Elimination of former KLA commanders

Granit GURI

SUN, 21 MAY 2000

Pristina, 18 May, 2000 - About 20 thousand citizens of Prizren and other parts of Kosovo gathered at the cemetery in the nearby Landovica to lay to rest their fellow citizen, colleague and combatant, former commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) for the region of Pastrik, Ekrem Rexha, better known by his nickname Drini. Several bullets from an automatic weapon had hit his body and he died on the way to hospital. This happened after he had left his home, when he noticed that his car tyre was flat. Another car which was moving by halted for a second and the persons in it opened fire. His brothers arrived too late, but quickly enough to see that the car which was moving away with great speed was a red Opel Kadett and to recall that they had seen it not long before in Landovica where their brother had stayed on an occasion. They refused to say anything about possible perpetrators before they were quite sure.

This scenario of murders in Kosovo has become the most reliable model of elimination of the "undesirable". Every day, the public in Kosovo can read about numerous murders of their ethnic Albanian compatriots among which former members of KLA rank very high. Less than a month ago one of the commanders of the Kosovo Protection Corps, also a former KLA commander, Besnik Malja, known as commander Murrizi, was killed downtown Pristina. In the shooting, another person was wounded who later died in hospital. Those with lower ranks in the conflicts that took place in Kosovo in the course of the past two years are killed either in mutual armed conflicts or with their rivals in various "business deals". There are few who can be claimed to have been quite "clean". However this is a taboo topic in Kosovo and nobody wishes to say anything about the motives in public. The press dares only carry a critical reaction here and there. The unwritten law that applies is : "the less you know, the better".

Nevertheless, if in case of Malja there are founded assumptions that it was a showdown because of possession of some shops, a finger cannot be pointed at Ekrem Rexha for anything of the kind. Most of the people believe that this murder has a political background, although involvement of economic mafia cannot be eliminated. One thing is certain – this murder was not committed by accident, it was planned. However, there are doubts about the possibility of the assassins ever being brought to justice even if they are revealed. In other words, it is highly probable, regardless of the statements of brothers of the late Rexha, that the whole case, along with many others will end up in a specific "X File". Fear of possible revenge is still stronger than a wish to satisfy justice.

Indeed, this murder would have been considered as just another in a series if it had not involved the man who had played an important role in the guerilla conflict with Serb armed forces, if he had not been one of the best educated persons in the ranks of the former KLA who was a highly ranking officer of the Yugoslav Army and spoke seven languages, if he had not been among the first to take off his uniform after the war last year and to return to life of a civilian, if he had not been respected by members of all communities in the region of Prizren who had, by engagement in the administrative board of the city of Prizren along with the international administration, done a great deal to make Prizren not only one of the cleanest towns in Kosovo, but also the most peaceful ones concerning the number of incidents in relation to the other parts of Kosovo. He was married and had a son – Drini. Therefore, the question that arises is in whose way had Ekrem Rexha got and because of what? What the analysts of conditions in Kosovo dare say is that this was a premeditated murder and that somebody much more powerful stands behind the mere perpetrators. Does this mean that an organised crime is being pointed out to? In such extreme cases of murder foreign analysts are inclined to link them with protagonists from the so-called political mafia.

That Mr. Rexha was highly respected even by his associates from the international community is illustrated by the fact that a dozen of specially trained persons were immediately engaged in investigation of this murder. It is also a fact that it was made public in the press that the international police arrested for interrogation a person suspected of having participated in the attack against Ekrem Rexha. However, this information was denied the very next day. It is still a secret whether anybody has actually been interrogated. What is also characteristic for the case of Rexha is that workers of local Radio Prizren were threatened by phone. In an anonymous phone call "somebody" threatened the workers that the building would be blown up if they continued to play music in mourning for the murdered Rexha. This "somebody" also said that Rexha did not deserve it. International police was alarmed and that was all. And again the question arises, did Rexha get in somebody’s way?

After the murder, civil administrator for Kosovo Bernard Kouchner said: "This is a tragedy for Prizren and the whole of Kosovo". Associates of Ekrem Rexha believe that his efforts in the direction of strengthening of institutions and elimination of corruption and smuggling were the most probable causes of his murder. Indeed, it is enough to say that Prizren is in the vicinity of Albanian border, which, according to police reports, is used for all kinds of smuggling.

Fatmir Limaj, also one of the former KLA commanders and now a member of Hashim Thaci’s party, claims that the address of protagonists of the murder of "KLA members – is Serbian state security service". However, Ruzdija, bother of Ekrem Rexha, does not think so. He is convinced that "he got in the way of somebody in Prizren, not in Serbia". Another high officer of KLA, also a former Yugoslav Army officer, Naim Maljoku, now president of the Liberal Centre of Kosovo, who is believed to be a modern politician, declared the following about this murder: "Drini had got in somebody’s way… KFOR can clarify the murder of commander Drini because they know all the moves of the gangs in Kosovo down to the smallest detail". Is this really true? And if it is, why is nothing being done about it? Finally, due to criticism of a part of the public and pressure exerted by majority of the citizens who are in favour of peaceful life, an end will have to be put to it. It is true that the judicial system in Kosovo does not operate, but even the inefficient investigations just intensify the allegations of certain circles that KFOR soldiers and members of international police just sit and wait for their six months of mission to expire, to make quite a lot of money during that time without endangering their lives.

Earlier murders of former members of KLA, or what is nowadays the Protective Forces of Kosovo, caused bitterness among politicians close to former armed forces, although they are divided into three political factions. In fact, reactions were as sharp as the victims of assassinations were close to certain political groups. Although it was often stated that Ekrem Rexha was a member of the Party for Democratic Progress (Hashim Thaci), there were also those who claimed that he participated in the work of the administrative board as an independent candidate (had he left the party?) There is also quite a few of those who say that he was very close to his colleague Naim Maljoku for whom Rexha’s authority was very important in winning local elections.

Even in such a situation different opinions, doubts and accusations come up on the surface. One of the daily newspapers, Bota sot, which has its seat abroad and which is believed to be inclined towards Sali Berisha, published the following in its regular column: "He was killed in front of his home just as commander Ahmet Krasniqi and many other commanders, professional officers of KLA and prominent journalist Enver Maljoku, and others were killed". These murders, Bota sot continues, are committed "at the moment when commissars at their homes, in offices, coffee shops, over the telephone, by their physical presence, threaten the political right and its followers in Kosovo". These threats include, according to this newspaper "commissars of Fatos Nano, former high officers of state security of Enver Hoxha", who, as this journal claims "are engaged along with other mafia-type business operations, in liquidation of commanders who waged war in Kosovo". It is not difficult to discern that allusions refer to Nano’s "ally" Thaci and his party in these allegations.

On the other hand, columnists in Pristina who should be quite well informed, criticise all those who are engaged in "poisoning the public, in speculations about criminalisation of KLA". A known analyst Shkelzen Maliqi, in a text on the murder of Ekrem Rexha, among other states the following: "Incessant speculations are already seriously poisoning the public by creating an impression of criminalisation of leaders of KLA"…

Nevertheless, behind these developments and taking numerous analyses in consideration, it can clearly be seen that former commanders of KLA have gone in two directions: a part of them have made an effort to transform into a political force "with clear visions" of creation of a civil and democratic society in Kosovo, while many others are believed to have established illegal relations and monopolies on business operations and former socially-owned property, transforming their "ideals" into personal interests.

Great fear has spread among citizens of Kosovo especially because it is nowadays more than clear that nobody is immune to bullets. And moreover, there are no clearly discernable rules…

Original article