The Kosova Liberation Army (KLA), the military force which grew from nothing to become the main representative and protector of the Kosovars against the Serbs during the years of persecution and oppression before NATO intervention in the region earlier this year, was formally disbanded on September 20, when talks with NATO and KFOR commanders were finally concluded nearly 24 hours behind schedule.
The future of the KLA has been one of the major sticking points in Kosova politics since th ceasefire in June which ended the west’s bombing of the region. The agreement on the KLA’s role in Kosova signed on June 21 gave the KLA 90 days to hand in its weapons, as well as forcing it to accept continued Serbian rule.
That 90-day deadline expired at midnight on September 19, but was extended for 24 hours in order to permit talks to reach a conclusion. The final deal reflected more gains for NATO than for the Kosovars.
According to the agreement, signed by KLA leader Hashim Thaci and military chief of staff Agim Ceku, the KLA will be replaced by a non-military corps called the Kosova Protection Corps. This will be restricted to 3,000 full-time men, wear a uniform and badge quite different those of the KLA, and be limited to 200 weapons which will be for personal protection of senior members only. It will be commanded by Ceku. Thaci had earlier declared his intention to create a new political party to work for the independence of Kosova.
The name represented a minor victory for the Kosovars: “Kosova Protection Corps” is supposed to have a military sound to it, compared to the name proposed by NATO, the Kosova Corps. The new force’s official role will be to oversee humanitarian and emergency operations.
However, on other areas, NATO forced the KLA into concessions. The Kosovars had demnded the right to far more than 3,000 members, and to at least 450 weapons.
Over the last three months, one of NATO troops’ major tasks in the region has been to oversee the disarmament of the Kosovars. Officially, this has taken the form of an amnesty by which KLA members were encouraged to hand their weapons in voluntarily. NATO and western media commentators have made much of the voluntary aspect of this, emphasising that the Kosovars have had the opportunity to withhold and hide weapons should they not be genuinely committed to disarmament.
In fact, NATO’s approach has been far more pro-active, stopping and searching suspected KLA members and confiscating weapons found. Since the NATO entry into Kosova, the emphasis has been on disarming and neutralising the KLA rather than ensuring that Kosovars’ rights are restored and that the losses the Kosovars suffered during the Serbian rule can be made good as far as possible.
A part of this strategy has been to accuse the KLA of atrocities against Serbs, while downplaying the fact - admitted by KFOR officers - that Serbian paramilitaries have remained in the country despite supposedly having withdrawn after the ceasefire in June. These paramilitaries have assisted Serbs in some regions to continue to prevent Kosovars from returning to the homes which they were forced to leave during the Serbian ‘ethnic cleansing’ operations. The Serbs have also been helped in this by the Russian troops that are part of KFOR.
KFOR’s western commanders, having refused outright to fight Serbs on the ground during the military phase of the operation, for fear of incurring casualties, are now too afraid of getting into a confrontation with the Serbs and Russians to enforce the agreements. Officially, their position is that the agreements have been violated by both sides, and KFOR does not wish to get involved in supporting one side against the other as it has to deal with both equally. In effect, KFOR’s position amounts to favouring the Serbs.
This is hardly surprising. The deal that ended the Kosova conflict, and was agreed between the Serbs and the west without Kosovar involvement, basically obliged the west to do the Serbs’ work for them. Permanent Serbian rule over Kosova is written into the agreement.
The west’s task now is to create the circumstances in Kosova conducive to their withdrawal from the region, allowing the Serbs and the Kosovars to work together. This basically means ensuring that political and other structures are established in which Kosovars who oppose Serbian rule, and who still believe in independence, are marginalised in favour of those who are willing to work with the Serbs within Serbia. The fact that such people amount to no more than a tiny number of Kosova’s people, and that the vast majority favour independence, is irrelevant to the west because it is not in their interest.
For the time being, Kosova is ruled by a de facto international protectorate whose main purpose is to establish joint Serbian-Kosovar institutions. Everyone knows that these will return to Serbian control once the west withdraws. The Kosovars’ hope is that the KLA-cum-Kosova Protection Force has been able to retain enough equipment to protect the Kosovars again when the time comes. They may not have been genuinely reduced to 200 guns, but they have undoubtedly been severely weakened, and will undoubted continue to face western pressure.
Muslimedia: October 1-15, 1999