important, by launching the current rebellion, taking
on the Serbs, and drawing international attention to the
conflict, the rebel group has done more in a year to further
the cause of independence for Kosovo than Rugova was able to
do over the preceding decade.

As long as Washington insists on adhering to the principle
that all states in the former Yugoslavia be multiethnic,
there is little hope of a resolution. And as long as
Belgrade is permitted to station troops in Kosovo, which is
part of the current agreement, neither NATO soldiers nor
Kosovar Albanians will be safe. Building any kind of lasting
peace or democratic institutions will be impossible.

The holes in a policy of advocating multiethnicity gape most
glaringly in Croatia and Bosnia.  Croatia has expelled most
of the ethnic Serbs who once made up 12 percent of its
population, and post-Dayton Bosnia is rigidly partitioned
into little Croat, Serb, and Muslim parastates. Yet the
diplomatic community insists on the fiction that the pieces
can somehow be glued back together and periodically scolds
Zagreb and Sarajevo for failing to comply.

Western diplomatic efforts designed to keep the Serbs and
the ethnic Albanians in the same country mirror the
fruitless peace efforts carried out during the first three
years of the Bosnian war. The refusal to accept the creation
of ethnically "pure" enclaves -- a decision that is
strategically and morally understandable -- leaves diplomats
paying homage to multiethnic institutions, however hollow,
and lofty democratic ideals that nearly all Balkan leaders
detest.  Kosovo can remain a Serbian province and the two
groups can live together, this reasoning goes, if only the
ethnic Albanians are given a little more freedom. Given that
between 1966 and 1989 an estimated 130,000 Serbs left the
province because of frequent harassment and discrimination
by the Kosovar Albanian majority, this is at best naive.

The peace agreement for which NATO went to war proposes to
deploy some 30,000 NATO troops and allow ethnic Albanian
police to take over security functions in Albanian-majority
areas. The plan would gradually cede local police control to
the KLA, which would probably comprise most of the force.
But Serbia would keep troops in the province and handle
security along the borders -- especially the border with
Albania, where the KLA has set up logistics bases and
smuggling routes for weapons and fighters. The plan also
calls for a phased disarming of the KLA.

Such a deal would be hard enough to implement under Rugova,
but it would be harder still to implement under a rebel
command that has spent the last three years preparing for
war. The KLA is wildly unlikely to hand over its guns,
especially given Milosevic's pattern of ignoring formal
agreements. The latent nationalism among most Serbs, coupled
with the disturbing belief that they were the real victims
in Yugoslavia's wars, is aroused by each Western attack.
Belgrade knows that NATO has no desire to become the air
wing of the KLA. Anything much short of all-out war on
Yugoslavia only consolidates Milosevic's grip on power and
allows him to unleash his forces in Kosovo.

The West's blundering peace initiative has reminded the KLA
not to rely too much on NATO.  The alliance was palpably
reluctant to move against the Serbs, although they have
flagrantly violated the agreement made last October to cease
hostilities in Kosovo. Ignoring the October pact, NATO
bombed to get Belgrade to sign on to the Rambouillet deal --
a shift not lost on the Kosovar Albanians. Milosevic, for
his part, has driven NATO crazy since the Kosovo crisis
began. Chris Hill, the current U.S. Kosovo mediator, has
carried out fruitless shuttle diplomacy since last spring;
on his latest trip to Belgrade, Milosevic did not even meet
with him. Put bluntly, the Serb leaders stiffed the United
States. The KLA is correctly distrustful of Western
intentions and resolve.

That distrust led to the decision by the KLA not to sign the
Rambouillet agreement in the first round of talks last
February -- which, in turn, let the alliance off the moral
hook. Kosovar intransigence gave the West the excuse it was
looking for not to implement the October agreement and
deepened the already wide rifts within the alliance.

If the West's peace push eventually dies, as now appears
likely, the KLA leaders will swiftly become utterly
disenchanted with the West and -- as if they were not
already implacable enough -- turn to Islamic radicals ready
to back another battle by Muslims against Orthodox
Christians.  There are already signs that contacts have been
established. The Serbs, whose information is admittedly
often unreliable, say that Islamic charities in the Persian
Gulf are giving millions to the KLA. U.S. officials say they
have detected ties to Islamist organizations and suspect
that some money has been forwarded to the KLA. I saw bearded
mujahideen, who did not look Albanian, wandering around the
staging areas in northern Albania, a hint that there may be
some truth to these assertions.

The Serbs also contend that the KLA has about 1,000 foreign
mercenaries from Albania, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Afghanistan,
Bosnia, and Croatia, as well as British and German
instructors.  Most of the mercenaries are probably Albanian
nationals, especially former Albanian army officers, police
officers, and members of the state security services.

The KLA is clearly preparing for a long slog. It has tried
to recruit ethnic Albanian veterans in Croatia, who formed
two battalions in Croatia's war against the Serbs. In early
February, Yugoslav officials said that they had seized
$500,000 worth of weapons, ammunition, and uniforms for the
KLA that were smuggled in from Croatia in a truck. Zagreb
has been warned by senior NATO officials to stay out of the
conflict, but Croatian President Franjo Tudjman's government
can hardly be displeased to see Belgrade mired in another
disaster. There are rebel training camps now in Albania --
apparently in Ljabinot, near Tirana -- as well as ones I saw
in Tropoja (near the Yugoslav border), Kuks, and Bajram

Were the conflagration to result in the deployment of
peacekeeping NATO ground forces -- a proposition that should
not be taken lightly -- it would have risks that were not
faced in Bosnia.  Kosovo, unlike Cyprus and Bosnia, has no
fixed lines dividing the antagonists. The province's battle
lines resemble the constantly shifting sands of Central
America's 1980s guerrilla wars: a stretch of road that is
safe in the morning can be deadly in the afternoon. Because
this is an insurrection rather than a war between armies,
rebels can be farmers one day and combatants the next. They
will be impossible to define. To muddy the waters further,
the KLA is poorly led, with no central command and little
discipline. Many villages have formed ad hoc militias that,
while they identify themselves as KLA, act independently. I
found that KLA commanders often spent as much time trying to
find out what these militias were doing -- closing down
unauthorized roadblocks and curbing excesses by local
warlords -- as they did fighting the Serbs. Part of the
problem facing any peacekeeping force will be defining who
belongs to the KLA and who does not. The Serb soldiers and
special police, in uniform and headquartered in barracks,
will prove far easier to monitor, if not always control. But
the overall picture is one of chaos.

In Bosnia, by contrast, the front lines had changed little
by late 1992, and the war often resembled World War I
clashes on the western front, albeit on a much smaller
scale. During the war, I used to watch ferocious Muslim
night assaults from the twisting trench systems around the
Jewish cemetery in Sarajevo, complete with luminous flares
and the deep-throated rattle of heavy machine guns. Hundreds
of people were wounded or killed in this trench warfare, but
the trenches themselves moved little.

Even after this spring's NATO air strikes and ruthless
Serbian attacks, Kosovo's combatants may still have vigor to
spare. In Bosnia, on the other hand, conditions were much
riper for peacemaking, at least by the fall of 1995. The
Bosnian Serbs, battered by two weeks of heavy NATO bombing,
were a spent and broken force. The long arm of the United
States managed to rein in the Muslims, largely by silencing
Croatian artillery units that had been instrumental in the
joint Croat-Muslim advance. The Muslims had suffered enough,
the Bosnian Serbs were on the ropes, and the Croats had
gotten everything they wanted out of the war with the
exception of the Serb-held enclave of Eastern Slavonia,
which was handed back to them two years later.

Kosovo has not yet been granted the dubious blessing of such
exhaustion. The Serbs appear to believe that the problem
requires not negotiation but more force. Morale among the
Serbs is low, and there are steady reports of desertions.
The heavily mechanized Serb patrols stick to the blacktop
roads while the KLA controls a network of back dirt roads
that often skirt police checkpoints. Reporters that bounce
along them in armored jeeps have aptly nicknamed them the Ho
Chi Minh Trail. With their patrols and land mines, the Serbs
have had no more luck sealing the borders than the Germans
had in stomping out Tito's Partisans in World War II -- or
(mutatis mutandis) the Americans had with the original Ho
Chi Minh Trail. Just as in the last war, Belgrade's decision
to scorch villages is only flooding the rebels with

The animosities have been carved deep. Although this is not
a war about "ancient ethnic hatreds," there is nevertheless
a long history of antagonism between the Serbs and the
Kosovar Albanians. The competing national myths -- with the
Serbs claiming Kosovo as the birthplace of medieval Serbia
and the Albanians claiming they are descended from the
ancient Illyrians -- are trotted out by each group to
bludgeon the other.

Fed on nationalist mythology and emboldened by their initial
successes, the KLA's leaders are in no mood to settle. The
leadership still appears to rely, at least for its public
face, on the radicals in the diaspora, including Jashar
Salihu, the head of the Homeland Calling fund, and Pleurat
Sejdiu, the KLA's London representative. But the group's
chief appears to be the university-educated Hashim Thaci,
the head of the political directorate, whose nom de guerre
is "Snake." Like many in the leadership, he was a student
activist in Pri'stina before leaving to study in Albania and
raise money in Europe for the independence movement. When
Thaci unexpectedly snarled the Rambouillet talks, Secretary
of State Madeleine K. Albright learned the extent of KLA
militancy the hard way.

At this late stage in the game, a NATO deployment -- if
Milosevic can somehow be bombed into accepting it -- will
over the short term save lives, just as it did in Bosnia.
But it will not bring back the autonomy that Tito, the last
of the Habsburgs, oversaw with such skill. With its citizens
carrying Croatian passports and voting in national
elections, the Croat-controlled part of Bosnia is already a
de facto part of Croatia. The Bosnian Serbs are slowly
grafting themselves onto Serbia. It is best to accept the
unpalatable and acknowledge that the successor states to
Yugoslavia are moral and political dwarfs.

In Kosovo, the stationing of international troops may
prevent all-out fighting and provide the breathing space to
negotiate a workable solution. But given the deep rifts
between the sides, the latter is hardly likely. The
international community would then face the stark choice
between remaining in Kosovo for a long time or pulling out
after the proposed three-year period, with the likelihood
that those on both sides of the divide would again pick up
their guns. In the end, it will come to this: Led by the
KLA, Kosovo will separate from Serbia, whether by
negotiations or by violence.

Chris Hedges, currently a Nieman Fellow at Harvard
University, was The New York Times'
Balkan Bureau Chief from 1995 to 1998.

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