|Geert Lovink on Sat, 3 Apr 1999 17:00:27 +0200 (CEST)|
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|Syndicate: KLA Commander's Talk Of NATO Betrayal (IWPR)|
From: email@example.com http://www.iwpr.net/ KLA Commander's Talk Of NATO Betrayal By Fron Nazi in Kukes, on the Kosovo-Albanian border (Published on April 2, 1999) The Kosovars call it the 'Besa' -- the sworn vow on which an Albanian stakes his life. Kosovo Liberation Army soldier Shkem Dragobia says NATO made such a pledge to his people. And broke it. "When we signed the Rambouillet agreement, we were led to believe that NATO and the US will help the Albanians. So we stopped arming and mobilising ourselves," he says. The KLA was strongly pressured to reduce its military activities. The talk in France was of decommissioning, and plans to convert the KLA into a force to peacefully police its own communities. At all costs, they were told, the KLA was not to take advantage of any NATO action to embark on an offensive of their own. The Albanians say they kept their word -- on the expectation that NATO would do its part to prevent the kind of humanitarian catastrophe that is now unfolding. "NATO has failed to keep its part of the besa," he adds. He is speaking in a tight room, packed with rifles, machine guns, helmets and other basic military hardware, on the outskirts of the town of Kukes, Albania. Outside, around a hundred wagons and carts pass the Albanian-Kosovo border, each one packed with ten, 15 desperate, despairing people, an entire extended family for each miserable transport. It is a devastating spectacle, and for Albanians the most bitter illustration of the failure of the West's strategy. But while the international refugee agencies and journalists count the numbers, at Dragobia's base in a small warehouse, others are counting potential recruits. According to Dragobia, all agreements are now off. If NATO refuses to enter Kosovo with ground forces, the KLA is calling on the West to provide heavy arms, artillery and other materiel so that it can take up the fight itself. "We call on all Albanians and our friends to join us now," he says. "It's now or never." He asserts that if the West fails to find a way to turn the tide in the ground war now, the conflict between the KLA and Yugoslav forces could last for five years. But since the onset of the NATO campaign, behind the massive displacement of civilian refugees, despite the daily strikes at the Yugoslav military, the Belgrade troops have been giving the KLA a hammering. Like all KLA sources, Dragobia refuses to give details, but it is clear that fighting has stretched far beyond the central Decani area where the pre-strikes clashes were concentrated, and throughout the western part of the province. The town of Pec, the province's second city, has been emptied and reportedly largely destroyed, and Prizren and Djakovica are said to have suffered similar fates. Serbian TV continues to show coverage of the mass evacuation of Pristina. Refugees claim the Yugoslav forces are storing their military hardware in Albanian homes and other civilian buildings, especially throughout Pristina, to evade NATO air power. The KLA is still active in the mountains, but have suffered from loss of communications and limitations on movement. The roads and all the towns are firmly under Yugoslav Army control. Significantly, a strategy is emerging. Serb authorities are organising buses for the displaced, but appear to be directing them not to Macedonia -- which for many would be the nearest refuge -- but towards Albania. It suggests a calculated plan by Belgrade to unsettle Albania, which has directly supported the KLA, while easing the refugee burden on Macedonia. The West is particularly sensitive to the political disruption that a massive ethnic Albanian migration could cause to Macedonia's fragile multi-ethnic balance. It's a kind of strategic ethnic cleansing. "We are trying to stop Kosovars first from leaving Kosova by expanding our control over the territory, and secondly we are trying to stop them from leaving Albania," says Dragobia -- a nom de guerre, taken from a mountain peak in the province. Like many other KLA members, Dragobia feels that if the West, in particular Italy and Greece, take the refugees, without clear hope of their return, they will be directly aiding Belgrade's campaign of ethnic cleansing. So the KLA is trying to reassemble a fresh army by recruiting among the streams of dispossessed, presently around 160,000 people, that are now entering Albania. Men freshly expelled from their homes and villages are presented with a quick choice: sign up for the KLA and join the counterattacks or resign themselves to an uncertain life in a refugee camp. Dragobia again declined to give numbers, but he said that Albanians from Albania are also joining the KLA, though they are being kept in reserve. But the main recruits are from Kosovo itself. Angry and in shock, most refugees sign on. To meet Dragobia we pass around 100 KLA soldiers, armed to the teeth with kalashnikovs and the mixed weaponry of a guerrilla force. Twenty or so young men, no more than 21 years old, in civilian clothes and possibly refugees, take the same route. "We want NATO and the US to keep their original promises," Dragobia stressed. That would mean the use of Western ground troops. "If not, we want them to furnish us with arms and to give us time to reorganise and equip ourselves," he said. That implies an escalation of the air war against Yugoslav forces and NATO supply routes and even military advisors within Kosovo. "If this cannot be done, than our wish is that they leave us alone to resolve our own problems. We're convinced we can handle the Serbs by ourselves, if we have to," he said. As we departed the warehouse, the 20 young Albanians, new recruits, had been freshly attired in neatly creased camouflage uniforms, new boots and bright red berets. They looked at each other awkwardly, like students just signed up to a college sports squad, and getting used to the new jerseys, about to play a very dangerous game. Fron Nazi is an IWPR senior editor.