"Within a year, the Kosovo Liberation Army has became impossible to ignore"
by Marc Semo -- Liberation
Thursday January 21, 1999
With its combatants dressed in flamboyant new uniforms, decorated with an eagle, the Kosovo Liberation Army (UÇK, for Ushtrija Çlirimtaree Kosoves) is from now on a reality impossible to ignore. However, just a year ago, it consisted only of a small group claiming a few assaults on police headquarters, murders of Serb policemen and executions of " collaborators ".
The first public appearance of the Kosovar guerrillas dates back to November 1997: armed and hidden behind ski-masks, they escorted the coffin of a teacher killed by the Serbs in the village of Drenica, the plateau in the centre of Kosovo and ancient bastion of the struggle for independence of this province of southern Serbia with its 90% Albanian population. There, a few months later, in February 1998, the Belgrade special forces launched a vast operation in order to eliminate Adem Jashari and his comrades, considered to be the hard core of the UÇK. The entire family clan, including the children, were killed (85 died). The war in Kosovo had begun.
The writer Ibrahim Rugova, leader of the moderate Kosovars, denounce the UÇK at the time as "a creation of the Serb security services". Then it have recognised that they himself be of "a group of citizen defend their hearth ". Tired of the scant results of the strategy of peaceful mass resistance that the " president " of Kosovo embodied and of indifference of the international community, more and more of Kosovars, especially the young, opted for the armed struggle "because it is the only language the Serbs understand ".
Today, in spite of the military setbacks it suffered last summer, the UÇK, which claims to command some 30,000 combatants, once again controls most of the countryside outside the main roads. Last spring, the writer Adem Demaçi, the "Mandela of Kosovo" who lingered for twenty-eight years in a Serb gaol, became its political representative in Pristina.
Nonetheless the organisation remains in many ways an enigma. Opaque in its structures, easily totalitarian in its methods, prohibiting in its strongholds all the Albanian parties which it denounces as "a useless luxury", its commanders with their unreconstructed wooden language at the start used to greet one another with raised fists. The UÇK remained largely true to the Maoist origins of its founders, even if all Albanian ultranationalists now feel represented by it.
The original core was made up of militants who were fascinated by the unadulterated Marxism of Enver Hoxha in nearby Albania. They took part in the students' protest of Pristina of 1981 in favour of the creation of a republic of Kosovo, and were imprisoned by the local communist authorities consisting of Albanians of origin. The statute of autonomy was undone by Slobodan Milosevic in 1989, after which they departed into exile in Switzerland, Germany or Sweden.
There, as Yugoslavia fell apart, they created the military organisation that grew thanks to the financial assistance of the diaspora. Weapons as well as volunteers arrived and continue to arrive through northern Albania, where the UÇK has its rear bases in the mountains around Tropoja, stronghold of the former Albanian president, nationalist Sali Berisha.
"We want more than independence: the reunification of all the Albanians on the Balkans," affirmed Jakup Krasniqi, spokesman of the organisation, last July. Since the, they are clearly mincing their words, but their radicalism frightens the West. And it balks at the idea of military strikes, which would only help the UÇK on the ground. The movement on the other hand knows that even now that it is better armed and organised that last summer, it cannot hold its ground against the Serb military machine. Consequently, its aim is to shock public opinion as this is the only force deemed capable of sweeping aside the reticence in Western capitals. For several months, the Kosovar guerrilla has been pushing the Serbs across the fault line by multiplying its attacks against individual police officers. Thus, it tries to provoke a massive reaction by the forces of Milosevic. This strategy is classical: it doesn't necessarily mean that the UÇK is capable of any sinister set-up.