BELGRADE – While former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic is being tried in The Hague for alleged war crimes committed during his campaign in Kosovo – a Serb effort many now characterize as anti-terrorist – Michael Steiner, the new chief of the U.N. administration in the Serbian Kosovo province has warned that Kosovo could find itself in an “Afghanistan-type situation” if the international community neglects the territory.

As reported by the Yugoslav Tanjug agency earlier in the week, Steiner said to the Madrid El Pais daily that “should joint efforts to stabilize the province prove unsuccessful, Kosovo could become a nest of organized crime and the Afghan peril would be imported into Europe.”

Indeed, the end result of the U.S. drive to weaken the Soviet Union in Afghanistan by supporting mujahedin warriors may well find its mirror in the ultimate outcome of the West’s decision to support the terrorist Albanian KLA organization in Kosovo in the late 1990s, as part of a wider effort to remove Milosevic from power.

In one of the al-Qaida camps in Afghanistan, reports the Boston Herald’s Don Feder, Americans found an application form from a Kosovo Albanian that read, “I have Kosovo Liberation Army experience against Serbs forces. … I recommend suicide operations against parks like Disney.”

Yet, Western policy remains unchanged in the Balkans. In its latest turn, on March 7, under intense Western diplomatic pressure, the Macedonian government passed an amnesty law for Albanian terrorist forces. The BBC reports that the law “will apply to all guerillas who handed in their arms under a NATO-supervised weapons collection last year.”

And, earlier in the week, Kosovo administrator Steiner promoted the installment of Bajram Rexhepi, an admitted member of the terrorist KLA, as the new prime minister of Kosovo, in what he referred to as an “historic occasion,” as related by the Belgrade daily Glas Javnosti.

Senior Serbian and Yugoslav officials have voiced serious concern about Rexhepi’s naming, citing reports of his involvement in the decapitation of a captured 19-year-old Yugoslav soldier on May 30, 1999, during the NATO bombing campaign of Yugoslavia.

Glas Javnosti reports that four captured KLA members have testified that Rexhepi, a surgeon, cut off the head of the young recruit, Ivan Milosevic, and that he had been known even in KLA circles as the “Terrorist Doctor.”

Back in The Hague, Slobodan Milosevic continues to wage his own defense before the “War Crimes Tribunal” that he refuses to recognize, as the prosecution seeks to convict him of “genocide” and “crimes against humanity” for his Kosovo policy during the 1990s.

Yet, in the space of their two-and-a-half-year-old mandate in the Kosovo province, NATO troops and numerous forensic teams engaged by the tribunal have found a total of 2,108 bodies in all the “mass graves” that were reported to dot this territory with a violent recent past.

In the period between February and June 1998, the Pristina Corps HQ of the Yugoslav Army registered just 409 terrorist attacks – or over 80 per month, resulting in over 300 victims, civilian and military, of all nationalities. The Hague Tribunal has yet to indict a member of the KLA. At the same time, political parties spun off from the KLA have been awarded four of the 10 ministries in the new Kosovo government.

Milosevic himself stated during one point of last week’s cross examination of Albanian witness Agron Berisa, that this was a “unique case of a court of law, even an illegal one, putting itself on the side of terrorism.” In what has become a typical courtroom scene, Milosevic compelled the witness to change his testimony several times under intense questioning.

First Berisa claimed that the Serb police forcibly entered his house by breaking down the door, but soon after said that he opened the door himself and warned the policemen to behave themselves. Berisa also initially claimed that all had been quiet in his village of Suva Reka while the OSCE Observer Mission was present. However, he remained silent when Milosevic read an excerpt from the OSCE Mission’s report, which stated that the KLA had been conducting a kidnapping and killing campaign in the area, targeting Albanians loyal to the Yugoslav state.

Another witness, Fehim Alshani, first claimed that the Albanians from his village had been exported to Albania, but his further testimony revealed that Yugoslav troops had actually “returned the villagers to their homes.” Alshani also denied any knowledge of KLA activity prior to the NATO bombing in the spring of 1999, but shortly thereafter Milosevic forced him to admit that his son was a member of the KLA.

As the Milosevic trial has developed, U.S. officials have demonstrated outbursts of displeasure with the tribunal’s work. U.S. War Crimes Ambassador Pierre Richard Prosper has been quoted as repeating earlier charges against the tribunal’s “inadequate management of the various court proceedings, especially by certain individuals about whose professionalism questions may be raised.” The tribunal’s budget for this year is supposed to top $100 million, and the total amount spent since its inception in 1993 has been about $500 million.

The initial poor showing against Milosevic, who was supposed to have been the crown jewel of the tribunal’s efforts to secure legitimacy, may be fueling NATO’s latest efforts to hunt down the former Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic.
“I am convinced that there is a connection to The Hague and the fact that the trial against Milosevic may not be going so smoothly,” said retired Canadian Gen. Lewis MacKenzie, former commander of the U.N. Mission in Bosnia in 1992, referring to last week’s two failed attempts to catch Karadzic in an area just over 100 miles distant from the “new Afghanistan” in Kosovo.

There is also mounting Western pressure on the Belgrade authorities to extradite more suspects to The Hague. The U.S. Congress has issued a March 31 deadline by which the Yugoslav government must prove its “cooperation” with the tribunal, or face the prospect of a cut-off in U.S. aid. This is fueling a new crisis in the already fragile ruling coalition that came to power in the wake of Milosevic’s fall in October 2000.

The Yugoslav Constitution does not allow extradition of its citizens to be tried before another state. However, Western diplomats are pressuring Belgrade to accept the primacy of The Hague Tribunal Statute over Yugoslav law.

As bombs continue to fall on Afghanistan, as former terrorists are installed into political office in the Balkans while their former enemies are on trial or in hiding, the war on terrorism seems to take strange new twists and turns. It remains to be seen just how prescient Ambassador Steiner’s warning that Kosovo will become an “Afghanistan-type situation” turns out to be.

Aleksandar Pavic in Belgrade covers Yugoslavia for

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