Accessibility links

Breaking News

Balkan Report: May 19, 1999

19 May 1999, Volume 3, Number 19

Fehmi Agani's Last Four Weeks. Rexhep Ismajli, who is a well-known scholar and writer, spent four weeks in Prishtina after the beginning of the NATO air strikes with Fehmi Agani, who was one of the top leaders of the Democratic League of Kosova (LDK). Serbian police took Agani out of a refugee train near Lipjan on May 9 and killed him. Agani was a committed senior representative of the non-violent resistance movement led by Ibrahim Rugova. Ismajli gave an interview to RFE/RL on May 17.

RFE/RL: You were together with Agani in Prishtina. What did he think about the developments [after the air strikes began]?

Ismajli: I was together with Agani until April 29, when I left for Macedonia. He was very upset about the situation and would have liked to establish contact with the outside world, but we could not even find a telephone in Prishtina. He was shocked that people like [Jiri] Dienstbier, [Cornelio] Sommaruga and others went to places like Belgrade, Novi Sad, and Podgorica in the name of the UN but said that they could not go to Prishtina because that city was being bombed by NATO. Their behavior was indeed hypocritical, cynical and terrible, and Fehmi was very badly affected by that.

Agani had predicted that Serbia would behave harshly in Kosova, but he never thought that it would reach this degree. At the same time, he did not think that the [ethnic] Albanian political forces should have done anything to moderate their position towards Serbia in view of [what the Serbs did to the Kosovars].

We expected more [statements and] reactions from those who got out, but we have not heard anything. Since we could not speak out from inside Kosova, he expected from the politicians outside that they would at least say something...

RFE/RL: What does the killing of Agani mean for the national movement?

Ismajli: From my point of view, the death of Agani is one of the most fundamental losses for the national movement. His killing could not have been committed by a regular policeman or been ordered on the level of some local police station. This was ordered directly from Belgrade -- if not directly by [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic -- because Agani was one of the creators and inspirers of the idea of an independent Kosova and had been so since the 1960s. He was the one who developed a strategy for the political movement. He was a person who urged all [different Kosovar political groups] to create a united front...

Nobody in the entire Albanian world can replace him. Serbia knows this well because he was the key player in the negotiations. British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook -- who knew and valued Agani both personally and politically -- said that the killing of Agani shows that Serbia has no interest in developing a dialogue with anybody. The NATO air campaign must continue until a final settlement is found under international control. (Translated by Fabian Schmidt)

Rugova Speaks Out Too Late. Ibrahim Rugova finally outlined his political strategy two weeks after arriving in Rome from Kosova, where he spent over one month under Serbian house arrest. He told the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" of May 17 that he does not recognize the provisional government of Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) leader Hashim Thaci and thus clearly defined his position in the ongoing power struggle over the future of Kosova (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," May 12, 1999). His statement, even if addressed to the western readership more than to the Kosovars, was certainly overdue.

Rugova failed to take advantage of the extensive international media coverage he received immediately after he arrived in Rome in order to state clearly his positions on key issues and to explain what had happened to him while he was under house arrest. Then he lost more valuable time by travelling to Paris, Brussels, Bonn and London, where he met numerous western leaders. But he left Albanian and Kosovar politicians in Tirana and elsewhere guessing about his political views and plans.

By mid-May, the UCK had long become a strong political force. It had quickly filled the vacuum created by the collapse of Rugova's shadow state in the course of the Serbian ethnic cleansing campaign.

Thaci's government draws its legitimacy primarily from an agreement to form a provisional government, which the Kosovar delegates to the peace talks concluded in Paris in March. Thaci, who was Kosovar delegation leader in France, claimed the position of prime minister for himself and assigned several ministerial positions to the various Kosovar parties represented in Rambouillet. Thaci nonetheless reserved the key ministerial positions for the UCK and assigned only less important ministries to Rugova's LDK.

This was apparently one of the main reasons why an LDK delegation, which was led by shadow-state Prime Minister Bujar Bukoshi, declined to join the Thaci government when visiting Tirana on May 2. Another is reportedly that Bukoshi still has large funds from diaspora donations and does not want to simply hand over the money to Thaci. Instead, Bukoshi suggested forming a new government, which he invited the UCK to join. On May 3, UCK spokesman Jakup Krasniqi made clear that "there is already a government of Kosova led by Hashim Thaci." Krasniqi added that Bukoshi's proposal was "unacceptable."

Albanian Prime Minister Pandeli Majko, who had invited the rivals to meet in Tirana, urged them in vain to unite. Foreign Minister Paskal Milo stressed that "there is no time to lose over who will be the prime minister and who will be ministers." He added that "it is important to set up a government representing all Albanians in Kosova." Each side nonetheless insisted that its rivals join its own government first and each remained unwilling to compromise.

Two days after the Albanian government's mediation effort ended, Rugova arrived in Rome with his family. He had a golden opportunity to promote unity among the Kosovars and thereby influence the Albanian government to take positions close to his own. But by focusing on meetings with western leaders rather than spending time with his own people, he left the political initiative to Thaci. On May 12, the Albanian parliament's Socialist majority voted to recognize the Thaci government. That same day, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer announced that Rugova had decided to stay in Germany.

At that time, Rugova had not yet explained to the Kosovar public what had happened to him in Serbian captivity and whether he indeed signed a document with Serbian President Milan Milutinovic under duress or voluntarily. The document called for autonomy within Serbia and for direct Serbian-Kosovar negotiations, with foreigners present only "as guests." Instead, Rugova said he preferred not to talk about the Milutinovic meeting.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Paskal Milo on May 14 urged Rugova to declare his support for the Thaci government. Milo stressed that the Albanian government does "not support one side [of the Kosovar political spectrum] against the other" but rather seeks to promote Kosovar unity. Milo also called on Rugova to visit Tirana, saying that "if [Rugova] says he is the [president] of the [Kosovar] Albanians... then first of all he needs to come and see Albanians. [It is] unacceptable, unthinkable that he would not come to Albania, where there are 440,000 people from Kosova. He must come here to encourage them, to support them."

Rugova finally clarified his position. He told the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" of May 17 that "whatever I signed in Belgrade is meaningless," adding that he signed the document to protect his family. Rugova also said that he will travel soon to Macedonia and to Albania and visit refugee camps there, without specifying a precise date. Furthermore, he sounded a conciliatory note by saying that "it is tragicomical that we have two provisional governments at the same time." Rugova added that he will invite Kosovar political leaders from all political groups to Bonn to discuss forming a new provisional government.

It remains to be seen how the UCK will respond to this suggestion. Rugova seems to be working on the assumption that his most important asset is his good personal and political links to western politicians. But he must be careful not to lose contact with his electorate in the refugee camps and with the fighters in the field if he wants to maintain his position. Sooner or later the Kosovars will hold an election, and the foreigners will not be the ones voting. (Fabian Schmidt)

Quotations of the Week. "There will be no long-term solution or stable solution if Milosevic remains in place for a long time, because it will mean there is no democracy in the region. And without democracy, the problems of the region are not going to be solved." -- The international community's Carlos Westendorp, May 17.

Prime Minister Tony Blair said in Aachen, Germany on May 13 that Milosevic is "determined to wipe a people from the face of his country. We are determined to stop him. And we will."

"You call me a warmonger. So are you going to give Milosevic the Nobel Peace Prize?" -- German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, to angry protesters from his Green Party, in Bielefeld on May 13.

Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic "does not think that Mr. Milosevic will be the person with whom one could have a political agreement on a lasting peace." -- EU Commissioner Hans van den Broek, on May 17.

"For the Serbs to lament publicly about the deaths of these refugees is almost tantamount to Adolf Eichmann complaining about Allied forces bombing the crematoriums. These are crocodile tears coming out of mass killers." -- U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen, May 16.

"On one side of the Balkans we have war, while on the other side we are building friendship and multinational peacekeeping forces, which gives us the hope that soon we will see peace and prosperity in this region." -- Macedonian Defense Minister Nikola Kljusev, speaking at Giushevo on the Macedonian-Bulgarian border on May 14. He was welcoming a gift of 31 T-55 tanks and 18 howitzers from Bulgaria for Macedonia's fledgling army. The donation will ultimately consist of 94 tanks and 108 howitzers.

"Milosevic couldn't care less whether people are going to have jobs in five years." -- Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic, to "Welt am Sonntag" of May 16.

"Milosevic's troops are showing an increasing tendency to loot and burn their way around the country." -- British Admiral Sir Ian Garnett, in London on May 13.

"We have it all here. We have shelling, we have refugees, we have criminals, a little bit of everything." -- Pier Gonggrijp, head of the OSCE's office in Bajram Curri, on May 15.

"The number of mediators in the war over Kosova is growing so rapidly that it will soon be necessary to have a mediator to mediate between the mediators." -- "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," May 17.

"I find it amazing when there is a wave of protests, particularly from Greenpeace, at the slightest pretext, while this same Greenpeace keeps mum about what happens in Yugoslavia right now." -- Russia's acting Minister for Emergencies, Sergei Shoigu, quoted by ITAR-TASS in Moscow on May 14.

"U.S.-led anti-China powers" seek to "interfere with and ruin China's development. They are racking their brains in an attempt to drag a united, developed and satisfied China into chaos and the abyss of division...For 100 years Chinese people have suffered enough of the bitterness of being bullied by foreign imperialist powers." -- "Renmin Ribao," the daily of the Communist Party of China, on May 14, as reported by Reuters.