International Socialist Review Issue 14, October-November 2000
Washington's Men in Kosovo
A Year After the NATO Occupation, Terror Reigns
By Jeremy Scahill
Jeremy Scahill is a reporter for Pacifica Radio's "Democracy Now!" He reported daily from Yugoslavia during and after the 78-day NATO bombing and was on the ground in Kosovo during the NATO occupation last summer.
EARLIER THIS year, the United Nations Interim Administration in Kosovo held a ceremony at its headquarters in Prizren to swear in some 58 new members of the UN-installed disaster response service, the Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC). The ceremony opened with an address by the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) administrator for the region. His remarks were being translated into both Serbian and Albanian in keeping with the rhetoric of UNMIK that Kosovo is to remain a multi-ethnic society and the KPC an agency of a "multi-ethnic character" that prohibits "discrimination against any person on grounds of race, sex, color, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or ethnic or social origin."
But, in the midst of the UN official's remarks, members of the KPC--all of them Albanian--disrupted the ceremony and walked out of the room in protest of the Serbian translation. According to a report from the Kosovapress agency, "their family members and the Albanians who were present at the ceremony greeted their action with applause." The KPC members only returned to the ceremony after they were assured the event would continue exclusively in Albanian.
Shortly after this action, General Agim Ceku, commander of the KPC took the stage amidst sustained applause. "Today you are becoming professional officers," he told the cadets. "Just as you knew how to triumph over all the obstacles and difficulties of war...this time too, you will emerge victorious."
Ceku is the former Military Chief of Staff of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and the man handpicked by the U.S. to head the KPC. Shortly after being appointed commander of the corps in September 1999, Ceku said, "We see the KPC as a bridge towards the future, from the KLA as a wartime organization towards a regular, modern army of Kosovo which will be achieved with the independence of Kosovo." UNMIK officials have stood shoulder to shoulder with Ceku as he has conveyed this aim to crowds.
But according to the UN directive authorizing the establishment of the KPC, "the Kosovo Protection Corps will have no role in defense, law enforcement, riot control, internal security or any other task involved in the maintenance of law and order." The KPC is to be "politically neutral."
On paper, the KPC is slated as a "civilian emergency service agency." Its tasks include providing disaster response services, search and rescue missions, and assistance in demining, as well as contributing to rebuilding infrastructure and communities.
The reality is that the KPC, consisting almost entirely of "demilitarized" KLA members, has become a U.S./UN funded 5,000-man terror squad in uniform with the not so subtle aim of creating an ethnically pure Kosovo. And the U.S. and UN know it.
Early this summer UN Secretary General Kofi Annan told the Security Council that violent attacks by Kosovo Albanians against Serbs and other minorities "appear to be part of an orchestrated campaign." The Secretary General did not say who exactly is orchestrating this campaign. Perhaps that's because to do so would implicate the KPC.
An internal UN report prepared for Annan and leaked to journalists earlier this year accuses the KPC of "criminal activities, killings, ill-treatment/torture, illegal policing, abuse of authority, intimidation, breaches of political neutrality and hate speech."
The incident in Prizren alone, where KPC cadets protested the translation of the induction ceremony into Serbian, could be grounds for Ceku to be dismissed as Commander of the KPC, according to UN policy. But this infraction pales in contrast to Ceku's brutal past. A past the U.S. knows well because it was influential in making Ceku one of the top "ethnic cleansers" in the Balkans, alongside Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic.
Ceku refined his brutality as a general in the U.S.-backed Croatian Army during the Balkan war and was trained by Military Professional Resources Inc. (MPRI), a private paramilitary firm founded in 1987 and based in Alexandria, Virginia, with former high-ranking U.S. generals and NATO officials on its board. These officers include the former Commanders in Chief of the U.S. Army in Europe and U.S. Central Command, the Supreme Allied Commander-Atlantic and the former U.S. representative to the NATO Military Committee. In 1994, armed with a contract authorized by the Clinton administration, MPRI officially began to train Croatian forces.
Just months after MPRI arrived on the scene, Croatian forces carried out the notorious Operation Storm. In a brutal four-day blitzkrieg in 1995, these forces expelled some 200,000 Serbs from the Krajina region of Croatia after their villages were mercilessly shelled. Jane's Defense Weekly reported that Ceku was "one of the key planners" of the operation that the New York Times called "the largest single 'ethnic cleansing' of the war."
The criminal tribunal has been investigating Operation Storm for years. The Sunday Times of London recently reported that Ceku is also suspected by the tribunal of war crimes committed during raids he led in the south of Croatia in September 1993, when he was commanding the feared 9th Brigade.
To date there have been no indictments at the Hague for crimes committed in Croatia. The U.S. has refused to cooperate in the investigation and, despite the fact that MPRI's members are almost exclusively ex-U.S. military, information on its operations are unavailable to the public because it is a private corporation.
The spokeswoman for the UN Mission in Kosovo Susan Manuel says the UN is "aware" of Gen. Ceku's history and the accusations against him but placed him at the head of the KPC "because he was the leader of the KLA when we arrived, and he wanted to contribute to the transformation of the KLA to a constructive force for the future of Kosovo." This configuration is largely the work of Washington.
At nearly every turn in the UN/NATO negotiations with the KLA over their role in the "new" Kosovo, American officials swooped in to appease Gen. Ceku and his KLA cronies by making changes to key principles to agreements. In one instance when NATO negotiators were at a standstill with the KLA over its role in the future administration of Kosovo, then-State Department spokesperson James Rubin came to the group's rescue, adding a clause that said, "special consideration should be given to current KLA members to participate in the administration and police force of Kosovo in exchange for the help the KLA provided to NATO during its air campaign." Rubin said he had "made the deal in his capacity of adviser to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright."
Such actions prompted Hansjoerg Strohmeyer, legal advisor to UNMIK, to say, "The U.S. stands to destroy the neutrality of our mission if it insists upon these clauses."
It therefore comes as no surprise that upon word that Ceku may be under investigation for war crimes, U.S. officials told reporters that any indictment of Ceku would be "sealed" and kept from the public.
As for the crimes of Ceku's KPC, UN spokeswoman Manuel says, "As far as I know, no one's been [criminally] charged with anything." This refusal to prosecute those in the KPC who commit atrocities has in effect given the go-ahead to a wider campaign of terror against Serbs and other civilians.
In the year since U.S.-led NATO forces assumed control of Kosovo, the southern Yugoslav province has become a living hell for Serbs, Roma people (Gypsies), Slavic Muslims, and other minorities. Albanians have gunned down Serbian children, fired rockets at UN buses repatriating ethnic minorities, expelled thousands from their homes and businesses, and created a general climate of terror. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 200,000 ethnic minorities--mostly Serbs--have fled Kosovo since NATO troops marched in. UNHCR officials have consistently said it is unsafe to return ethnic minorities to their homes in Kosovo.
In tactics reminiscent of the U.S.-backed death squads in Central America, extremist Albanians have also made the Serbian Orthodox Church a major target of attacks. According to the Office of the Patriarch, more than 100 churches and monasteries have been plundered, vandalized, burnt or leveled to the ground by explosives since NATO arrived on the scene last summer. Fourteenth-century monasteries on the World Heritage List are now 21st-century rubble. Medieval churches have been robbed and bombed. Priceless icons lay burnt and shattered. On the morning of Good Friday, St. Petka Church near Kosovska Vitina was blown up. Orthodox nuns have been molested. Not one person has been prosecuted for any of these crimes.
Washington's maneuvering to reward the KLA in the "new" Kosovo has forsaken human rights and ethnic tolerance to a desire to maintain a close relationship with the forces it hopes to do business with for years to come. By legitimizing Agim Ceku and thousands of other KLA members by putting them in positions of authority, Washington is giving ethnic cleansing a green light. Not criminally charging KPC members sends a clear message to those in- and outside the KPC that crimes may continue with impunity. It's not surprising that some of the worst brutality against Serbs has occurred in the U.S. sector of Kosovo.
UNMIK spokesperson Susan Manuel says, "There've been constant grenade attacks, arson of Serb-owned homes and most recently we've had a spate of drive-by shootings." This is also the center-point of regular invasions and assaults in Serbia proper by a faction of the KLA.
In mid-June, British-led peacekeepers announced they had uncovered the largest cache of illegal weapons in the year since NATO soldiers entered Kosovo. The NATO-led force, KFOR, said the weapons belonged to the KLA. In all, they found four massive underground bunkers in the village of Klecka, which is a former KLA stronghold west of the provincial capital Pristina. That area was under the direct control of Gen. Agim Ceku during the bombing.
According to KFOR, the amount of weapons and equipment in the first two bunkers alone was large enough to fully outfit two heavy-infantry companies, eliminate the entire population of Pristina, and destroy 900-1,000 tanks. These bunkers contained tripod-mounted heavy machine guns, hundreds of rifles, mortars, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, anti-tank and anti-personnel mines, flak jackets, large quantities of ammunition, and communications equipment. The weapons and ammunition were manufactured in a number of countries, including the United States, Albania, Yugoslavia, and China. Kosovo remains a ticking timebomb, with the trigger increasingly controlled by NATO and its proxy institutions in the province. The violence escalates daily, with no foreseeable end to the horror.
This "new" Kosovo is the face of what Noam Chomsky has termed the "new military humanism." Wasn't the world told by President Clinton that the bombing and occupation of Kosovo were about stopping ethnic cleansing? The terror there today is carried out not under the watch of Slobodan Milosevic, but that of the U.S. and its European allies. Every child that is gunned down, every person that is expelled, every church that is blown up, is a cry for an end to NATO's "humanitarian interventions."