Kosovo Armed Group Issues Warning

27 December 2007 Pristina: A shadowy armed group in Kosovo, the Albanian National Army, is preparing for potential trouble in the Serb-inhabited north of the region after Kosovo’s expected declaration of independence, Balkan Insight can reveal.

By Krenar Gashi

In an exclusive interview for Balkan Insight, the group’s frontman, identified only as Arberi, said that his group, known by its initials as the ANA, was focusing its efforts on the ethnically-divided city of Mitrovica, and the rest of the northern part of Kosovo dominated by Serbs.

“We are worried that there will be fresh violence from the Serbian armed forces when Kosovo declares independence”, Arberi told Balkan Insight on Wednesday.

He explained that his group of armed men stayed out of the glare of the public in recent months, as they were focusing on mobilisation and logistics, with an emphasis on northern Kosovo.

“We want to make sure that nothing happens to the Albanian population of this area when Kosovo’s parliament declares independence. We will be there to avoid any inter-ethnic clashes”, Arberi went on.

The guerrilla leader in his thirties said that KFOR troops of the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo have shown they are not able to deal with violence.

“Look back to 2004 when KFOR soldiers locked themselves into their bases while Albanians and Serbs were killing each other”, he said referring to Kosovo’s worst bout of violence since the war in 1999.

He was sitting in a café with two other ANA members, all without their trademark balaclavas, and dressed in civilians clothes.

“They have not been able to defend their own commander”, he addes, referring to a much more recent incident.

KFOR commander Xavier Bout de Marnhac and Joachim Ruecker, head of the UN mission in Kosovo, UNMIK, were involved in a fracas when inhabitants of the Serb village of Gorazdevac assaulted their military escort at the beginning of December.

Kosovo has been under UN administration since 1999 when NATO’s bombing forced the Serbian authorities to withdraw their troops from the territory.

KFOR’s peacekeeping mission was installed in order to maintain peace and security, and to support the UN administration, UNMIK.

The ANA, which is also known by its Albanian initials as AKSH, was labelled a terrorist organisation by UNMIK in 2003.

Members of the ANA, have been seen in the territory periodically since the conflict ended in 1999.

They have taken responsibility for several bomb attacks in Kosovo since then.

However, the group shunned publicity for a time while an earlier phase of the internationally-mediated negotiations on Kosovo’s status was underway.

Shocking images of the ANA’s masked gunmen checking vehicles along one of Kosovo’s most frequented highways were broadcast in early October by Kosovo’s public TV station, RTK.

Since the internationally mediated negotiations over Kosovo’s final status ended with no concrete results in early December, the ethnic Albanian-dominated authorities in Kosovo are expected to declare independence in the next few months.

Many fear that such a declaration, which is expected to be recognised by the US and most of EU countries will be followed by a similar act from the Kosovo Serbs who will decide to proclaim the independence of northern Kosovo.

The ANA members say their mission is to protect Kosovo’s territorial integrity.

“If by any chance Kosovo gets de facto partitioned, we will do everything to unify and protect our territories,” said Arberi, who did not wish to disclose the number of his armed men or the weapons they possess.

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