ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday February 24, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 39

The bloody road to Kosovo independence

By Latheef Farook

Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence on Sunday February 17, 2008 fulfilled the centuries-old dream of the majority Albanian Muslim population there. As expected, people came out in their hundreds of thousands despite freezing cold to celebrate the day which they were awaiting for generations.

Kosovo with a population of around two million -- ninety percent Albanian Muslims and around ten percent Orthodox Christian Serbs -- was an autonomous region under the former Yugoslavia. But the minority Serbs, who monopolised power with an exclusive state structure, ruled the majority Muslims in the province and controlled the government, parliament, civil services and even education.

In 1989 Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, declared a state of emergency, suspended Kosovo's autonomy and imposed direct rule from Belgrade, turning the province into a virtual Serb run police state. But Kosovo Muslims, wanted to rid themselves of Serbian rule, asked for autonomy.

KFOR vehicles drive past graffiti drawn on a wall in the eastern Kosovo town of Gnjilane. AP

Initially the Kosovo Albanian's resistance was peaceful, disciplined and non-violent, largely due to their own weakness, American and European calls and the viciousness of the Serbs. They boycotted all government institutions, held underground elections, declared their own republic and elected writer Ibrahim Rugova as their President.

But Milosevic who wanted Kosovo to remain an obedient province of Serbia responded by dispatching his Serb gangs to unleash waves of terror killing Muslim men, women, children, including the aged and even the disabled, besides looting and burning their homes before reducing their villages to ashes. Serbs raped innocent women at will in the presence of their parents and their husbands to humiliate them before killing them. In the village of Golubovac policemen used forked sticks to poke out victims' eyes while a 37-year-old Muslim was tied to a tree and burnt alive. Hundreds of thousands of Kosovo Muslims fled their homes only to huddle in caves and forests and hide in the mountains in the bitter winter cold to eventually starve.

Following these massacres and the failure of peaceful negotiations with Milosevic, the elected president Ibrahim Rugova demanded outright independence while youths formed the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, an ill-equipped and poorly-trained shadowy band of fighters, to start their military campaign demanding autonomy. They were very bitter when the Dayton Accord on Bosnia ignored their own plight in Kosovo. Serb atrocities forced thousands of young Kosovo Muslims to join the KLA, knowing very well that waiting for Western interference would only take them to hillside graveyards.

In a report prepared with details gathered from more than 3,000 eyewitnesses, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) stated that "there was widespread torture, murder and rape carried out by Serbs on Kosovo Muslims. Milosevic's message to brutalised Kosovo Muslims was "accept Serbian rule and remain part of Yugoslavia as nobody" -not the United Nations, not the United States or Europe, nor NATO and not even Islamic countries, would protect them. Milosevic continued his almost year-long slaughter of Kosovo Muslims throughout 1998, and, true to his predictions, all that the UN did was for its Security Council to express "alarm" and "concern" despite television screens the world over highlighting the savage massacres of Kosovo Muslims in cold blood on a daily basis.

Throughout the genocide, mildly referred to as "ethnic cleansing" by the Western media Russia, China and France were against any action against Milosevic giving him enough time to continue his evil design on a gruesomely familiar pattern. In fact, US Special Balkans envoy Robert Gelbard's remark praising Milosevic for his cooperation in Bosnia and branding the KLA as a terrorist group encouraged Serbs to continue their carnage of Muslims.

The West was accused of waiting too long, as had happened in Bosnia, to interfere and save Kosovo Muslims. Washington was preoccupied with President Bill Clinton's sex scandal involving Monica Lewinsky while Europe was divided on any joint action. Summing up the failure of the West to help the defenceless Kosovo Muslims as the "autumn of treachery in Kosovo", a British journalist said "it has been a long and shameful summer in Kosovo as the Serbs went about their bloody business and the Western powers blustered, but in the end did nothing".

But what about the shameful silence of the Muslim countries throughout this year-long carnage in Kosovo. Weren't they, if not on religious, at least on a humanitarian basis, obliged to help their Muslim brothers exposed to Serb massacres? Thus history repeated itself and the Serbs continued their despicable crimes sending a clear message to Muslims that they had no place in Kosovo which the Serbs claim as their exclusive "sacred land". After thousands of Kosovo Muslims were raped, tortured, massacred, burnt and buried in mass graves, the US envoy Richard Holbrook brokered a ceasefire in the third quarter of 1998.

Months before the NATO finally decided to use military strikes Milosevic started the biggest ever forced deportation program since the Second World War and hundreds of thousands of Muslims crossed the border into Albania and Macedonia to avoid NATO bombings. Finally the US and Europe, led by NATO forces, launched a continuous aerial bombardment which killed a considerable number of Kosovo Muslims - the very people the military campaign was supposed to protect. The West refused to commit ground troops to avoid their own casualties in this conflict.

The then US President Clinton said on the first night of bombardment that the purpose of NATO's actions was "to halt an even bloodier offensive against innocent civilians". But once the bombs fell, a large number of Kosovo Albanians were killed and others were made refugees, turning Clinton's so-called "philanthropic bombings" of Kosovo into one of "humanitarian genocide".

An excuse was made at the time of civilian deaths cynically labelled by the so-called Western free media as "collateral damage" though thousands undoubtedly perished during these raids. Even the tightly-controlled Western press couldn't hide stories of atrocities over the bombing of school buses, hospitals, apartment houses and bridges.

These reports also pointed out that Clinton, Blair, and other NATO bosses' claims of bombing Yugoslavia for "humanitarian" reasons was a Big Lie and the humanitarian hype about saving Kosovo Albanian refugees was a disgusting, cynical cover for the war's true motives. Serb attacks on Kosovo Muslims increased after NATO bombings began and the summary and arbitrary killings spread throughout Kosovo where children, the elderly and disabled were shot and burnt alive. Some children were decapitated in front of their parents while refugees were suffocated to death .There had been other massacres in the area during the NATO bombings and to date no-one knows who is buried in the mass graves. They are all marked with numbers, rather than names.

During the military strikes, NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said Serbs had held more than 700 Kosovo Albanian boys as prisoners for using them as blood banks for injured troops and more than 100,000 Albanian men of fighting age were unaccounted for in Kosovo while reports from refugees suggested that more than 3,500 had been executed.

As Serb troops pulled out of Kosovo, they left behind more evidence of mass murders and mass graves. Chief UN prosecutor Carla Del Ponte -- giving the first concrete figure on deaths in Kosovo -- told the UN Security Council that more than 11,000 deaths had been reported when Serbs withdrew from Kosovo.

Serb atrocities destroyed the infrastructure and deprived people of their livelihood while families were decimated and torn apart. After the fall of the former Soviet Union, a multi-national peace force was dispatched and Kosovo was brought under United Nations administration. The irony is that the Kosovo Albanians declared independence under a plan, accused by Serbs of being engineered and executed by the United States which is now spearheading a global campaign against Islam and Muslims under the guise of fighting a war on terrorism.

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