BY ARGIRIS MALAPANIS
The conflict in Kosova between Belgrade's occupying army and police and Albanians fighting for self-determination is slowly developing into open warfare. During the last week of April more than two dozen Albanians have been killed by Serbian army units in the areas bordering Albania. The death toll now has reached nearly 150 since the end of February.
The Yugoslav Army said it waged battles with Albanian rebels on April 23 and April 27, killing 26 people who were allegedly trying to smuggle arms into Kosova. The army used artillery and helicopter gunships in the assaults. The Kosova Information Center and other Kosovar Albanians said the attacks took place six miles away from the border and many of those killed had nothing to do with the Kosova Liberation Army or weapons trafficking. Reporters in the area said occasional gunfire and explosions could be heard from a hill near the village of Baballoq April 28, which has been under sustained attacks by Belgrade's military over the last week. About 60 army tanks could reportedly be seen moving toward border settlements near the village of Vokshi.
Washington and other imperialist powers are pushing to deepen their military intervention in the Balkans under the guise of opposing discrimination against Albanians. Their aim is to take further steps toward reestablishing the domination of capitalist social relations in Yugoslavia and other workers states in the region and tighten the encirclement of Russia.
At a meeting of the so-called Contact Group in Rome April 29, Washington got agreement from the other five governments represented there to impose a freeze on Yugoslav and Serbian assets abroad. This was a largely symbolic step, since the regime of Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic has had time over the last couple of months to withdraw funds from accounts in other countries after being threatened with such sanctions earlier.
Moscow, Paris, and Rome objected to another U.S. proposal for an end to foreign investment in Yugoslavia, killing it for now. The new sanctions are to be applied by five of the Contact Group governments - those of the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Italy - that is all except Russia.
Albania's prime minister Fatos Nano had asked the Contact Group to deploy NATO troops in Albania. "The Serbian police and army are undertaking an intensive military operation in the border area with the republic of Albania at a time when the Albanian population is getting convinced its only possibility is to organize self-defense," Nano said in a letter to Italy's foreign minister Lamberto Dini. The government in Tirana, Albania's capital, placed the country's military and police on highest alert April 24 after claiming that two Yugoslav army helicopters violated Albania's airspace. Belgrade denied the charge. NATO has declined the requests to send in troops thus far, but has dispatched military advisers to Albania.
Many working people and youth in Albania do not share the consistently pro-imperialist stance of Nano's Socialist Party regime and of most opposition parties in Albania. They draw on their experiences with the occupation of the country by thousands of foreign troops from Italy, Greece, France, and other countries last year during a working-class rebellion that brought down the pro-capitalist regime of Sali Berisha. As Artiano Dodi, a student at the University of Vlore, told Militant reporters in Vlore, southern Albania, March 20, "I don't know when NATO helped people fighting for their national rights. Last year foreign soldiers let the criminal gangs that they were supposed to stop roam freely and terrorize the population. If NATO troops will do the same we don't want them here or in Kosova."
Meanwhile, daily protests demanding an end to the terror by the Belgrade authorities and independence for Kosova have continued in Pristina. The Kosova Information Center said tens of thousands marched for a 19th day April 28. The Associated Press put the size of the march at 7,000. Unlike previous protests that were silent - on the request of the Democratic League of Kosova, the main political party among Kosovar Albanians that is sponsoring the actions -demonstrators chanted demands for independence and carried banners with signs like "Serb police out of Kosova."
Similar rallies are being held in other towns of Kosova. About 10,000 people attended the funeral of nine Albanians killed by the Serb army in Sllup, a village in Drecan near the border with Albania, April 26.
Kosova is a province formally part of the Republic of Serbia, which along with Montenegro now makes up Yugoslavia. The Milosevic regime revoked Kosova's autonomous status in 1989 and has ruled the province with brute military force ever since. Ninety percent of its population of 2.1 million are Albanians, and eight percent are Serbs.
The conflict flared up this year after Serb police killed 85 Albanians, a third of them children, in two assaults in the Drenica region near Pristina February 28 and March 5, claiming it attacked strongholds of UCK "terrorists." The Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) is a guerrilla group that is waging an armed struggle for independence. It has grown out of the frustration of the LDK's strategy of "passive resistance" and reliance on the "international community" for "help." Reports indicate its ranks are swelling lately, including from Albanian immigrants returning from Germany or Switzerland, and often its fighters are seen by reporters mixing it up with the local population in the rural areas of Kosova.
State media in Belgrade, trying to defend the regime's brutality, have displayed crates of what they claim are captured weapons. Serbian television showed a man named Fadij Dabicaj who said he had been captured by the army and that he and supposedly 1,000 other volunteers had been trained in a camp in Tropoje, northern Albania. Serb media is also claiming atrocities against the Serb minority in Kosova. Tirana denies aiding the rebels.
In another propaganda ploy, the regime in Belgrade conducted a referendum April 23 on whether foreign mediators should take part in talks between authorities and Kosova Albanians. Official results said nearly 95 percent voted against the proposition on a 73 percent turnout. The Milosevic regime is doing its utmost to inflame nationalism against Albanians and exploit anti-imperialist sentiments and opposition to UN sanctions among the population of Serbia and Montenegro. A recent 45 percent devaluation of the dinar, the Yugoslav currency, that followed the imposition of an arms embargo by the United Nations Security Council has sent prices soaring, while unemployment is rising again towards 50 percent.
The demand for foreign mediation in negotiations between Belgrade and Albanians in Kosova is supported by the Contact Group and the Democratic League of Kosova. The Contact Group is made up of representatives of the six governments that are supposed to oversee the implementation of the Dayton accord. That was the treaty Washington forced the warring regimes in Yugoslavia to sign in 1995 - at the Wright- Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio - paving the way for the partition of Bosnia and its occupation by NATO troops.
At the April 29 meeting in Rome, the collision course between Washington and Moscow was highlighted again. Interimperialist conflicts and tactical differences within NATO were also apparent. The Russian regime of Boris Yeltsin - opposed to NATO expansion into Eastern and Central Europe - has balked at the tougher economic sanctions against Belgrade the U.S. government is seeking.
The governments of France and Italy, which have pushed
for opening up Yugoslavia to their business interests, also
opposed a ban on foreign investment. Paris strongly objected
to another White House proposal: banning Belgrade from the
World Cup soccer finals hosted by France in June. U.S.
representatives did not even bring that idea up for
discussion in Rome.
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