restricted access 22. A Land of Violence and Fear

From: Peacemakers

The University Press of Kentucky colophon
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22 A Land of Violence and Fear Shaun Byrnes, chief of the US Kosovo Diplomatic Observer Mission (KDOM), led the first of two armored US embassy sports utility vehicles out of Pristina and into the countryside on January 19, 1999. Byrnes was taking me to meet members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), the independence movement fighting an increasingly repressive Serbian military and police presence in Kosovo. We meandered around a bit to ensure that Serbian police and intelligence were not trailing us. They weren’t, but a BBC News crew was. Near the small town of Malishevo, we encountered a KLA checkpoint as we left the main road. Proceeding into a village, Byrnes asked the KLA guards at the checkpoint to block the BBC crew for fear that the crew might later compromise the location of the KLA safe house. The United States and the Contact Group were struggling to end the crackdown on civilians and to avoid another military clash with Milosevic and Serbia, this time over Kosovo. The security situation for Albanians in Kosovo was ominous, and the dangers were increasing. A KLA guard waved our vehicles into an enclosed compound in the village. The clan is the center of Albanian culture, and these family compounds were a mainstay of the Albanian villages in Kosovo. Surrounded by a high wall, each compound usually contained the family home, barn, and outbuildings. It provided privacy and a modest amount of security for an extended family. I was not the first official American diplomat to engage the KLA; Richard Holbrooke and others had met with its leaders in recent months. For this meeting, our hosts were members of the KLA political directorate. Three young men in fresh military field uniforms escorted us to the second floor of the house, where they took off their weapons as we sat on cushions along the walls of a large room. A wood stove in the center of the room provided heat. After greeting us, our hosts brought out beer, peanuts, and bananas to munch on as we talked. 196 Kosovo: War and Independence The KLA uniforms looked new, and the officers did not have the hardened look of combat veterans. I noticed that one of them was armed with a shiny, new, stainless steel Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum revolver. I mentioned the pistol, and he handed the loaded weapon to me to admire. The discussion, conducted through a translator, lasted about two hours. The KLA people did not strike me as zealots. Rather, they were modest and open. My message to them was simple: restraint—do nothing that could get them labeled as terrorists. I urged them to negotiate with Ambassador Chris Hill from the Dayton team, whom Holbrooke had positioned as the regional US negotiator for Kosovo. We left the compound and spent the rest of the day touring Kosovo to give me a feel for the area. We drove in a clockwise direction southwest out of Pristina to Malishevo, then up to Peja in the West, then north to Mitrovica before returning to the capital. A day trip around Kosovo was possible because it is a small country, slightly smaller than Delaware, and about one-fifth the size of Bosnia. The population is about 1.8 million people, 90 percent of them Muslims.1 The land is used primarily for farming and grazing, although a few areas, notably in the North, have some mining. The largest number of Serbs live north of the Ibar River, which runs through the town of Mitrovica, although very important pockets of Serbs are located throughout Kosovo in communities near Orthodox churches and monasteries. Byrnes’s tour went to Mitrovica, a future international flashpoint in Kosovo. In addition to the ethnic division of the city north and south, the largest nonagriculture economic asset in the country, the Trepca Mine, was located just north of the city in the predominately Serb area. A menacing Serbian military and police presence was visible in towns and on the highways as we drove around Kosovo. I watched an armored unit prepare to go on patrol, and we passed Yugoslavian army tanks along the roads in violation of agreements Milosevic had made with international representatives. The notorious Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) Special Ministry of Interior Police (Ministarstvo Unutrasnjih Poslova), or MUP, armed with long rifles and wearing distinctive dark-blue-purple military-style uniforms, were present in towns and at checkpoints on the primary highways. These units were accused of...


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