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Issue 40, July/Aug 1999

KLA moves in

CHEERING CROWDS turned out to greet KLA forces as victorious heroes as they marched into towns and villages following the final withdrawal of Serbian forces on 19-20 June. People threw pink and red flowers, chanting 'UK, UK!'

KLA commanders quickly appointed mayors and other functionaries to fill the vacuum left by the exodus of Serbian officials, technicians, and workers. In many areas, the KLA have begun to reestablish local services, restoring water supplies, reorganising health facilities, reopening bakeries and getting the rubbish collected. They have turned a blind eye to revenge looting of abandoned Serbian property, and themselves settled scores. Although there have been a few reports of KLA units being disarmed, K-For seems to have so far avoided any clashes with the guerrilla army.

Kosova is now effectively a Nato protectorate, under the control of General Jackson and his commanders, despite the United Nations mandate and a contingent of Russian forces. But with only about half of the 50,000 K-For in position there is a limit to the control exercised by the military at this stage (apart from the fact that they have no desire to run bakeries and sewage works). Even at full strength, however, K-For would face serious problems if a conflict opened up with the KLA, which is thought to have 10,000 seasoned fighters and 30,000 reservists who joined the ranks more recently.

Civilian administration will officially come under a 'temporary administration' appointed by the UN Security Council. But while Vieira de Mello, the UN's Special Representative for Kosova, is scrambling around to appoint international judges, police chiefs, administrators, and so on, the KLA are already setting up new structures and taking control on the ground. Many KLA activists gained administrative experience participating in the 'parallel institutions' which Rugova's Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) set up after Serbia revoked Kosova autonomy in 1989. The UN administration, in any case, has very limited resources and will not be able to run Kosova without local support, and the KLA is now the main political force.

  Even before the Nato pact with Milosevic, the KLA leader, Hashim Thaci, declared himself prime minister of a provisional Kosova government, which behind the scenes has been collaborating closely with the Western powers, especially the US. Both the abortive Rambouillet accord and the eventual June deal stipulated the 'de-militarisation' of KLA forces. Even after the further, more detailed agreement between Nato leaders and the KLA commanders on 21 June, however, the exact character of the agreement remains ambiguous. Officially, the KLA will lay down their weapons, to be stored in KLA arsenals under K-For supervision. In return, they will be given 'special consideration', on account of their 'technical expertise', for inclusion in a new civilian police force. 'Due consideration' will be given to the formation at a later date of an armed force on the lines of the US National Guard, with a professional core and part-time reservists. Through this fudge, Nato has postponed a clear resolution of its exact relationship with the KLA.

The K-For commander, General Jackson, was reportedly pushing for rapid KLA disarmament. But the US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, intervened personally to insist that the KLA should be given three months to comply. This was the KLA's reward from the US for supporting the Rambouillet plan and for their role in harrying Serbian forces in the last few weeks of the conflict, when they were considerably strengthened by Nato military support.

"We agree to de-militarise", said the KLA's political spokesman, Jakup Krasniqi. However, "de-militarisation and disarmament are two different things". (Times, 17 June) Three months' grace will allow the KLA to stockpile key weaponary (some of it probably out of Nato's sight), consolidate their political power base, and test their relationship with the Nato/UN protectorate.

  Between Nato and the KLA there is a devil's pact based on necessity and expediency. At Rambouillet, the KLA leaders signed up with Nato, calculating that it was the only effective way to re-establish their presence within Kosova. On the other side, Nato provided military support to the KLA because they desperately needed surrogate forces on the ground to flush the Serbian army out of its defensive positions. Subsequently, the Western powers have attempted to negotiate a political deal with the KLA leaders, hoping to domesticate them through involvement in civil administration and to gain time in which to build up other points of political support. The Western powers' objectives were clearly summarised by the Washington Post as being "to drain away the (KLA's) militant spirit by integrating its leadership into more moderate ethnic Albanian political structures... to make the KLA more vulnerable to Western and democratic pressures and to undermine the group's demand for Kosovo's independence from Serbia". (International Herald Tribune, 22 June)

While K-For moves slowly and the UN administration has not even arrived, the KLA, strengthened by its recent military successes, has moved very quickly. "Western officials have been startled by the guerrillas' move to take the helm of nascent civil structures, and they are uneasy about it". (IHT, 22 June)

While formally accepting the autonomous status decreed by Nato, the KLA leaders clearly see this as a strictly temporary arrangement. "We fought for an independent Kosova", said Krasniqi, "not for an autonomous Kosova, and now we will settle for something in the middle. A two- or three-year protectorate. After that, our people will choose in a referendum".

Nato leaders, who fear the destabilising effects of any border changes, have never explicitly agreed to a referendum (though it was vaguely promised at Rambouillet). In reality, however, Kosova is now de facto independent. The Yugoslav regime has no influence within the province, though it may be allowed a symbolic presence. With only a few remaining Serb enclaves in a number of cities, it appears that at least half of the Serb minority have left, and are unlikely to return. In words, the KLA accepts the right of the Serbian minority to remain in Kosova; in practice they have driven Serbs out, or stood aside while others drove them out. The KLA leaders, with overwhelming popular support, obviously intend to turn independence into an irreversible fact and then demand its legitimisation through a referendum.

  Some KLA leaders, moreover, are making it clear that they still believe that all Albanians in the Balkans have the right to their own, single homeland, a Greater Albania. This would include about a third of Macedonia and segments of Montenegro and Greece - the recipe for another war.

The KLA are now clearly the predominant political force in Kosova. The Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), which led a campaign of passive resistance to Serbian rule, was eclipsed by the KLA after 1996. Its leader, Ibrahim Rugova, who is close to Albania's former nationalist dictator, Sali Berisha, was totally discredited after he appeared on Serbian television in April this year, chatting and smiling with Milosevic, though he later claimed he was acting under duress. Western leaders, however, have continued to promote Rugova as a 'moderate', and some revival of LDK influence in the cities cannot be ruled out.

Within the KLA, Hashim Thaci, and his lieutenants, Azem Syla and Xhavit Haliti, appear to have won a ruthless struggle to consolidate their leadership. They fought it out with the military leader Ahmet Krasniqi, who was linked to Bujar Bukoshi. Bukoshi, who is politically close to Rugova (and Berisha), organised massive financial support from exiled Kosovars for Rugova and Krasniqi, and reportedly still has substantial funds at his disposal. Killed in September 1998, it is alleged that Krasniqi and subsequently other rival commanders were assassinated or violently driven out by the Thaci leadership (charges which they deny).

Thaci and his lieutenants were members of the Popular Movement for Kosova (LPK), which launched the KLA. Apart from armed struggle, however, nothing remains of their Maoist ideology. If they succeed in establishing a stronghold over a reconstructed state apparatus, initially in collaboration with Nato, they will preside over a capitalist, not a planned, economy. A basic condition for Western finance will be 'free-market' policies. As in other former Stalinist states, neo-liberal policies will foster a primitive, gangster-capitalism, which will spell even greater inequality and poverty for a people suffering from the devastating consequences of the recent conflict. Predictably, the new leaders will grab a lion's share of Western finances, Nato military spending, and UN aid. Exactly how their relationship with the Western powers will evolve remains to be seen. There will certainly be many possibilities of conflict with the Nato protectorate.

At the moment, the KLA is overwhelmingly popular. But this does not make it a democratic force. How many examples are there in recent history of guerrilla leaders who, buoyed up by the prestige and power acquired through armed struggle, have established themselves as the autocratic rulers of a new state? Western leaders, of course, are promising that there will be 'free elections' as soon as possible. Unfortunately, where the working class and rural poor lack their own democratic, mass organisations, elections in themselves may do little more than provide a facade for a home-grown nationalist dictatorship.

Lynn Walsh


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