Tuesday, August 16, 2005

NATO Intervenes Against Rising Albanian National Movement 2001

NATO Intervenes Against Rising Albanian National Movement

By Michael Karadjis

March 2001

The upturn in the Albanian national movement has prompted a sharp reaction from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), which has turned to the Yugoslav regime of Vojislav Kostunica to help enforce stability in the region.

In late January, British and French troops fought pitched battles with Albanians in the northern Kosova city Mitrovica, where French troops and their local Serb allies have enforced a partition since June 1999 which awards mineral-rich northern Kosova to Serbia. After an Albanian boy was killed in Serb-ruled northern Mitrovica, thousands of Albanians took to the streets, set on fire French military vehicles, smashed the windows of the NATO building, and threw stones and Molotovs at French troops, who fired tear gas and lobbed stun grenades. Over 100 civilians and 22 troops were injured. NATO then dispatched British and other troops, who used tear gas, plastic bullets and dogs.

In February, NATO facilitated the entry of the Yugoslav army into a buffer zone in south Serbia on Kosova’s eastern border. NATO and the Yugoslav army are coordinating operations against the guerilla struggle among the ethnic Albanian population in that region led by the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac (UCPMB).

This name represents the three small regions of southern Serbia, collectively known as the Presevo valley, where ethnic Albanians form the overwhelming majority of the population. The buffer zone is a small strip of that region bordering Kosova.

In early March, NATO aided the Macedonian army’s crackdown on an armed Albanian group calling itself the National Liberation Army (NLA) in the remote village of Tanusevci, on the Kosova-Macedonia border.

It appears that the over-reaction of the Macedonian police has turned an isolated event into a significant revolt of the country’s Albanian population. While there had been no fighting in Tanusevac, it was declared the nest of the NLA, which had claimed responsibility for one attack elsewhere. The village of several hundred inhabitants, who have all fled in terror to Kosova, is far from the main Albanian population centres, but is integrally connected to Kosovar villages just across the official border.

By attacking the village, the Macedonian government appears to have fallen into a trap hatched by NATO and Yugoslavia, to seal the border and root out Albanian fighters from nearby southern Serbia who may have been using the region as a rear base. The village has only just been clearly marked as part of Macedonia, when Yugoslavia and Macedonia in February signed a treaty delineating their border. Albanians in Macedonia and Kosova denounced the treaty for implying Macedonian support for Yugoslav rule in Kosova.

Roots of the south Serbia revolt

Western governments and their media have presented the UCPMB as a group of “terrorists” fomented by remnants of the former Kosova Liberation Army (KLA), who have allegedly extended the struggle into southern Serbia and Macedonia in order to pressure their NATO and UN overlords into allowing independence for Kosova. These organisations and western governments continue to insist that the Kosovars are only entitled to some undefined “autonomy” within Yugoslavia, the state that tried to annihilate them. Support for complete independence in Kosova is universal.

These theories cover the real problem – the large-scale military repression by the Yugoslav army and Serbian paramilitaries during and after the Kosova conflict, which drove some 20,000 Albanians – a quarter of the region’s population – into Kosova. Repression was particularly acute when vengeful Serbian forces were withdrawn from Kosova and deployed in the region. In December 2000 alone, the UNHCR reported 4,900 people seeking refuge in Kosova from the Presevo Valley.

The desire to return to their homes has provided recruits to the UCPMB, which calls for autonomy for the region within Serbia on the basis of a referendum organised by the local population in March 1992. However, increasing repression has led to more calls for the region to be united with Kosova.

Following the withdrawal of Serbian forces from Kosova in June 1999, the ceasefire agreement included a 5-kilometre wide buffer zone along the border, to separate the forces. Neither NATO nor the Yugoslav army was to enter the zone. However, the unintended consequence was that the zone became a safe haven from which the UCPMB launched operations against the Yugoslav army elsewhere in the Presevo Valley.

In fact, US NATO forces did enter the buffer zone last year – to crack down on the guerillas and seize weapons. And the picture being painted of Yugoslav helplessness has also been belied by reports like that of Jonathan Steele in the February 2 Guardian:
“The seven guerrillas cower against a wall as a tank shell crashes in … the group emerges to inspect the damage. One of the 20 houses in this small village has been hit, its wall smashed in, and most of the tiles blown off the roof by the blast … women, children and elderly had fled a day earlier when the Yugoslav shelling began.”

Chorus for scrapping buffer zone

Since late last year, a rising chorus among European NATO powers has called for the scrapping of the buffer zone. This has been combined with greater pressure on Kosova’s leaders, who are blamed both for allegedly igniting the struggle in south Serbia and for their inability to stem revenge attacks on Serb civilians within Kosova. Kosovar leaders respond that they have been given no administrative or security powers to stop anyone doing anything – that is supposed to be NATO’s job.

In early January, Dmitry Rogozin, chair of Russia’s Duma committee for international affairs, announced a delegation from Germany, France and Russia would visit Kosova to “establish how provisions in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1244 are violated.” Given that French troops and their Serb allies are leading violators in Mitrovica, this presumably refers to Albanian violations. For Russia, the fact that Yugoslav troops have not yet returned is also seen as a “violation”.

Then the European Union in January officially declared its opposition to any further “fragmentation” of Yugoslavia, telling Montenegro and Kosova to forget any ideas on independence. Notably, referring to recent Yugoslav negotiations with the IMF, Yugoslav minister Miodrag Kovac revealed that the IMF’s conditions for lending money include that Yugoslavia guarantee that it will implement federal laws on its entire territory, meaning including these two independence-minded regions.

Till February, the US was pre-occupied with “leadership transition”, wary of the strongly pro-French orientation of the Kostunica regime and examining options, announced by the Bush team, to withdraw from the Balkans. The sudden rise of the Albanian national movement forced the US to change its tune, particularly after the February 2 meeting in Washington between US secretary of state Colin Powell and Serbia's prime minister, Zoran Djindjic.

On Feb 16, Yugoslavia presented a plan “for the solution of the crisis created by the activities of Albanian extremist groups” to NATO headquarters, which proposed abolition of the buffer zone and NATO approval “for the entrance of appropriate police and army units”. NATO chief George Robertson said NATO “strongly welcomes the initiative”.

At the Summit of Presidents of States and Governments which held in Skopje on February 23, Balkan and European Union leaders “strongly condemned the violent and illegal terrorist actions, by the ethnically motivated extremist armed groups in South Serbia, which could have the effect of destabilizing the situation in the region.”

The declaration was signed by leaders of Albania, Bulgaria, Bosnia, Macedonia, Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey and Romania, European Commissioner for Foreign Policy Chris Patten and EU foreign policy chief and former NATO boss Javier Solana.

NATO and western governments are assuming “collective guilt” and blaming Kosovar leaders for everything. Solana threatened to cut off international assistance to Kosova due to Albanian guerilla actions in Macedonia and southern Serbia, and the terrorist attack on a Serb passenger bus in Kosova, which killed ten Serbs and was forcefully condemned by all Kosovar Albanian parties. Patten warned that these actions may jeopardise the “broad autonomy” long promised to Kosova but so far blocked by the UN and NATO.

Following NATO’s February 27 announcement that it was scaling back the buffer zone, Yugoslav forces began massively pounding rebel positions with heavy mortars and artillery. The Yugoslav army formally entered the area March 14 following a NATO-Yugoslav agreement four days earlier.

Yugoslav troops were escorted into the zone by Chief of Staff Nebojsa Pavkovic, who led the depredations in Kosova in 1999, despite alleged NATO “advice” that Belgrade not include units or officers who served in Kosova.

While entering the zone, Serb forces are theoretically not allowed into Albanian populated towns. In their place, US, British, Scandinavian, Polish, Russian and Ukrainian forces are attempting to “coordinate operations with Serb forces in the Presevo Valley … to contain the militants in their strongholds and to rout them from towns under partial control”, according to the Stratfor intelligence group. “But the guerrillas will target the Serb patrols entering the zone, as well as U.S. KFOR (NATO) units,” the group warns. “With no leaders in Kosovo who can stem the violence against the Serbs, U.N. and NATO officials must seek administrative authority in Kosovo,” the group further recommends with full colonialist vigor. “The position of the United States and NATO is a move toward the complete isolation of the current group of Kosovar officials.”

NATO’s aggression in 1999 was motivated its desire to get their troops in to stem the Albanian national movement. The terror tactics used by the Serbian regime of Slobodan Milosevic had been counterproductive, driving larger and larger numbers of Kosovar Albanians into the arms of the KLA, which NATO disarmed after entering Kosova.

At the heart of the problem is the unsolved Albanian national question. Albanians, living in a compact area covering five countries, regard their division to be a historical injustice, while western leaders see their struggle as the threat to regional stability. As Chris Hedges wrote in the US ruling class journal Foreign Affairs during the 1999 war, “with most ethnic Albanians concentrated in homogenous areas bordering Albania, the drive to extend Albania’s borders remains feasible. That drive is not only a wider threat to European stability to also to Albanian moderation. Many KLA commanders tout themselves as a ‘liberation army for all Albanians’ - precisely what frightens the NATO alliance most.”

In particular, if uncontrolled, they view this movement leading to a possible ethnic partition of Macedonia, which could lead to intervention from surrounding countries who have long disputed that country’s legitimacy. This “nightmare scenario” could then see historic rivals but official NATO allies, Greece and Turkey, embroiled on different sides, as well as igniting further ethnic struggles in the southern Balkans.

While the current extension of the movement into Macedonia appears to legitimise NATO’s fears, what it really reveals is the fact that NATO’s intervention did nothing to solve the Albanian national question.

(This is a slightly longer version of the artcile in Green Left Weekly: http://www.greenleft.org.au/back/2001/443/443p19.htm)

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