Date: Wed, 11 Mar 98 00:42:30 CST
From: (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: Clandestine Preparations For War In Kosovo
Article: 29703
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <>

/** ips.english: 478.0 **/
** Topic: POLITICS: Clandestine Preparations For War In Kosovo /RELATE/ **
** Written 3:19 PM Mar 6, 1998 by newsdesk in cdp:ips.english **

Clandestine Preparations For War In Kosovo

By Vesna Peric-Zimonjic, InterPress Service, 3 March 1998

BELGRADE, Mar 3 (IPS)—The current political stalemate in the southern Serbian province of Kosovo, may become the catalyst for renewed Balkan instability, according to observers and Western diplomats in the region.

Serbs have always called the province ‘the cradle’ of their own medieval state and their new president Milan Milutinovic now prefers the expression “the Jerusalem of Serbs”. Yet Kosovo, which was stripped of its autonomous status in 1989 by Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, is populated by almost two million ethnic Albanians and less than 200,000 Serbs.

In recent months, moderate Ibrahim Rugova, once the undisputed leader of Kosovo Albanians, seems to have lost political ground in the wake of actions by the clandestine Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK).

UCK was formed in 1996 and has been engaged since in numerous armed strikes, which have killed dozens of people. It has claimed responsibility for the attacks in statements sent to the ethnic Albanian media based in Kosovo.

The victims of the attacks were either Serbs, or ethnic Albanians described by UCK as “collaborators of Serbian regime”.

Analysts fear that UCK reflects the popular mood in Serbia's southern province. “There are growing fears that Kosovo, the domino which often wobbled but somehow stayed upright during former Yugoslavia's collapse, may be ripe for its own pro- independence uprising”, a Western diplomat in Belgrade said recently.

This would threaten Balkan peace “with ominously predictable results,” the diplomat added.

Such fears are backed by a recent spate of incidents, for which UCK has claimed responsibility, in the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia. It carried out a bomb attack, in which no-one was injured, on a court building in the town of Gostivar on Dec. 16.

On Jan. 4, the UCK also launched simultaneous attacks on police stations in towns of Kumanovo and Prilep. About 40 percent of Macedonia's two million population are ethnic Albanians.

Belgrade has not recognised UCK as a legitimate political organisation and refers to it as “a terrorist organisation”.

The size of UCK's rank and file is not yet known, although the independent media in Belgrade agree that most of its members are ordinary people. During the day they are teachers, students and workers; at night they answer the call of ‘the messenger’.

The organisation of UCK is designed to maintain strict confidentiality around its insurgency plans and reduce the possibility of being infiltrated by an outsider. Each unit is made up of three men, who know only the members of their own unit, according to reports in the ethnic Albanian press in Pristina, the Kosovo capital. A single person is responsible for passing on orders from above.

According to the same newspaper reports, no member of UCK keeps a large stock of weapons at home. There are special ‘warehouses' in the so called ‘liberated zone’ in the town of Drenica where the arms are hidden. The person responsible for weapons brings them to the ‘soldiers' before an action and returns them to the hiding place afterwards.

Members of UCK wear black masks during attacks. On one occasion, in November, they attended the funeral of an Albanian teacher in the village of Lausi. In front of about 15,000 people who had gathered there, three members of UCK tore off their masks, showing their faces in public for the first time, and addressed the funeral crowd about their political intentions.

Training of UCK ‘soldiers' poses no problems, the independent media here have also reported. In a country where guns and automatic rifles are commonplace in both Albanian and Serbian households, handling of weapons, even by women, has become part of family life.

The independent media and most observers in Belgrade agree that getting hold of weapons is not difficult in Kosovo, especially after the turmoil in neighbouring Albania last year. “The boundary between Kosovo and Albania was so porous that literally hundreds of thousands of small weapons were simply taken into the country,” the newspapers Vreme and NIN wrote.

About 500,000 Kosovo Albanians, who live in Western countries as so called ‘guest workers', help pay for the procurement of such weapons. They are obliged to pay a three percent income tax to the parallel institutions of the self-proclaimed ‘Kosovo Republic’. The ‘government’ of Kosovo Republic has set itself up in Germany.

Its president, Bujar Bukosi, once a close aide of Ibrahim Rugova, is widely believed to be one of the leading persons of UCK, according to independent media.

Officers IN UCK mostly come from the ranks of the former Yugoslav army or police force, having been expelled from the service by Milosevic's regime back in 1989.

“They are professionals and highly efficient” said Bozidar Spasic, a former senior state security official. “Their units are obviously also absolutely professional” he added. “Expert opinion on UCK ranks it as being among the top five organisations of this kind in the world”.

“UCK's armed attacks fall into a category of so-called ‘first phase’ of terrorism because it operates among its own people and over the territory it wants to take over” Spasic explained.

“The authorities are not capable of destroying or preventing the attacks by UCK”, he added.

Azem Vllasi, an ethnic Albanian and previously a senior official in former Yugoslavia, described UCK as “a military arm of the Albanian national movement”.

“It's something like the IRA in Northern Ireland” Vllasi, now a lawyer in Pristina, told Belgrade independent media. “If Serbia decides to keep its eyes closed when it comes to the issue of ethnic Albanians, then the only thing we can expect is an escalation of the armed conflict” Vllasi added.