As U.N. Organizes, Rebels Are Taking Charge of Kosovo

          By CHRIS HEDGES
          PRISTINA, Yugoslavia -- The Kosovo
          Liberation Army has taken sweeping political
          control in the province, establishing a network
          of ministries and appointing local councils,
          seizing businesses and apartments, and
          collecting taxes and customs payments in the
          absence of a strong international police

          Despite a peace agreement that calls for a
          United Nations-appointed administration, and
          the fact that the Albanian militants have no legal
          standing, they have created a fait accompli, and
          these days they talk not of ceding power to the
          United Nations but of cooperating as if they
          were equals.

          "We will work with the United Nations," said
          Muje Gjonbalaj, the new deputy minister for
          reconstruction and development, "but this is our
          country and our government. We are in charge
          until the elections, when a permanent
          government will be installed."

          The rebel army's swift move to take power has
          been aided by the squabbling and
          ineffectiveness of the moderate opposition,
          along with a disorganized United Nations
          administration that is short on personnel and
          awaiting the police that member countries
          promised to send to help maintain order.

          In the absence of a United Nations police force,
          NATO peacekeepers have tried to provide
          some order. But they are not intended to serve
          as the police or as civil administrators.

          Bernard Kouchner, the United Nations chief
          administrator in Kosovo, said he was aware of
          the abuses being committed by the rebel army,
          and insisted that the world organization was
          working to curb them. The United Nations is
          planning to deploy a 3,100-strong police force,
          although it has only 156 officers in Kosovo at
          the moment. American officials have criticized
          the United Nations for moving slowly, and
          Kouchner, who arrived July 15, said he is
          working to set up legal mechanisms that will sort
          through issues such as property ownership and

          "It is always like this after wars of liberation," he
          said. "Things take time. What we want to avoid
          is an internal war. Some of these activities are
          carried out by the K.L.A., others are carried
          out in the name of the K.L.A., but we must
          work with them to establish law and order. It
          will take more than 10 days. It was exactly the
          same in my country when the British, the
          Americans and the Canadians liberated

          The ramifications for Kosovo, and for the
          international powers that have set up this
          protectorate, are immense, for the raw, often
          unschooled fighters have as their political patron
          the Government of Albania and care little for the
          civilities of Western-style democracies.

          Despite the presence of the 35,000 NATO
          peacekeepers, violence has been rising steadily,
          especially against the remaining Serbian civilians.
          The looting and burning of Serbs' homes, as
          well as dozens of assassinations and
          kidnappings of Serbs and a few Albanians,
          including the massacre of 14 Serbian farmers on
          Friday, speak of a province slipping into the
          kind of gunslinging lawlessness that has
          characterized Albania in the last few years.

          "The only political group that has any structure is
          the K.L.A.," said Baton Haxhiu, the editor of
          Koha Ditore, an Albanian-language daily. "It is
          using it to take power, backed eventually by a
          police and a national guard force it alone will
          control. It will be very hard to turn Albania into
          Kosovo, but I expect very easy to turn Kosovo
          into Albania. Each day it is becoming more
          dangerous to think and speak independently."

          The rebels are supposed to turn in their
          weapons to the NATO-led peacekeepers,
          known as KFOR, before the end of September.
          But they have been slow to comply with the
          demilitarization agreement and are hiding large
          amounts of weaponry, NATO officers said.

          In Prizren, German soldiers on Friday stumbled
          onto a cache of 10 tons of ammunition
          squirreled away by the rebels. There is an
          average of one murder a day, most often of a
          Serb, and three or four lootings and house
          burnings in Prizren, which is in many ways a
          typical city in postwar Kosovo. In Prizren the
          city hall and municipal buildings have been
          commandeered by the Kosovo Liberation
          Army. Former fighters sit in the offices and run
          the city.

          In Pristina several large buildings have been
          taken over by the group and turned into
          ministries. Small cafes, shops, apartments and
          the huge shopping center in Pristina are in the
          hands of a rebel cadre.

          Most of these new entrepreneurs come from
          rural areas and have nothing but disdain for the
          Kosovo Albanian urban elite, who, they say,
          failed under Ibrahim Rugova to drive away the
          Serbs. Rugova, the nonviolent political leader of
          a faction of Kosovo Albanians, remains in exile
          in Italy after a brief visit to Kosovo, saying he
          has delayed his return because of concerns
          about his security in rebel territory.

          Hetem Hetemi, who said he led a unit of 20
          fighters in the war, most from his immediate
          family, was seated outside his new business, the
          Mozart Bar, which was seized from its Serbian

          "My sons and I showed up in Pristina with our
          weapons and decided to take this bar." It was a
          point of pride to Hetemi that one of the enemy,
          a Serbian paramilitary leader known as Arkan
          who has been indicted on war crimes charges,
          used to drink at the bar.

          Hetemi said, "Everything we had in our village
          was destroyed. I took a Serb car but the
          KFOR soldiers stopped me and made me give
          it to them. What am I supposed to drive? These
          peacekeepers are worse than the Serbs."

          The provisional government is headed by
          Hashim Thaci, a rebel commander who has
          appointed himself Prime Minister and his friends
          and relatives to head various departments,
          including his uncle Azem Syla to the post of
          Defense Minister.

          Thaci's orders are usually delivered by bands of
          sunburned young men, many carrying concealed
          pistols. The orders are handed over with
          warnings that failure to comply will lead to
          beatings or death.

          Thaci says he will govern Kosovo until
          parliamentary elections, which are expected to
          be scheduled sometime during the next nine
          months. But he does not speak of disbanding
          the structures that have been set up to allow the
          United Nations to assume responsibility.

          There is no deadline for elections -- local
          elections may precede parliamentary or regional
          votes -- meaning that Thaci could be in power
          for well over a year before any vote is organized
          by the Organization for Security and
          Cooperation in Europe.

          Under Thaci, the large ministries here hum with
          activity. In the lobby of the old social security
          building in Pristina, now the rebel movement's
          Defense Ministry, groups of wiry young men sat
          huddled at their desks over coffee cups and
          dented tin ashtrays filled with cigarette butts.

          Rebel commanders, many with pistols tucked in
          shoulder holsters, moved in conversation up and
          down the central spiral staircase. New
          bureaucrats, with fancy titles and late model
          sedans and jeeps, all parked outside and
          curiously lacking license plates, barked orders
          and passed out documents stamped with "The
          Defense Ministry of Kosovo."

          The reach of these newly formed institutions is
          increasingly felt in the streets and
          neighborhoods, where most people say they are
          afraid to run afoul of the self-appointed
          authorities. Business owners interviewed in
          recent days were reluctant to give their names,
          but many said they were being pressed for
          money by the rebels or have had their vehicles

          Tahir Canolli, 49, a heavy-set man with a deep
          baritone voice and the soothing, obsequious
          mannerisms of a salesman, ran a furniture store
          in Pristina for nearly three decades. He bought
          his couches, chairs, dressers and tables from a
          furniture factory near Nis, and doggedly fended
          off Serbian tax inspectors, who visited
          frequently with demands for money. He, like
          many businessmen, hoped that when he
          returned to Pristina from the refugee camps in
          Macedonia, such harassment would end.

          Instead, a group of fighters arrived at his shop
          two weeks ago with a paper issued by "The
          Ministry of Public Order" demanding the keys
          to his 1990 Audi 80 and his store.

          "They were arrogant, brutal and rude," he said,
          unfolding the stamped order that he now carries
          in his pocket. "They told me that if I did not
          comply immediately they knew a cellar I might
          like to visit."

          Within hours, $50,000 worth of furniture was
          loaded onto trucks brought by the officials who
          had demanded his keys. The looters not only
          stripped the store of its contents but also ripped
          out the heaters, lamps and mirrors. They carted
          away 24 large flower boxes that had been
          outside the building. The next day several flower
          boxes of the same design and with the same
          kinds of plants were placed outside the building
          where Thaci works.

          Thaci's appointees said that such confiscations,
          especially of state-owned buildings, were part
          of their effort to determine property ownership.
          They also defended the decision to begin
          collecting money from businesses, a practice
          many shop owners have labeled "extortion."

          "If mistakes are being made they will be
          corrected," said Gjonbalaj, the deputy minister.
          "There were many irregular contracts. We need
          to regulate things in Kosovo and this means
          collecting taxes, or contributions, rather, to
          rebuild. We are the legitimate government and
          we must assume all governmental

          Canolli has spent hours outside Thaci's
          ministries in recent days in the hope that he can
          reclaim some of his property or be
          compensated for it. But each attempt has been

          "I saw the K.L.A. police inspector who gave
          me the confiscation order driving my car,
          although it had no license plates," he said. "I
          went to his office but was told at the door that I
          should never come back or attempt to speak
          with him. I am afraid. I survived Serb
          occupation to be destroyed by my own people."