Kosovo army `coup' brings hope of peace

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The Independent Online
THE YOUNG men who run Kosovo's guerrilla army have deposed the movement's revolutionary elder statesman, a move that appears to ensure the Albanian delegation will sign the peace deal brokered at talks in Rambouillet last month.

Adem Demaci, the radical who served 28 years in Serbian prisons for his separatist ideals, issued a passionate denunciation of the deal, declaring that it "will not liberate Kosovo from Serbian slavery". Despite his protests, the new generation has decided the Rambouillet deal offers the best hope for eventual independence.

Hashim Thaci, known as Commander Snake, is lined up to become prime minister in a provisional Kosovar Albanian government that will rule until elections are held nine months after the deal is signed.

Power, both political and military, now stems from the general headquarters of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), run by Suleiman Selimi, known as Sultan, Mr Thaci and two others, all of them friends from student days in Pristina. The Democratic League of Kosovo, once the political face of Albanian separatism, and the new Liberal Democratic Party, will share ministries with the KLA but are clearly the junior partners now.

According to Dukagjin Gorani, an Albanian journalist attached to the peace delegation in Rambouillet, Mr Thaci (who was sentenced in absentia to 22 years' jail for terrorist offences by the Yugoslav courts) is the pragmatist who forged consensus among his comrades and who won concessions from the West by holding out beyond the first deadline.

"Thaci was basically playing on brinkmanship. I'm not sure of his talent for politics, but he certainly did extract as much as possible," he said. And although the ethnic Albanians were severely criticised for not signing at once and demanding a two-week period for consultations, Mr Thaci had good reasons for demanding a delay.

"What Thaci was in fact fearing in Rambouillet was that any hasty move might have inspired bloodshed among Albanians in Kosovo," Mr Gorani said. This was echoed by Commander Drini, who commands the rebels south of Pristina. "The best [achievement] of the Albanian delegation was that they went into Rambouillet separated and they came out united," he said last week.

Despite their image as hotheads, the young KLA commanders - the four top men are 30 or under - appear to adopt a more moderate line than some of their older supporters in politics or business abroad. They are all university graduates who feel a burden of care for their people.

"They carry their responsibilities quite heavily," said one Western official. "It's as closely knit a force as you would expect. They regret every death."

That afternoon we had watched a KLA fighter lay down his rifle so he could carry his terrified, elderly mother, who is paralysed, to a United Nations car for evacuation from her village after a Yugoslav army attack. As the Western official said, the KLA "was a grassroots development from a peasant army".

This cohesion might have been severely tested by the Rambouillet deal, but the consultation process of the past few days has apparently brought most of the doubters aboard. "There's a growing momentum for peace," said Veton Surroi, publisher of Koha Ditore newspaper and an independent member of the delegation. "I think the majority vote has been positive."

Meanwhile the Secretary of State for Defence, George Robertson, yesterday warned the Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic, that if Serb forces crossed en masse into Kosovo Nato would strike.

Mr Robertson, flying into neighbouring Macedonia to see British troops on standby there, conceded that a ceasefire in the Serbian province was "creaking at the edges" but said full-scale violence had not erupted.