Kosovo Albanian Corps Accused Of Abuses
U.N. Report Says Former Rebels From the KLA Tortured and Killed Civilians
By R. Jeffrey Smith
The report by the U.N. human rights unit in Kosovo says the United Nations, NATO and ethnic Albanian leaders have failed to adequately supervise the Kosovo Protection Corps. The corps, established in January and charged with providing humanitarian assistance and helping clear land mines, is made up almost entirely of guerrillas from the disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army.
The report says several members allegedly tortured or killed local citizens and illegally detained others; illegally attempted to conduct law enforcement activities; illegally forced local businesses to pay taxes; and threatened U.N. police who attempted to intervene and stop the wrongdoing. But there was no indication in the report that such actions were organized or ordered by the corps leadership.
The report, obtained by The Washington Post, was based on interviews with U.N. police officers, regional U.N. administrators and local residents. "Many said that the greatest human rights challenge looming in Kosovo" is whether corps members will abide by U.N. regulations and whether those "who violate the law will be punished," the report says.
The report was sent to the top U.N. administrator in Kosovo, French diplomat Bernard Kouchner. Susan Manuel, a spokeswoman for his office, said today that while "no one is denying the essence of the report, they are saying [the corps is] . . . raw material and the essence of the organization is just taking shape now."
Among the incidents cited in the report is the Feb. 11 arrest of two corps members suspected of killing an ethnic Gorani, a Slav who follows Islam, in the town of Dragas. It also cited the Feb. 16 detention of a corps member in Prizren for mistreating another Slav, and the suspension of two corps members in February for torturing several ethnic Albanians suspected of car theft.
Several ethnic groups in the region are Slavic, including Serbs, seen as enemies by ethnic Albanians.
In February, an ethnic Albanian man who sought to rebut an accusatory newspaper article written by a former Kosovo Liberation Army rebel was beaten by corps members in Djakovica, the report says. And other corps members in the towns of Istok, Pristina, Prizren, Dragas, and Vucitrn have illegally demanded protection fees or tax payments, the report states. In three other cities, U.N. or NATO officials said they suspected corps members had participated in or helped organize public demonstrations--activities that are off-limits for corps members.
Since the report was completed at the end of February, U.N. police have said that corps members were involved in at least three assaults. During the arrest of one of these members by police based in Prizren, "the officers were surrounded by a mob attempting to drag them out of the patrol vehicle," a police report said.
The U.N. report covers the corps' activities during a five-week period in which the force grew from 45 to more than 500 members. By next month, the corps should reach full strength with 3,000 full-time members and 2,000 part-timers. Although the United Nations has issued a broad fund-raising appeal to support the corps, its operations have been sustained largely by U.S. and British contributions.
The protection corps was formed after the Kosovo Liberation Army agreed to disband last fall on condition that key members be transferred to a national guard-type force. While its official task is humanitarian, ethnic Albanian leaders have said the group is meant to serve as the nucleus of a future army should Kosovo gain its independence from Serbia. Kosovo remains a province of Serbia, the dominant republic in the Yugoslav federation, but has been under U.N. administration since the end of NATO's 78-day air war against Yugoslavia in June.
U.N. officials have praised some corps leaders for helping calm ethnically charged protests in the province that have threatened to turn violent. But they also said some ex-rebels who have joined the corps have been implicated in violent attacks on Serbs and other ethnic minorities and in the province's flourishing crime.
Many of corps members are readily identifiable by their solid green uniforms, adorned with a patch in the Albanian national colors; a limited number are allowed to carry handguns. But the group's charter explicitly prohibits its members' involvement in law enforcement, a task the U.N. has reserved for trained police officers--both foreign and local--under U.N. supervision.
An oath of office and a new code of conduct effective this week for corps members require "the highest possible standards of discipline and conduct . . . without any ethnic, religious, gender or racial bias." Members are also barred from involvement in politics or political parties.
The report notes that corps commander Agim Ceku said in November that he would not tolerate criminal behavior and that offenders would be expelled. But "the time has come," it says, to hold corps leaders to this promise.
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