- Four years after it was "liberated" by a NATO
bombing campaign, Kosovo has deteriorated into a hotbed of organized crime,
anti-Serb violence and al-Qaeda sympathizers, say security officials and
- Though nominally still under UN control, the southern
province of Serbia is today dominated by a triumvirate of Albanian paramilitaries,
mafiosi and terrorists. They control a host of smuggling operations and
are implementing what many observers call their own brutal ethnic cleansing
of minority groups, such as Serbs, Roma and Jews.
- In recent weeks, UN officials ordered the construction
of a fortified concrete barrier around the UN compound on the outskirts
of the provincial capital Pristina. This is to protect against terrorist
strikes by Muslim extremists who have set up bases of operation in what
has become a largely outlaw province.
- Minority Serbs, who were supposed to have been guaranteed
protection by the international community after the 78-day NATO bombing
campaign ended in the spring of 1999, have abandoned the province en masse.
The last straw for many was the recent round of attacks by ethnic Albanian
paramilitaries bent on gaining independence through violence.
- Attacks on Serbs in Kosovo, a province of two million
people, have risen sharply.
- According to statistics collected by the UN criminal
tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at The Hague, 1,192 Serbs have been
killed, 1,303 kidnapped and 1,305 wounded in Kosovo this year.
- In June, 1999, just after the NATO bombing, 547 Serbs
were killed and 932 were kidnapped.
- Last summer, in one of the more grisly massacres, two
Serb youths were killed and four others wounded by ethnic Albanian militants
while swimming in the Bistrica River, near Pec.
- The violence continues despite an 18,000-strong NATO-led
peacekeeping force and an international police force of more than 4,000.
- Serbs, who now make up 5% of the population of Kosovo,
down from 10% before the NATO campaign, are the main targets of the paramilitary
- The bombing was partly launched by NATO countries to
end the ethnic cleansing of Albanians by Serb security forces in the region.
In its immediate aftermath, many Serbs left Kosovo to settle in other parts
of Yugoslavia, now known as Serbia and Montenegro.
- Last week, Harri Holkeri, the province's UN leader, suspended
two generals and 10 other officers, all members of an ethnic Albanian offshoot
of the Kosovo Liberation Army, an insurgent group that emerged in the late
1980s to fight Serb security forces.
- Mr. Holkeri made his decision -- the strongest UN response
to violence in the province so far -- after a UN inquiry into the Kosovo
Protection Corps (KPC). Although the civilian defence organization is supposed
to help local residents, over the past four years, its mostly ethnic Albanian
military officials have been involved in violent confrontations with Serbs.
- The inquiry found last April's bomb attack on a Kosovo
railway was the work of the KPC.
- "The whole process of rebuilding Kosovo-Metohija
as a democratic, multi-ethnic society failed due to both the inability
of the UN mission and [NATO] forces to protect Serbs and other non-Albanians
from large-scale ethnic cleansing, this time primarily against Serbs,"
said Dusan Batakovic, a Serb diplomat and leading expert on Kosovo.
- Dr. Batakovic and other Balkan experts, who attended
a conference in Toronto last month to discuss Kosovo's future, say the
situation is deteriorating rapidly.
- "NATO forces made a real mess of Kosovo," said
James Bissett, a former Canadian ambassador to Yugoslavia. "The bombing
of Yugoslavia was a dreadful failure on humanitarian grounds. It failed
to stop ethnic cleansing, which has continued after the so-called peace
- In addition, "Balkan Taliban" -- Muslim ethnic
Albanian paramilitary groups -- have vandalized Serb cemeteries and destroyed
many of the region's Orthodox Christian monasteries and churches.
- "This is a strategy of cutting Kosovo Serbs off
from their historical and religious traditions," said Dr. Batakovic
in his report to the North American Society of Serbian Studies conference.
- Moreover, Kosovo has turned into one of Europe's biggest
hubs for drug trafficking and terrorism.
- Al-Qaeda has set up bases in the province, which has
become an important centre for heroin, cigarette, gasoline and people smuggling.
- The Albanian mafia and paramilitary groups, which security
officials say are closely tied to al-Qaeda militants in the region, also
oversee smuggling. More than 80% of Western Europe's heroin comes through
Kosovo, where several drug laboratories have been set up, Interpol officials
- During the wars (1991-99) that led to the breakup of
Yugoslavia, drugs and other commodities were smuggled through Bulgaria
and Turkey to Western Europe.
- Now, more than 5,000 tonnes of heroin pass directly through
Kosovo every month. In a recent article in Serbia's Vreme magazine, Kosovo
was referred to as the "republic of heroin."
- "The Albanians have become the alpha and omega of
the drugs trade in southeast Europe," said Marko Nicovic, chairman
of the International Police Association for the Fight Against Drugs.
- "There are two reasons for this. The first is the
fact that Kosovo is now under the control of the Albanian mafia lobby and
the criminal police do not operate there. This is literally a paradise
for all kinds of crime, especially narcotics."
- The Albanian mafia also control trafficking in cigarettes,
weapons, gasoline and women. Dozens of young women from impoverished towns
and villages in the region are forced into prostitution rings centred in
Kosovo, security officials say. Many of the women are taken by mobsters
to work in Western European countries.
- There is little consensus on the way ahead.
- Many Serbs and moderate ethnic Albanian politicians would
like a decision on Kosovo's legal status -- should it remain a province
of Serbia or become independent?
- Many ethnic Albanians are calling for independence, but
their more extremist elements would like to fold the province into a Greater
Albania that would see ethnic Albanians take over the mostly Albanian regions
of neighbouring Macedonia as well.
- The Serb government in Belgrade wants Kosovo to continue
as part of Serbia.
- Although it is four years since the NATO bombing, talks
on Kosovo's future began only recently. Serb and ethnic Albanian leaders
met in Vienna in October to discuss transportation and the return of Serb
refugees to Kosovo.
- "At this point, the chances for Kosovo remaining
in Serbia are pretty slim," Mr. Bissett said. "There is a powerful
Albanian lobby in the United States that is determined to make Kosovo independent."
- Moreover, many Serb leaders know that to attract the
much-needed aid and investment, they will need to give way on Kosovo, experts
- In the meantime, the situation is expected to get worse,
with renewed threats of violence against both the United Nations and Serbs
in the province.
- "It's a terrible situation," said Mr. Bissett.
"If the United Nations and other organizations can't handle Kosovo,
you wonder how they are going to do with something like Iraq."
- - firstname.lastname@example.org
- © Copyright 2003 National Post