Differences among Kosovar Albanian leaders have resulted in the creation of two rival self-proclaimed governments and have created a split within the insurgent Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK). RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele, who was recently in Albania, reports on the Kosovars' political and military divisions.
Tirana, 13 May 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The former North Korean Embassy complex in Tirana is currently home to the diplomatic mission of the so-called Republic of Kosovo. There is no flag, emblem or even plaque identifying the state-in-exile that for the past four years has been housed in Tirana's diplomatic quarter.
Kosovo consul Kadri Bala insists the mission has what he calls "a diplomatic status" and is in fact an embassy. In his words, "for us, Kosovo has become an independent state."
But Kosovo at present has two provisional ethnic-Albanian governments, one and possibly both of which are in exile. The first to be formed was that of Prime Minister Bujar Bukoshi, established in Germany in 1991 and based in Bonn. The Bukoshi government is loyal to the elected leader of Kosovo's Albanian majority, Ibrahim Rugova. Yugoslav authorities last week released Rugova from house arrest in Pristina and allowed him and his family to fly into exile in Italy.
Rugova and Bukoshi face a domestic political challenge in the form of the commander of the insurgent Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK), Hashim Thaci. He appears to have at least the tacit backing of Albania's current socialist government and considerable support among Kosovar expellees now in exile in Albania.
Thaci, who is believed to be 31 years old, helped lead student protests 10 years ago against Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic's abolition of Kosovo's autonomous status. He was then a history student at Pristina University. Four years later (1993), he founded the UCK, a movement that remained virtually unknown until two years ago, when it began claiming credit for attacks on Serbian police.
Following the failure of the Rambouillet and Paris peace talks and the start of NATO air-strikes, Thaci announced the formation of a provisional government of the Republic of Kosovo. He declared himself prime minister and said his government would "direct and lead Kosovo and its people until the creation of normal conditions for holding free elections."
Thaci gave the UCK the ministries of finance, defense, public order, military intelligence and local government, and set aside the posts of foreign affairs, culture, education and sports as well as two deputy prime ministerships for Rugova's Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK). Rexhep Qosja's much smaller United Democratic Movement was granted one deputy prime ministership and the cabinet posts for information, justice and immigration.
UCK's spokesmen in Albania and abroad insist the Thaci government is not a self-proclaimed government. Rather, they say, it is the result of an agreement signed by the Kosovar negotiators at Rambouillet in February.
But the LDK argues that the February agreement provided for the establishment of a government only after the deployment of a NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo and on the basis of agreement rather than by a unilateral act or decree.
Last week (May 3), Thaci appointed 12 deputy ministers, including Bukoshi's defense minister, Halil Bicaj, to serve on Thaci's own defense ministry staff. A spokesman for Bukoshi's defense ministry responded by branding Thaci as "the imaginary prime minister" and denouncing the appointments as "false and illegal [and] "and aimed at dividing the military and political factors of Kosovo".
Consul Bala decried the growing division between Kosovars in an interview with RFE/RL:
"Any political or military split means a catastrophe for Kosovo." Bala predicts that the various Kosovar factions will unite before it is too late. He says the only Kosovar government he recognizes is Bukoshi's which, in his words, "has its own state and military structure [the Armed Forces of the Republic of Kosovo, or FARK] and is led by real military commanders rather than political commissars".
Bukoshi's Defense Ministry commanders consist of former career officers of the Yugoslav Army.
Bala accuses UCK's commanders of being leftists and maintaining very close ties with Albania's current Socialist-led government. He says the commanders of the pro-Bukoshi armed forces are in Kosovo together with the remaining Kosovar Albanians, who he says now number only between 300,000 and 400,000. In contrast, Bala says, "the entire Thaci government is in Albania." He dismisses as "a lie" Albanian President Rexhep Mejdani's claim that the Thaci government is in Kosovo.
Tirana journalist Mero Baze, who is a contributor to RFE/RL's Albanian Service as well as head of the independent Enter news agency, says three former agents of the Albanian communist-era secret police, the Sigurimi, are currently members of the UCK leadership subordinate to Thaci. The Sigurimi served Albanian communist leader Enver Hoxha's interests in Kosovo in the 1970s and 1980s
Some members of the UCK leadership have been charged with drug trafficking. French President Jacques Chirac raised the issue in discussions last month with Albanian President Rexhep Meidani. Chirac turned down an Albanian request to arm the UCK despite Meidani's assurances that the group's leadership could be trusted.
Albanian opposition leader and former President Sali Berisha has remained faithful to Rugova and has refused to recognize the Thaci government. He says that while Rugova returned to Pristina from Paris, Thaci and his people went to Tirana and announced the creation of a government and proceeded to declare Rugova a traitor and pronounce a death sentence on Bukoshi:
"They asked me to recognize them. I told them, 'I won't recognize you; I recognize you as representatives of fighters and I do not mind what you are ideologically.'"
Berisha also says he warned the Thaci leadership they were damaging Kosovo's image abroad. He says Kosovars of all political persuasions must work together in what he calls "a transparent way".
Berisha praises the UCK's soldiers as "freedom fighters" who, he says, are facing the same threats and are fighting for the same values as NATO's pilots. But he is dismissive of the UCK's leadership which he suggests has become a tool of the Albanian government
Berisha has repeatedly called on the government of Pandeli Majko to allow the UCK to be supplied weapons openly, but to no avail.
A top advisor to Albanian President Meidani, Mentor Nazarko, confirms Albanian authorities are not providing direct assistance to the UCK.
"Albania, Albanian institutions are not providing any support logistical or otherwise to UCK, although on an individual basis there may be some assistance, but not institutionally.
In contrast to Berisha, Nazarko supports the Thaci government but insists it does not represent partial interests.
"Albania supports the formation and functioning of a Kosovo government which freely represents all the important political, social and military subjects without preference for one or the other. But we must stress one matter valid for all, that at the moment the UCK does not represent partial interests, rather, it is a national liberation movement representing all the parties, the whole political spectrum of Kosovo."
Albanian commentators in Tirana suggest the main reasons that Thaci proclaimed a government may be financial. The Thaci government is demanding the transfer of what its spokesman says are several hundred million German marks, Swiss francs and U.S. dollars collected by the Bukoshi government from the Kosovar Diaspora. Kosovars working abroad have been asked to contribute three percent of their income in a special tax to the Bukoshi government.
UCK's Swiss-based Kosovapress yesterday published an interview with Thaci, claiming it was conducted in Pristina. In the interview, Thaci accuses Bukoshi of "sabotaging" the Diaspora funds for his own purposes. Thaci alleges that Bukoshi is leading what he termed "a clique of Mafia-communists and mercenaries," and he reiterated that "Kosovo has only one government --the provisional government of Kosovo acting in Kosovo's interests in Kosovo."
For his part, Rugova in a joint interview in Rome this week with Le Monde, La Stampa and the New York Times expressed exasperation with the growing gulf with the UCK. Rugova said he "would like to bring the people from the UCK closer to the others," adding that at Rambouillet he had done everything necessary for a rapprochement.
But, Rugova added, "everything that is now being said" about what was agreed on at Rambouillet "is propaganda". In his words, "it is not serious --it is tragic today to speak like this when more than a million Kosovars are abroad --this lacks good sense." Rugova called for concentrating on returning the refugees to their homes in Kosovo "instead of engaging in polemics."