National Post Online
War on terrorism skipped the KLA
November 13, 2001
U.S. President George W. Bush has made it clear the war against terrorists will be unremitting and relentless. Even those countries affording shelter to terrorists will not be spared. These words come too late for the Serbs, Gypsies, Jews, Turks and other non-Albanians who have been driven from their ancestral homes in Kosovo by the terrorist Kosovo Liberation Army. It is too late as well for Macedonia, which has been forced by the United States, the European Union and NATO to yield to all the demands of the Albanian terrorists in that country.
This double standard and lack of consistency when dealing with terrorists calls into question the policies the United States and its NATO allies followed in the Balkans. It also underlines the necessity for the United States and its allies to clean up their act if they wish to retain credibility in the war against terrorism.
The bombing of Yugoslavia in the spring of 1999 allegedly to stop ethnic cleansing and prevent the Balkans from becoming once again the powder keg of Europe has backfired. Kosovo has become exclusively an Albanian province with the exception of a few stalwart Serbians in the Mitrovica area who live surrounded by barbed wire and are threatened daily with murder and mayhem by their Albanian neighbours. The Balkans, since the end of the bombing, have been in constant turmoil caused by the KLA terrorist activities.
NATO allowed the KLA, which under the terms of United Nations Resolution 1244 was to be disarmed after the end of the bombing, to keep its weapons. The KLA was renamed the Kosovo Protection Force and been given the task of maintaining peace and security in Kosovo. How well it has been able to carry out this task is summed up in a report dated Feb. 26, 2001, to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, which accuses the protection corps of widespread acts of murder, torture and extortion.
That condemnation should not have come as a surprise. As early as 1998, the U.S. State Department listed the KLA as a terrorist organization financing its operations with money from the international heroin trade and funds supplied from Islamic countries and individuals, including Osama bin Laden. This did not stop the United States from arming and training KLA members in Albania and in the summer of 1998 sending them back into Kosovo to assassinate Serbian mayors, ambush Serbian policemen and intimidate hesitant Kosovo Albanians. The aim was to destabilize Kosovo and overthrow Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic.
Bin Laden and radical Muslim groups have been deeply involved in the Balkans since the civil wars in Bosnia from 1992 to 1995. Despite a UN arms embargo and with the knowledge and support of the United States, arms, ammunition and thousands of Mujahideen fighters were smuggled into Bosnia to help the Muslims. Many remain in Bosnia today and are recognized as a serious threat to Western forces there. The Bosnian government is said to have presented bin Laden with a Bosnian passport in recognition of his contribution to their cause. He and his al-Qaeda network were also active in Kosovo, and KLA members trained in his camps in Afghanistan and Albania.
Emboldened by the knowledge it could achieve its political objectives by terror, the KLA moved into southern Serbia and initiated, under the eyes of 40,000 NATO troops, a campaign of terror against the Serbian population. Not until NATO permitted the new democratic government of Serbia to send the Serb army back into the area was the KLA routed and sent back across the border into Kosovo.
Macedonia, with its large Albanian minority, was the KLA's next target. In February, its forces moved against this small and newly independent democracy. The familiar pattern of murder, ambush and intimidation followed. Unlike Serbia, which still possessed a powerful and well-equipped army, Macedonia had little with which to defend itself against the well equipped and battle-hardened KLA fighters. The promises of assistance made by former U.S. president Bill Clinton in return for Macedonia's co-operation during the Yugoslav bombing were forgotten.
Nevertheless, when the fighting started, it appeared NATO and the European Union might help Macedonia resist the terrorist threat. In March, Lord Robertson, the Secretary-General of NATO, condemned the KLA terror campaign and described them as "murderous thugs." He supported the Macedonian government's refusal to negotiate with the terrorists. Obviously, Lord Robertson was not aware the United States had other ideas about which side to support in Macedonia.
The message was made clear in May, when U.S. diplomat Robert Fenwick, ostensibly the head of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, in Macedonia, met secretly in Prizren, Kosovo, with the leaders of the Albanian political parties and KLA representatives. Macedonian officials were not invited. It was clear the United States was backing the Albanian terrorist cause. This was confirmed a month later, when a force of 400 KLA fighters was surrounded in the town of Aracinovo near the capital, Skopje. As Macedonian security forces moved in, they were halted on NATO orders. U.S. army buses from Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo arrived to remove all the heavily armed terrorists to a safer area of Macedonia. German reporters later revealed that 17 U.S. military advisors were accompanying the KLA terrorists in Aracinovo.
In August, fearing the Macedonian forces might be able to defeat the KLA, U.S. Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice flew to Kiev and ordered the Ukrainian government to stop sending further military equipment to Macedonia. Since Ukraine was the only country supplying Macedonia with military assistance, the Macedonians realized continued resistance against the KLA terrorists, the EU and NATO was futile. Macedonia was forced to concede defeat and obliged to accept all the terrorist demands. When the peace treaty was signed, Lord Robertson proclaimed, "This day marks the entry of Macedonia into modern, mainstream Europe ... a very proud day for their country."
James Bissett is a former Canadian ambassador to Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Albania, 1990-1992.