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Albanian Politicians’ Split Foils Kosovo Peace Moves

TIMES STAFF WRITER

As Washington seeks to head off a new Balkan war, a bitter split among politicians here in breakaway Kosovo threatens to crush U.S. hopes for civilian control over a burgeoning ethnic Albanian guerrilla movement.

Rancor is growing between two political camps divided over moderate leader Ibrahim Rugova, the most prominent figure among the ethnic Albanians who make up 90% of the population in this strife-torn Serbian province.

The escalating struggle between the civilian camps--whose differences are based more on personalities than policies--undercuts U.S. hopes for a quick start to peace negotiations between ethnic Albanians and the Serb-dominated government of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

The squabbling is contributing to a shift of political legitimacy and power toward the fighters in the field, who many observers fear have undemocratic tendencies.

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U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke, on a mission here in Kosovo’s capital earlier this month, urged ethnic Albanian politicians to unite under Rugova, 53, who has long favored a nonviolent path to Kosovo’s independence. Holbrooke made no progress, and, since his departure, the split in the leadership has worsened.

“Mr. Rugova’s policy is bankrupt. It has collapsed,” Adem Demaci, chairman of the main opposition party in Kosovo, said at a recent news conference at which he virtually cut relations with Rugova.

“He is a very weak man. He has not political knowledge, he has not enough will to work, he has not courage,” Demaci continued, attacking his rival in expressive but slightly broken English. “It is impossible to work and collaborate with him. He must go, because the situation is very dramatic. In a dramatic situation, the weak men must go.”

Demaci, 61, who gained stature among ethnic Albanians by spending 28 years in Serbian jails as a political prisoner, said he has offered to serve as the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army’s political representative--but only if its members accept his control over their policies and military activities.

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“They must agree that policy will lead gun, not gun lead policy,” Demaci said.

He said he made the offer to the guerrilla organization a month ago and is still waiting for an answer.

Other politicians are also jockeying to become the guerrillas’ political head. But that position might prove dangerous if Milosevic decides to use his overwhelming advantage in military force to arrest pro-independence civilian leaders and try to smash the guerrillas.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is threatening military action if Milosevic chooses such a path. But the Yugoslav leader has been known to launch brutal offensives despite enormous international pressure. Many of his critics say that his political survival depends on creating a constant atmosphere of crisis, thus provoking ethnic Serbs to rally around him.

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So far this year, more than 300 people have died as Serbian security forces tried to crush the independence drive of Kosovo’s Albanians--but succeeded only in triggering a dramatic flow of new recruits to the still-shadowy and loosely organized rebel army. There are widespread fears that far greater violence looms.

The U.S. strategy for peace in Kosovo is based partly on hopes that a broad body, including Rugova, Demaci and other prestigious leaders, could represent not just civilians but also guerrilla forces in any negotiations with the government in Belgrade, the Serbian and Yugoslav capital. Under such a scenario, any cease-fire could then be enforced on the ground, and more permanent agreements could also be made to stick.

From Washington to Moscow, the fear is that a failure to find a peace formula for Kosovo--roughly the size of Los Angeles County--could lead to a widening Balkan war that might drag in Albania, Macedonia and other countries as well.

“I think that Mr. Holbrooke needs a negotiating team which is ready to negotiate with Milosevic at any time and also has control over the Kosovo Liberation Army,” said Bajram Kosumi, the vice chairman of Demaci’s party. “At this moment, it’s impossible.”

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Just a few months ago, U.S. officials and Rugova himself were calling the guerrillas “terrorists.” Estimates of the army’s size, which were in the hundreds last year, now run as high as 30,000.

Rugova, a scholar of Albanian literature before he entered politics, initially denied the existence of the Kosovo Liberation Army. Then he said it lacked popular support. More recently, he said it consisted of “ordinary citizens who are defending their homes” but need to be “brought under control.”

Now, as Washington tries to bring the guerrilla force into a negotiating process, politicians here are competing for the rebels’ favor. One possible outcome is that the guerrillas will control the civilian politicians rather than the other way around, as Washington hopes.

“We’re very far away from getting negotiations going between Milosevic and Kosovo Albanians, because in order to have that happen, we will have to have the political and military wings here speak with one Kosovo Albanian voice--but neither the insurgents nor the political class have a unified voice,” said Anna Husarska, a Bosnian-based political analyst for International Crisis Group, an organization aimed at heading off trouble partly through research and education. “There is no unity inside each of those groups, nor between one and the other.”

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Well-connected Albanians and foreigners in Pristina seem to believe that the Kosovo Liberation Army, or KLA, has a core hierarchy, with the top command based outside Kosovo in Western Europe, but that it also has disparate elements not fully integrated into the central command structure.

“I think that the informed Albanians in Pristina hope that the [KLA] has a unified command. I don’t believe they know [for sure],” Husarska said.

Many guerrilla fighters are basically farmers who have taken up arms to defend their homes against attacks by brutal Serbian security forces, and others are political activists who live in guerrilla-controlled areas and have made common cause with the fighters without necessarily taking commands from them, Albanians here say.

Political activists, including former political prisoners, who have fled Serb-controlled cities out of fear of arrest probably play a key role in the guerrilla hierarchy, some say.

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Among these figures, according to ethnic Albanians here, are Rame Buja and Gani Koci, both former political prisoners who were officials in Rugova’s Democratic League of Kosovo before going to the countryside, and Murat Musliu, another former political prisoner who headed the local branch of a human rights organization before joining the guerrilla camp. But they are just a few of the many people who could provide links between political leaders in Kosovo and the guerrillas.

“It’s the same case with a hundred activists of the political parties,” said Hydajet Hyseni, a leading politician who broke with Rugova early this year. “In the past, people who were at risk of being arrested had two choices: be arrested or leave the country. Today, we have a third option.

“Even people who didn’t want to go were under pressure to go [to the countryside], because the police pushed them. I know people who absolutely were not involved in this, but they were at risk of arrest by the police, so they went.”

Partly because of this, “we cannot view the Kosovo Liberation Army only as a military group,” said Hyseni, who served about 10 years as a political prisoner. “All the political parties of Kosovo have their members with the KLA in the areas where the clashes are. Having these contacts with the KLA is very helpful. . . . I think the KLA is cohesive, and the KLA can unify our political life here. The KLA can be a catalyst for the future unification of Albanians.”

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Kosumi, the Demaci ally, said in an interview that six parties--excluding Rugova’s--are seeking to form “one political movement.”

“The Albanian movement in Kosovo today is moving on two tracks,” Kosumi said. “One track is the KLA, the other is political parties. The political parties have some international legitimacy, but they have no real force. The KLA still has no significant international legitimacy, but it has real force. These two tracks must be united to cooperate with each other.”

If political parties fail to “meet their responsibilities” in this regard, then “they will be marginalized,” Kosumi said.

Kosumi predicted that Rugova will be the first to be pushed aside and said it will be far easier than outsiders expect for someone to replace him, despite the strong support Rugova has received in unofficial elections. “The logic of ‘The king is dead, long live the king!’ is still working here,” he said.

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But Rugova’s camp continues to insist that any broader body must be centered on Rugova and a shadow government he heads.

Some politicians “think that without themselves, no one can do anything, and they thought this was a good time to push out Rugova,” Fehmi Agani, a close associate of the moderate leader, said in an interview.

“But it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks of Rugova. The main thing is that without Dr. Rugova, no further steps can be taken,” Agani said. “Yet he alone is not enough. There must be others too.”


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