Thu, Mar 21, 2002 - Page 9 News List

Fight Balkan terrorism now

Within the global terrorism chain Balkan terrorism remains a small but vital link, one which has continued to flourish right under the eyes of NATO and the UN

By Jiri Dienstbier

ILLUSTRATION: YU SHA

Slobodan Milosevic's trial in the Hague is a timely reminder of just how devastating terroristic violence can be. President Bush may or may not have been careless in portraying Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an "axis of evil," but he was correct in pointing out the many hidden links in the global terrorism chain. Within that chain Balkan terrorism remains a small but vital link, one which has continued to flourish right under the eyes of NATO and the UN.

Osama bin Laden established his presence in the region through a series of so-called "humanitarian" organizations in Bosnia and Albania sometime around 1994. Some of the fighters in Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia during the Balkan wars included mujahidin from many countries who had trained in Afghanistan. Local terrorist centers were also important. Indeed, in Albania terrorists were trained on the property of former Albanian President Sali Berisha near the town of Tropoje.

Beyond this powerful hint of local support for terrorists, there was an economic infrastructure. Two tons of heroin per month passed from Asia to Europe through Kosovo during the rule of Slobodan Milosevic. Instead of diminishing since Milosevic's fall, drug smuggling has increased. Last year, five tons of heroin was smuggled through the lands now overseen by the United Nations and NATO. Interpol says that Albanian gangs now control 70% of heroin trafficking in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Scandinavia.

Cooperation over the last few years between the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), the NATO-led multinational Kosova Force (KFOR), and local governments -- boosted by the arrival of a democratic government in Serbia -- has cut down the number of terrorist attacks in Southern Serbia and Macedonia. Yet this cooperation has failed to stymie the fusion of terrorist and criminal activity. Indeed, due to the wealth of terrorist groups engaged in drug dealing, Erhard Busek, the Coordinator of the EU's Stability Pact for the former Yugoslavia, thinks that the chance of peace in Macedonia will be a mere 50 percent once this winter's snows thaw.

Calm will not return to the Balkans so long as the UN and NATO fail to destroy extremism's base in Kosovo. For the criminal/terrorist heart of the supposedly disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army continues to fortify its power and to expand into Macedonia, Southern Serbia and Montenegro. Some less careful commanders of the KLA even talk about the 100,000 Albanians in Greece as an ultimate target for their irredentist goals. The goal of a "Greater Albania," has not been forgotten.

Instead of suppressing the terrorists, they have been treated as part of the solution to instability in the Balkans. NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson did call Albanian terrorists in Macedonia "a bunch of murderous thugs," yet those same thugs were holding public press conferences in Pristina under the noses of UNMIK or KFOR. So solicitous of the terrorists' desires are some countries that America's representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) conducted negotiations with Macedonian politicians and terrorist commanders not in Skopje or Tetovo but in Prizren, a Kosovar city where they are influential.

Over the last few years Kosovo has been ethnically cleansed of a quarter of a million people. One hundred churches and monasteries have been razed. Ethnically motivated murders are less common of late, but this cannot be deemed a success so long as Kosovo's non-Albanians remain isolated in enclaves protected by KFOR.

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