Richard Wagner considers the possible consequences for peace, and anti-terrorism, following Kosovo’s nomination of a former KLA Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj.

The soon to be Prime Minister of Kosovo, Ramush Haradinaj was indicted for the War Crimes allegedly committed while he was leading the former “Kosovo Liberation Army” (KLA), once listed as a terrorist organization by the US State Department and then removed in 1998.

Ramush Haradinaj

Consequently, the US and all allies against Islamist terrorism should carefully watch Kosovo going forward, as the current party in power was formed largely by former KLA fighters, and Kosovo itself has become radical Islam’s ripest recruiting ground in Europe.

This is not the first time that the NATO/US ally, Kosovo, has attempted to make Haradinaj their Prime Minister.  In 2005, the year before Kosovo’s self-proclaimed independence from Serbia, Haradinaj did form a coalition with a more moderate Kosovo Party, called the Democratic League of Kosovo, which is anti-KLA and more open to improving relations with Serbia.  This coalition made Haradinaj the Prime Minister, but his premiership only lasted for 100 days, as he faced charges for war crimes.

The KLA And The War Crimes Tribunal

Haradinaj was brought up on war crimes charges at the Hague.   He was accused of leading the torture and murder of 39 civilians, both Serbian and Albanian.  This behavior is very consistent with the KLA’s tactics during those years leading to the NATO air strikes on Kosovo, and other parts of Serbia in 1999.

Haradinaj had a legal team led by Ben Emerson QC, of Matrix Chambers.

According to the NGO, Trial International, “All the way through the trial, the prosecutor denounced pressures and intimidation upon prosecution witnesses, two of whom expressly refused to appear before the Tribunal for fear of persecution while a third one had died in a suspect car accident.”

Haradinaj is still wanted for war crimes by Serbia, which has attempted to have him extradited.  An appeals court in France refused to extradite him to Serbia, claiming that Haradinaj would not get a fair trial.

He Was Acquitted, But Should It Matter?

While Haradinaj was let free, what is known for a fact that his involvement in the KLA is unquestioned. Despite recent efforts by the US State Department to put a positive spin on the KLA, it had listed the KLA as a terrorist organization in the 90s.  

The US Senate erased a presentation from the Republican Policy Committee from their website laying out some of the KLA’s war crimes, as well as Clinton’s then special envoy Robert Gelbard’s report denouncing the KLA as a terrorist organization.  Fortunately, the article can be found in the Internet Archive.  This has also be discussed by the Council on Foreign Relations, which quotes Gelbard as describing the KLA as “without any questions, a terrorist group.”  This article also cites several excerpts from respectable news sources laying out drug trafficking, arms dealing with radical Islamists (including Osama bin Laden himself), and allegations of war crimes committed by the KLA.

Despite Haradinaj’s acquittal, we know that the KLA does indeed have a history of attacking not only ethnic Serbs in Kosovo but also Albanians they believe to be “collaborators”, as The Slate reported in 1999.  This Slate article further reported that “the KLA ordered all Kosovars between the ages of 18 and 50 to join its ranks.”  This means that a “guerilla military group”, considered by many including the government of France (until 1998) to be a “terrorist organization”, was able to draft ethnic Albanians into their ranks as part of their effort to establish the KLA as the utmost authority in Kosovo.

It has also been reported by many, including P. W. Singer with the Brookings Institute, that the KLA included child soldiers.  None of this stopped the Clinton administration from maintaining contact with the KLA, and at the very least making no attempt to stop the KLA from committing crimes against civilians in Kosovo.  Therefore the absence of the KLA from terror lists during the late Clinton era should be highly suspect.

Clinton’s Pro-KLA Agenda

During President Clinton’s final years, largely persuaded by Sec. of State Albright who lived in Serbia during her childhood, Clinton worked to legitimize the KLA, intending to involve them in the NATO intervention in Kosovo following Serbia’s unconditional surrender.  While Clinton was actively pushing this agenda, the US and UK were heavily lobbying the government of France to remove the KLA from its official list of terrorist organizations.  Consequently, their war crimes, drug trafficking, and links to Al Qaeda were largely downplayed, and France finally gave in, late 1998 by removing the KLA from its terrorist list.

Does Kosovo Legitimize The KLA Now?

Following Yugoslavia’s surrender in 1999, it was agreed that Kosovo would remain an autonomous province of Yugoslavia.  These were the terms of UN Security Council 1244, and they were agreed upon by NATO and the Yugoslav Federation.  

As the KLA disbanded, and was replaced by the “Kosovo Protection Corps”, NATO allies hoped that Kosovo would simply become a law-abiding autonomous province where they could devolve governance to an elected body that would inevitably be dominated by ethnic Albanians, but that it would respect the basic rights of remaining ethnic Serbs in the region.  Kosovo has declared its full independence, however, and the US and many other nations recognize the “Republic of Kosovo”.  Now, with an unapologetic former KLA fighter about to be the Prime Minister of Kosovo, this is unlikely to bode well for ethnic Serbs in Kosovo, or for Kosovo/Serbian relations.  

The self-proclaimed “Republic of Kosovo”, which stands in violation of the aforementioned 1244 UN Resolution, has made only mild, symbolic efforts to put the KLA in the past.  It appears that in parts of the Balkans, one can be involved in a terrorist organization one decade, and then have his image whitewashed and become a Prime Minister the next.  Is this the new face of Balkan politics? While NATO has chosen to forget and move on, the victims never forget.  

Richard Wagner is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at Florida State College at Jacksonville. He conducts independent study on the American conservative movement and foreign policy. When he is...

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