Having refused to fight the Serbs itself, NATO now insists that Kosovars disarm

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Iqbal Siddiqui

Rabi' al-Awwal 17, 1420 1999-07-01


by Iqbal Siddiqui (World, Crescent International Vol. 28, No. 9, Rabi' al-Awwal, 1420)

NATO and the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA) signed an agreement regarding the KLA’s future role in Kosova on June 21. The agreement was signed following what was described as “a frenetic weekend of military and political wrangling from mountainous rebel bases in central Kosova to the capitals of Europe”.

The key issue in the talks was the disarmament of the KLA and the future political status of Kosova. The Kosovars, angry that NATO had not sent troops into Kosova before signing a deal with Milosevic by which they granted him some of his key demands, were trying to hold out for at least two demands of their own: a future referendum on Kosovar independence, and the right to continue as Kosova’s military force.

On both counts, they were disadvantaged because NATO had already, in its talks with Milosevic (at which the Kosovars were not even present), promised to do his work in these key areas. Thus, by insisting that Kosovars accept Yugoslav overlordship, and that the KLA should be disbanded (despite talk of reforming it as a ‘national guard’), NATO achieved what the Serbs had failed to do

The agreement, which was signed by KLA political commander Hisham Thaci and US secretary of state Madeleine Albright, agrees that the KLA will turn all its automatic and heavier firearms, as well as missiles, mines, grenades and other weapons, over to NATO troops within seven days. KLA troops will be permitted to retain only sidearms and shotguns.

NATO had also demnanded that the KLA stop wearing their weapons within 30 days. On this, it was agreed that the deadline should be extended to 90 days. The only consession the KLA received from NATO was that it would consider permitting them to reform as a national reserve. This is likely to prove an empty promise.

The demilitarization of the KLA is a disaster for the Kosovars. The KLA emerged from a people’s defence force and developed into a well-equipped and well-led military force which proved the equal of the Yugoslav army everywhere where they met on equal terms. When the Serbs first stepped up military operations against the KLA early last year, their object was to destroy it before it became strong enough to defend the Kosovar people. They consistently failed to do this.

Throughout NATO’s 11-week air bombardment of Kosova and Yugoslavia, while NATO considered the area too dangerous for the commitment of ground troops, the KLA operated in the country, holding large areas and protecting tens of thousands of Kosovars displaced within the country. This was despite the fact that NATO’s claims to be destroying large parts of the Yugoslav military have been proved to be false, and that NATO consistently refused to provide either air support or other assistance to the KLA.

>From now on, the KLA will have to operate in a country ruled by an international protectorate -- in effect if not in name -- which has proven unable to effectively stand up to the Serbs. Having recognised Yugoslav sovereignty over Yugoslavia, and shown both that they cannot fight on the ground and that their aircraft are incapable of defeating Milosevic along, the west will now be desparate to get along with the Serbs, while satisfying the Kosovars will not be a major priority.

The political arrangements for the governance of Kosova remain to be formulated and announced. The west has made clear that it will not accept the KLA, the most popular and legitimate political force in Kosova as the sole ruler.

Early in June, Albright convened a meeting at which Thaci, Ibrahim Rugova, who was Kosova’s de facto president before the war, and other leaders met for the first time since the genocide started. The west’s intention is to place a coalition government in place which will be able to claim broad legitimacy because it will include all parts of the Kosovar political spectrum, but will be so handicapped that it will not be able to challenge the western dictat.

The paradox facing both Kosovar leaders and the west is that the ideal of establishing wholly democratic institutions in the country is inconsistent with the commitment that Kosova must remain within Yugoslavia; everyone knows that a vast majority of Kosovars would vote for independence given the chance, just as they know that Belgrade will turn on the Kosovars again if they are given the chance.

The problems such a government will face, even without that of dealing with the west, will be formidable. Kosovar’s infrastrructure has been totaly destroyed, by a combination of Yugoslav military operations and NATO bombs. Thousands of unexploded NATO bombs and missiles are scattered across the country. (Two Kosovars and two British soldiers were killed when one exploded on June 21.) Much of this ordinance is in enriched uranium casings, which have cause cancer, birth deformities and related problems in Iraq.

How effectively the west will keep Belgrade out of Kosovar affairs also remains to be seen. The agreement for Russian troops to serve with K-FOR effectively gives the Serbs a presence in the country. Serb troops are also there guard areas of Serbian cultural importance; despite the west’s much vaunted insistence on Serb troops leaving the country, many have not actually done so.

Like the Bosnians before them, the Kosovars now find themselves in the position of being the weakest party in three-way dealings with the west and the Serbs. The west are dishonest brokers, with an established record of trying to appease the stronger party regardless of right or wrong. The Belgrade agreement gave the Serbs ample leverage to ensure they can reassert their will in Kosova in the future.

Muslimedia: July 1-15, 1999

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