NATO Learns – Too Late – for Whom It Won a War

It is becoming harder by the day to justify NATO’s continued collaboration with the
Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). A front page article in the June 25 New York Times
cites KLA commanders, former Albanian government officials, and Western diplomats
who claim KLA leader Hashim Thaci and two of his lieutenants led purges of the KLA
ranks, to root out and kill potential challengers to Thaci’s leadership. No one has come
forward to say they witnessed Thaci or his associates, Azem Syla and Xhavit Haliti,
personally carrying out the killings, though reports to this effect have circulated for years.
Moreover, there have been numerous documented accounts of people killed shortly
after criticizing or being threatened by Thaci and his associates, whose reputations for
ruthlessness and intimidation are legendary.

Among Thaci’s alleged victims listed in the New York Times was rebel commander Ilir
Konushevci – killed in KLA held territory after accusing Haliti of siphoning a profit off
arms sales to the KLA. His death was blamed on the Serbs. Another was Ahmet
Krasniqi, a former Yugoslav Army colonel who, sponsored by the administration of
moderate Kosovar Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova, brought 600 troops and $4.5
million to assist the KLA against the Serbs. Krasniqi, who Rugova hoped would bring
legitimacy to the moderates on the battlefield, was assassinated in Tirana in September
1998, allegedly at the orders of Thaci and with the cooperation of the Albanian
government. Two more KLA officers, Agim Ramadani and Sali Ceku, were killed in
April of this year after opposing Thaci, and their deaths were blamed on the Serbs.
Thaci did publicly threaten Rugova’s life, after the moderate leader left for Italy and
refused to back Thaci’s self-declared bid for government. However the New York Times’
allegations have been denied by Thaci and his associates and challenged by State
Department spokesman James Rubin.

What Thaci and Rubin have not been able to deny is the wave of reprisals against Serbs
carried out by Kosovar Albanians, including members of the KLA. Serbs have been
kidnapped, beaten, and killed, their houses and businesses looted and burned, and
NATO has been unable to stop the campaign. KLA soldiers were arrested by KFOR
after they were discovered with bound, beaten, and dead prisoners in a police station in
Kosovo. A Serb professor and two Serb workers were found bound and shot to death at
the University of Pristina. KLA troops reportedly overran the Devic monastery, looted
and vandalized it, terrorized the priest and nuns with gunfire, and raped at least one nun.
KLA officials deny their troops’ involvement in the attacks on Serbs, charging that
civilian youth and criminals are posing as KLA members and donning the uniforms and
insignia of the group. They do not explain why Albanian civilians would want to frame the
KLA for such crimes.

The Serb press raises more questions about the advisability of cooperating with the
KLA in reports that the KLA, unhappy with Italian troops’ defense of Serbs in Pec, fired
at visiting Italian foreign Minister Lamberto Dini. This report has not been confirmed by
other sources. Also, according to a reporter for Jane’s Intelligence Review, evidence
recovered last December from Osama bin Laden- linked terrorists in Yemen includes
video footage of the terrorists training with the KLA in either Kosovo or Albania. While
adding these new reports, allegations, and evidence to previous reports of KLA links to
Middle East terrorists and drug and gun trafficking, one can only question the willingness
and speed with which NATO has come to accept the KLA’s de facto leadership role in

The problem is, NATO simply has no options. It has so elevated the KLA throughout
Operation Allied Force, so marginalized Rugova and the moderates, and so demonized
the Serbs, that it can not now tear down Thaci’s organization. NATO was successfully
manipulated into waging a war on behalf of the KLA and its backers in the Albanian
government. NATO is now learning that it is impossible not to take sides in a conflict.
Unless it is now willing to combat the KLA and take complete and sole military and
political control of the province, it has just handed control of Kosovo to a group no more
nor less ethical and humane than Arkan’s Tigers. NATO attempted to wage an
even-handed humanitarian war to impose a peaceful tie between hostile camps
engaged in a very messy, centuries-old blood feud. Now, too late, it learns what it
stepped into.