Extremist Albanians Target Moderates in Kosovo Strife

Los Angeles Times - Saturday, November 20, 1999

By: PAUL WATSON
TIMES STAFF WRITER

TRPEZA, Yugoslavia -- As a postwar power struggle heats up in Kosovo Albanian politics, extremists are trying to silence moderate leaders with a terror campaign of kidnappings, beatings, bombings and at least one killing.
The intensified attacks against members of the moderate Democratic League of Kosovo, or LDK, have raised concerns that radical ethnic Albanians are turning against their own out of fear of losing power in a democratic Kosovo.
Increasingly, it appears that, while this spring's 11-week air war by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization defeated Serbian aggressors in the separatist province, a dirty war waged by ethnic Albanian extremists may be difficult to stop.
Apart from destroying scores of Serbian Orthodox churches and monasteries and targeting a dwindling Serbian community and other minorities, the radical former guerrillas are also harassing other ethnic Albanians.

The attacks in several regions of Kosovo have targeted offices and members of the LDK, whose leader, Ibrahim Rugova, was Kosovo's most popular politician during an almost 10-year peaceful struggle against Serbian rule.

Party activists who survived severe beatings in recent weeks described their attackers as young ethnic Albanian men, usually dressed in black, who said they represented the "Ministry of Order" or the "true KLA," the acronym for the disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army.

Although LDK Vice President Naim Jerliu couldn't provide an exact number for the bombings, kidnappings and assaults aimed at the party since NATO-led peacekeepers arrived five months ago, he confirmed that the extremist violence is continuing.

"It's serious," said Jerliu, who also heads the party's youth wing. "And it's a bad omen for the process of democratization."

Former KLA leader Hashim Thaci now heads a provisional government that the United Nations' civilian administration in Kosovo doesn't recognize. Thaci spokesman Pleurat Sejdiu denied the provisional government's involvement in the attacks and said it is helping U.N. police investigate the incidents. Differences on How to Win Independence

Although Western governments officially oppose a split, the overwhelming majority of Kosovo's ethnic Albanians--moderates and radicals alike--want independence from Serbia, the dominant of Yugoslavia's two remaining republics. But there are differences on how to achieve that goal.

"There is a part of the KLA political leadership that are opponents of the LDK's approach, and they may still be," Jerliu said, choosing his words very carefully.

High school principal Sinan Gashi was one of the founding members of the LDK in the town of Glogovac a decade ago, when Rugova led the party on a campaign of peaceful resistance against mounting repression under Slobodan Milosevic, now the Yugoslav president.

In July 1995, Serbian police arrested Gashi while he was on his way to a party meeting and, after taking him to the local police station, beat him from 3 in the afternoon to 11 at night.

Then they loaded Gashi into a car and drove him 15 miles northeast to police headquarters in the provincial capital, Pristina, where other officers took over the interrogation.

"They broke two of my ribs, and my fingernails all fell out from an infection," he said through a translator. "But the hardest part was that I lost my eye because one of the police hit me so hard with his fist that the lens of my glasses shattered and severed my retina."

Gashi spoke from his bed while recovering from another savage beating--not by the Serbs this time, but by ethnic Albanian men who came to his office at the high school Nov. 5 and said they represented the "Ministry of Order."

Four men in black walked into Gashi's office around 2:30 p.m. and ordered him to go with them, Gashi said.

Three more men were waiting outside the office, and another group stood by two cars at the schoolyard's gates, where students were milling about, wondering what was going on.

"At first, I didn't want to go," Gashi said. "But for two reasons, I agreed: I saw they were going to take me violently, and I didn't want my students to see me dragged through the school. And as a professional educator, I don't want to bring violence to the school. If just a door slammed, the students jump."

Gashi rode in the back of a white Volkswagen Golf, between two men, and while a red car followed, they drove toward Pristina but pulled off onto a side road near a forest, where they ordered Gashi to get out.

"As I got out, one of them took my glasses off and the other one slammed me onto the ground," Gashi said. "They started beating me up with sticks and [with] their feet. They kicked me in the ear, and I saw the blood flowing. They told me: 'If you tell anyone we beat you up, we will kill you.' "

As Gashi lay on the ground, taking blow after blow, the men accused him of speaking out against the KLA and Adem Jashari. The Serbs killed Jashari, a thuggish KLA leader, along with most of his family at the start of Kosovo's civil war in March 1998.

"And they said, 'You are trampling on the martyrs' blood,' " Gashi recalled from his bed. "I told them, 'This is not the truth.' And they said: 'We know everything. We have all the information.' "

The beating stopped after Gashi passed out, but about 20 minutes later, he regained consciousness. After he put his glasses back on, the men pulled him deeper into the woods and beat him even harder, spattering his jacket with blood and tearing it, he said. He fainted again and came to around 4:30 p.m., when he crawled "like a drunken man" to the roadside and waved down a passing car for help.

If you read between the lines of the attackers' message, Gashi said, they may have been saying to LDK supporters: "We beat up the [local] leader of the LDK, so you are even smaller."

"I torture myself wondering why these things are done--not as a politician, but as a simple citizen," Gashi added. "I never did any harm to my nation nor to anybody else. And I never deceived anyone. We are surrounded by ideological enemies." Extremist Actions Called 'Fascist'

Gashi is luckier than Haki Imeri. The 52-year-old local LDK leader was found slain Nov. 3 near Srbica, about 20 miles west of Pristina, Jerliu confirmed. The previous day, men dressed in black who said they were police officers had led Imeri away from the village of Broja.

This summer, amid increasing attacks against Serbs that included the murder of an elderly Serbian woman in her bath, ethnic Albanian newspaper publisher Veton Surroi condemned extremists for such monstrous acts.

"It is the organized and systematic intimidation of all Serbs simply because they are Serbs and therefore are being held collectively responsible for what happened in Kosovo," Surroi wrote in an editorial in the Albanian-language Koha Ditore newspaper.

"Such attitudes are fascist. Moreover, it was against these very same attitudes that the people of Kosovo stood up and fought, at first peacefully and then with arms, during the past 10 years," Surroi wrote. "The treatment of Kosovo's Serbs brings shame on all Kosovo Albanians, not just the perpetrators of violence. And it's a burden we will have to bear collectively."

The violence would dishonor the memory of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian victims, Surroi added, warning of the long-term dangers to Kosovo's society.

"Anybody who thinks that the violence will end once the last Serb has been driven out is living an illusion," Surroi wrote. "The violence will simply be directed against other Albanians. Is this really what we fought for?"

Six weeks later, the press agency created by the KLA carried a long and vicious commentary attacking Surroi as a war criminal who was risking eventual and very understandable revenge.

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