|THE KLA IMPACT|
June 23, 1999
MARGARET WARNER: For perspective on the KLA, more perspective, we're
joined by Janusz Bugajski, Director of East European Studies at the
Center for Strategic and International Studies here in Washington. He
was in Albania in late February; Fron Nazi, senior editor at the Institute
for War and Peace Reporting, he just returned from reporting along the
Kosovo- Albanian border -- he previously worked for the Soros Foundation
in the Balkans. He was born in Kosovo, but was raised and educated in
the U.S., and he is now a US citizen; and Christopher Layne, a foreign
affairs analyst and freelance writer, who often contributes to the "Los
Angeles Times." He's a visiting scholar at the University of Southern
California's Center for International Studies. Welcome gentlemen.
JANUSZ BUGAJSKI: Well, it started as a fairly small group about four or five years ago, maybe seven years ago according to some estimates. But I think their power really grew over the past three or four years, particularly over the last two years as a result of three factors: First of all, I would say anger at the Serb repression, the repression perpetrated by the Serb regime. Secondly, frustration with the pacifist policies of the then-government of President Rugova, the Albanian parallel government. And thirdly, I would say dismay that Kosovo was left out of the Dayton agenda. They came to the conclusion only through some kind of armed uprising, armed conflict with the international community to pay serious attention to Kosovo. Quite frankly, without the KLA, NATO would not be in Kosovo now.
MARGARET WARNER: Fron Nazi, what would you add? And tell us a little bit about both the membership and the leadership.
FRON NAZI: Well, the one thing I would add I think is very important, what Janusz has said, is the fact that the KLA came about because of a defensive in March '98 when Belgrade launched its attack on Brnica, better known as the Brnica Massacre of Bloody Sunday. Overnight it became a popular defensive uprising by the people. I think that's a clear indication that we should add it to the list that Janusz has just spoke about, why the KLA came into existence. Partially again I agree with the statement just made, there was no one else there to defend them, specifically either the United States or NATO or for that matter the LDK and Rugova.
MARGARET WARNER: I'm sorry, or what? What was that second?
FRON NAZI: The Democratic Kosovo and Rugova, which was the pacifist movement.
MARGARET WARNER: Rugova.
FRON NAZI: Yes.
MARGARET WARNER: And he had been elected, Mr. Rugova, had he not, been sort of an underground election.
FRON NAZI: Well, let's be careful with the word election. We've had numerous elections in Kosovo, but none of them were free. Under the conditions he was elected, elected as a person that would basically bring Kosovo to the brink of independence. At the same time, he was elected because of the open support that both Washington and Western Europe were providing him.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. So go ahead. You were saying about the membership and leadership of the KLA today.
FRON NAZI: It's, again, I mean, it started off as a group of militant people, obviously, who wanted to bring independence through the use of arms. And it became this popular uprising. And I disagree with s me of these assessments that it's seven or three years old. I believe it's only a one-year-old army at most, if you want to call it an army. When it came about, it came about, again, as I said before, as a defensive. And many people overnight were transformed from teachers or from students to commanders. I agree with the point there are some specialists there, the field commanders I think came in a little later, and they became sort of the military experience that was necessary. But to what extent was it a real army? The continuously defensive army even during the war in the last month, they were able to hold on to six zones, six of the seven zones. In fact, they lost one of them. And again it was much more a defensive way.
MARGARET WARNER: Okay. Let me get Chris Layne in this. What's your sense, Chris Layne, of the roots of this group and why it is where it is today?
CHRISTOPHER LAYNE: Well, clearly there was a great deal of frustration among ethnic Albanians that the Rugova approach, democratic and pacifistic, to achieving independence was not working. But I would really dispute the characterization of the KLA as a defensive organization. One can go back and establish rather clearly that at the beginning of 1998, the KLA began to operate as a typical national liberation guerrilla/insurgency movement conducting a number of terrorist operations against the Serb authorities. Now, one can argue the pros and cons of whether the ethnic Albanians had a right -- have a right to seek self-determination through armed rebellion. But I think one ought to be clear that that is exactly what they were doing. They were engaged in mounting an insurgency against a lawfully established government on its own sovereign territory.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Bugajski, the State Department Special Envoy to the Balkans last year, Robert Gelbardt himself called it a terrorist group. Would you agree with that characterization?
JANUSZ BUGAJSKI: No. Certainly not. I think it's an unfortunate phrase. Where the KLA did engage in armed actions against the Serbs, it was very specific, I would say assassinations of Serb policemen, particularly, I would say, policemen that were known to be involved in some local repressive actions against the Albanian community. This wasn't random terrorism. It didn't have the capability for it. It was mostly in rural areas, in areas outside of the major cities. To characterize it as a terrorist organization really suited Milosevic's purposes, because then he could sell it to the Serbian people and the international community as basically trying to root out the terrorist cell in Kosovo. As a result, he staged massive attacks on the Albanian population.
MARGARET WARNER: Chris Layne, back to you. Is there any doubt in terms of their goals that independence is what they want, as we heard that commander say in that piece?
CHRISTOPHER LAYNE: Oh, I think that's absolutely clear. The leaders, and one should be clear here that this organization is not monolithic. It is factionalized. But across the factions there is no doubt that independence is the goal, and it's quite clear that they will not settle for anything less. I think I just want to make one quick response. The "New York Times" had a very long story by John Kifner several weeks ago called "The Ravaging of Kosovo." And certainly it was not an article that was favorable to the Serbs. But it also made clear the kinds of operations that the KLA was involved in. It was not just assassinating policemen, Serb police and officials, but also Serb civilians. And I think we have to understand that, you know, insurgent movements operate in a certain way when they're challenging an established authority. And it is clear in the American intelligence community told the Clinton administration this at the beginning of January of this year, that the KLA would try to stage a provocations in Kosovo, precisely to force harsh Serb reprisals in order to win sympathy and support of the West. And this is a classic modus operandi for organizations of that sort.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Nazi , address that point and also the other accusations - and Charles referred to them -- that they're funded in a large part or in part through drug trafficking, money laundering, weapons trafficking.
FRON NAZI: Let's step back a minute. In 1989, when Kosovo was part of Yugoslavia as we know it today, it was Belgrade that launched its own army against its own people, which established a process of Yugoslavia as we know it today. For ten years, you've had basically a pacifist or nonactivist movement, people actually believing that the West would reward pacifism. It was a precedent that was set by the West especially at the Dayton Accords, whereby aggression is awarded, in this particular case Milosevic still surviving. As far as any sort of terrorist activities by the KLA, let me make that very clear, no one, even Gelbardt retracted his March 1998 statement six months afterwards realizing that, in fact, there was no terrorism whatsoever involved. Did you have groups of militant people, yes, you did, in a sense, who wanted independence. As far as where is the -- as far as the funding aspect of it, there were tremendous amount of rumors that were spread by the press in sensationalism if you want to call it that, meaning they were being funded by drug money or so fort. I've been covering the issue now for ten years, I don't have any sort of proof. Maybe it's sort of a limit on my journalism. But most of the people that have been following don't seem to have any sort of planning or proof that there's some illegal evidence. In fact, they've set up funds, which have been publicized in a "Albanian Yellow Pages" where the expatriates can donate money for the actual activities KLA in the same exact manner they've been donating money for the ten years for the pacifist movement.
MARGARET WARNER: Okay. Let's turn to their future role. And before we do that, State Department Spokesman Jamie Rubin addressed that very issue earlier today. And let's look at what he said.
JAMIE RUBIN: We certainly want to support their transformation to being genuine democratic political parties and we would certainly be very supportive of that. I don't think we have any specific plans I can announce right now. But I think that some thought is being given to how we can be supportive of an effort to transform these people from the liberation army into a political organization that is as effective as it was on the ground.
MARGARET WARNER: What do you think, Janusz Bugajski, what do you think are the prospects for that kind of transformation? Do you think this is something the KLA wants to do?
JANUSZ BUGAJSKI: Yes. I think so. I think it's absolutely essential that the KLA'S involved both in the political reconstruction process, as part of the legitimate authorities of Kosovo, but also as part of the military process or the security process, if you like, the creation of a police force, the creation of some kind of national guard, and eventually, and I think Kosovo will gain independence, some kind of a Kosovo army. And I think there's a lot of very good experienced people within the KLA with experience in local security issues, with the trust of local people, who can fulfill that role. It's a question of how NATO can integrate this force into a normal political military player during this transformation process.
MARGARET WARNER: But you think they have to be integrated. They can't be ignored?
JANUSZ BUGAJSKI: If you exclude them, your going to create a great deal of resentment and animosity that will actually endanger the KFOR mission, or make that mission that much more difficult in the future.
MARGARET WARNER: Chris Layne, your view on the future role and whether they want to make this transformation.
CHRISTOPHER LAYNE: American policymakers always seem to think the rest of the world is like Iowa and that people all subscribe to American notions of democracy. I think it's pretty clear from what we know about the KLA that it's no more likely that they are going to become a force interested in a multi ethnic democracy to transform them from a national liberation movement into a democratic political party in Mr. Rubin's words than it was likely we could do that with the Vietcong during the war in Vietnam. We need to think very seriously here, because the United States and NATO have put themselves in a very incongruous position. For very good reasons, they signed a peace agreement with Belgrade that says that Kosovo will remain an autonomous province but under the sovereignty of the federal republic of Yugoslavia. That is not the KLA's goal. It wants independence. It will have independence if it has anything to say about the outcome. There is a path here that is leading inexorably down the road to collision at some point in time between the KLA's aspirations and the policy objectives of the United States and NATO and the Balkans. That is a very dangerous situation.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me get Mr. Nazi back in here. Mr. Nazi, you've spent some time with KLA covering them just recently. Do you think they want to make this transformation? Do you think they are committed to a democratic or multiethnic state, or is the West being naive, as Chris Layne seems to suggest?
FRON NAZI: I think it, again, the KLA that I've met there, it's not only obviously the field commanders, the one with the professional military people, but also doctors, lawyers, and especially in the doctor aspect of it, where they've set up hospitals in areas where the international community was not setting up, which is specifically in the Albanian northern border basically to take care of their wounded. Most of them, and we have to keep this in mind, most of the KLA members are expatriates who were educated in Western Europe or the United States. The majority of those who have joined came back in order to in a sense basically take up arms against the Serbian forces. Right now at the stage that we're at, I think it's premature to talk about either an independent or for that matter an autonomy. Right now the immediate issue is the refugees. You have 820,000 refugees who need to return back to Kosovo. Unfortunately, the international community once again is ill prepared to in a sense make the conditions available for these refugees. The reason why I mention the refugees because the majority of the refugees based on a survey that was conducted in Albania a few weeks ago by the American Association for Advancement of Science and East-West Management Institute that sponsored it, the main concern was basically having security and at the same time they ensure that they can rebuild their homes. Based on this aspect, the KLA actually has proved that they're not capable of providing total security for their people, but, in fact, NATO is. And this is where I think NATO is perceived, I think, blindly by the Albanians, especially the United States, which has tremendous amount of trust in them. And right now I think the issue is really people should be talking about no so much as the long term but the short-term about before this winter comes about what - with over 1.2 million displaced people.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. But getting back finally to the issue of the KLA and their intentions. You wanted to get back in here.
JANUSZ BUGAJSKI: Yes. I just wanted to make a point. I think there's some misunderstanding here. All Albanian political leaders in Kosovo are committed to independence. It's just a question of how do you get there, what the timetable is, what the strategy is, what the tactics are. Mr. Rugova - just like Mr. Thaci -- have committed himself to the independence of Kosovo.
MARGARET WARNER: But does that put the KLA ultimately at loggerheads with the United States and NATO.
JANUSZ BUGAJSKI: Not necessarily, because Rugova has made compromises with the international community, and I think Thaci is making compromises also, both with NATO and through the Rambouillet process. In other words, they see a period of dependence on NATO which eventually will lead to independence from Yugoslavia.
MARGARET WARNER: We're about out of time. Someone wanted to say something.
CHRISTOPHER LAYNE: Margaret, I just wanted to say that, you know, in the short term, I don't think you're going to see any open conflict between the KFOR forces and the KLA. But at some point, if NATO holds fast to its decision that Kosovo not become an independent state, over 18 months or two years, I think we're going to see the situation deteriorate very markedly. These people took up arms for a reason. They have a goal. They're a guerrilla organization. They're organized. And it's quite clear that they mean to have what they've set out the accomplish.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Thank you all three very much.