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What is the Kosovo Liberation Army?

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Members of Kosovo Liberation Army trained by Bin Laden

WASHINGTON, May 4 (
AFP) - Members of the Kosovo Liberation Army have been trained by Osama bin Laden, wanted by the United States for the deadly bombing of two US embassies in Africa, the Washington Times said Tuesday.
Some KLA members were "were trained in terrorist camps run by international fugitive Osama bin Laden ... in secret camps in Afghanistan" and elsewhere, the daily said, citing intelligence reports.
Bin Laden is wanted by the United States for masterminding the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania which killed 224 people and injured thousands more.
According to the Times, intelligence documents also showed the KLA had "aligned itself with an extensive crime network in Albania that smuggles heroin to buyers throughout Western Europe and the United States."
The KLA has been fighting the government Yugoslavia for independence of Kosovo province, made up largely of ethnic Albanians until Belgrade's scorched-earth policy forced most to flee.
KLA Linked To Enormous Heroin Trade
Police suspect drugs helped finance revolt

Frank Viviano, Chronicle Staff Writer

Wednesday, May 5, 1999
(c) 1999 San Francisco Chronicle

Officers of the Kosovo Liberation Army and their backers, according to law enforcement authorities in Western Europe and the United States, are a major force in international organized crime, moving staggering amounts of narcotics through an underworld network that reaches into the heart of Europe.
In the words of a November 1997 statement issued by Interpol, the international police agency, ``Kosovo Albanians hold the largest share of the heroin market in Switzerland, in Austria, in Belgium, in Germany, in Hungary, in the Czech Republic, in Norway and in Sweden.''
That the Albanians of Kosovo are victims of a conscious, ethnic- cleansing campaign set in motion by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is clear.
But the credentials of some who claim to represent them are profoundly disturbing, say highly placed sources on both sides of the Atlantic.
On March 25 -- the day after NATO's bombardment of Serb forces began -- drug enforcement experts from the Hague-based European Office of Police (EUROPOL), met in an emergency closed session devoted to ``Kosovar Narcotics Trafficking Networks.'' EUROPOL is preparing an extensive report for European justice and interior ministers on the KLA's role in heroin smuggling. Independent investigations of the charges are also under way in Sweden, Germany and Switzerland.
``We have intelligence leading us to believe that there could be a connection between drug money and the Kosovo Liberation Army,'' Walter Kege, head of the drug enforcement unit in the Swedish police intelligence service, told the London Times in late March.
As long as four years ago, U.S. officials were concerned about alleged ties between narcotics syndicates and the People's Movement of Kosovo, a dissident political organization founded in 1982 that is now the KLA's political wing.

A 1995 advisory by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration warned of the possibility ``that certain members of the ethnic Albanian community in the Serbian region of Kosovo have turned to drug trafficking in order to finance their separatist activities.'' If the drug-running allegations against the KLA are accurate, the group could join a rogues' gallery of former U.S. allies whose interests outside the battlefield brought deep embarrassment and domestic political turmoil to Washington.

In 1944, the invading U.S. Army handed the reins of power in Sicily to local ``anti-fascists'' who were in fact Mafia leaders. During the next half century, American governments also turned a blind eye to, or collaborated with, the narcotics operations of Southeast Asian drug lords and Nicaraguan Contras who were allied with the United States in Indochina and Central America.
In each case, the legacy of these partnerships ranged from global expansion of the power wielded by criminal syndicates, to divisive congressional inquiries at home and lasting suspicion of American intentions overseas.

The involvement of ethnic Albanians in the drug trade is not exclusively Kosovar. It includes members of Albanian communities in Europe's three poorest countries or regions -- Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania -- where the appeal of narcotics trafficking is self-explanatory, even without a separatist war to fund.
The average 1997 monthly salary in all three communities was less than $200. In Albania, it was less than $50.
According to the Paris-based Geopolitical Drug Watch, which advises the governments of Britain and France on illegal narcotics operations, one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of heroin costs $8,300 in Albania, which lies at the western terminus of a ``Balkan Route'' that today accounts for up to 90 percent of the drug's exports to Europe from Southeast Asia and Turkey.
Across the border from Albania in Greece, the same kilo of heroin can be sold for $30,000, yielding an instant profit equal to nine years' normal income in Macedonia and more than a third of a century in Albania or prebombardment Kosovo.

The Balkan Route is a principal thoroughfare for an illicit drug traffic worth $400 billion annually, according to Interpol.
Although only a small number of ethnic Albanian clans profit directly from the trade, their activities have cast a dark shadow on the entire Albanian world.
There is a growing tendency among foreign observers, says former Albanian President Sali Berisha, ``to identify the criminal with the honest, the vandal with the civilized, the mafiosi with the nation.''
Those ethnic Albanians who have embraced the narcotics trade are extraordinarily aggressive. Albanian speakers comprise roughly 1 percent of Europe's 510 million people. In 1997, according to Interpol, they made up 14 percent of all European arrests for heroin trafficking.
The average quantity of heroin confiscated per arrest, among all offenders, was less than two grams. Among Albanian-speakers, the figure was 120 grams (4.2 ounces).

Until the war intervened, Kosovars were the acknowledged masters of the trade, credited with shoving aside the Turkish gangs that had long dominated narcotics trafficking along the Balkan Route, and effectively directing the ethnic Albanian network.
Kosovar bosses ``orchestrated the traffic, regulated the rate and set the prices,'' according to journalist Leonardo Coen, who covers racketeering and organized crime in the Balkans for the Italian daily La Repubblica.
``The Kosovars had a 10-year head start on their cousins across the border, simply because their Yugoslav passports allowed them to travel earlier and much more widely than someone from communist Albania,'' said Michel Koutouzis, a senior researcher at Geopolitical Drug Watch who is regarded as Europe's leading expert on the Balkan Route.
``That allowed them to establish very efficient overseas networks through the worldwide Albanian diaspora -- and in the process, to forge ties with other underworld groups involved in the heroin trade, such as Chinese triads in Vancouver and Vietnamese in Australia,'' Koutouzis told The Chronicle.

On assignments in Kosovo and Macedonia between 1992 and 1996, a Chronicle reporter frequently encountered groups of ethnic Albanian men -- ostentatiously dressed in designer clothing and driving luxury cars far beyond the normal means of their community -- at restaurants in the Macedonian capital of Skopje and near the Kosovo frontier.
The men were quite willing to speak about politics, confirming that they were Kosovar, and asserting their determination to bring down Milosevic.
But when asked how they earned their livings, they uniformly answered ``in business,'' declining to provide any details.

The rise of Kosovar bosses to the pinnacle of the drug trade -- and the sudden, simultaneous appearance of the KLA -- dates from 1997, when the Berisha government fell in Albania amid nationwide rioting over a collapsed financial pyramid scheme that destroyed the savings of millions and wrecked the economy. In the unchecked looting that followed, the nation's armories were emptied of weapons, explosives and ammunition.
In June 1997, Berisha was succeeded as president by Rexhep Mejdani, who unlike Berisha was openly sympathetic to a separatist rebellion in Kosovo.

Last year, a NATO official in Brussels quoted by Radio Free Europe cited intelligence findings of ``the wholesale transfer of weapons to Kosovo'' in 1997, destabilizing the precarious balance between ethnic Albanians and Serbs in the province and undercutting the position of pacifist Kosovo leader Ibrahim Rugova in autonomy negotiations with Belgrade.
A U.N. study found that at least 200,000 Kalashnikov automatic assault weapons stolen from Albanian military armories wound up in the KLA arsenal.
So many, according to reliable sources, that KLA operatives were themselves exporting guns to overseas black markets at the start of 1999.
In effect, the KLA's armed insurgency, escalating at a time when U.S. and Western European diplomats were seeking a peaceful solution to the crisis, provided a pretext for Milosevic to press for a nationalist solution to the Kosovo problem.
Then came the failed Rambouillet talks, the NATO bombing decision, and with it what Koutouzis calls ``the militarization'' of the Kosovar drug trade.

``Narcotics trafficking has been a permanent part of the Kosovo picture for a long time. The question is where the profits go,'' Koutouzis said.
``When Rugova held sway and the object was a peaceful settlement, the drug proceeds of Kosovo clans were at least invested in growth, in things like better housing and health care. It was a form of social taxation in a sense, and the more illegal the activities, the more that their `businessmen' were expected to pay.'' But with the outbreak of war, Koutouzis adds, ``the investment is only in destruction -- and the KLA's first effort was to destroy the influence of Rugova, and no one in the West did much to help him.'' Nonetheless, NATO military officers and diplomats have always been troubled by the murky origins and financing of the KLA, which materialized for the first time in Kosovo on Nov. 28, 1997, outfitted in expensive Swiss-manufactured uniforms and equipped with the purloined Albanian Kalashnikovs.
The mistrust is reciprocated. According to Veton Surroi, the widely respected editor of Kosovo's Albanian-language daily newspaper Koha Ditore, U.S. negotiator Richard Holbrooke had a Kalashnikov held to his head when he arrived for a meeting with KLA officers during one of his
shuttle missions to Kosovo.

As recently as February 25, U.S. Ambassador Chris Hill, another of the negotiators, said, ``The KLA must understand that its members have a future as members of political parties or local police forces, but not in the continuation of armed struggle.'' The eruption of war changed almost everything. Since the bombing campaign opened, NATO has had little alternative but to rely on the KLA for intelligence. Its guerrilla units inside Kosovo are the only eyewitness sources of information on Serb troop movements.
Solid intelligence about the KLA itself is nearly impossible to nail down.
NATO estimates put its forces at 15,000. Avdija Ramadom, the organization's official spokesman, claims that the KLA has more than
50,000 men.
In addition to alleged drug receipts, the group is said to be funded by a war tax of 3 percent imposed by the People's Movement of Kosovo on the earnings of 500,000 ethnic Albanian emigrants in Western Europe, a population that is soaring with the immense exodus of refugees. Half of the prewar immigrants have settled in Germany, according to the International Migration Organization, and a third in Switzerland.
THE WASHINGTON TIMES, Monday, May 3, 1999

KLA finances war with heroin sales
By Jerry Seper

The Kosovo Liberation Army, which the Clinton administration has embraced and some members of Congress want to arm as part of the NATO bombing campaign, is a terrorist organization that has financed much of its war effort with profits from the sale of heroin.
Recently obtained intelligence documents show that drug agents in five countries, including the United States, believe the KLA has aligned itself with an extensive organized crime network centered in Albania that smuggles heroin and some cocaine to buyers throughout Western Europe and, to a lesser extent, the United States.

The documents tie members of the Albanian Mafia to a drug smuggling cartel based in Kosovo's provincial capital, Pristina. The cartel is manned by ethic Albanians who are members of the Kosovo National Front, whose armed wing is the KLA. The documents show it is one of the most powerful heroin smuggling organizations in the world, with much of its profits being diverted to the KLA to buy weapons.

The clandestine movement of drugs over a collection of land and sea routes from Turkey through Bulgaria, Greece and Yugoslavia to Western Europe and elsewhere is so frequent and massive that intelligence officials have dubbed the circuit the "Balkan Route."

Mr. Clinton has committed air power and is considering the use of ground troops to support the Kosovo rebels against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Last week, Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, called on the United States to arm the KLA so ethnic Albanians in Kosovo could defend themselves against the Serbs.

Mr. McConnell and Mr. Lieberman introduced a bill that would provide $25 million to equip 10,000 men or 10 battalions with small arms and anti-tank weapons for up to 18 months.

In 1998, the U.S. State Department listed the KLA -- formally known as the Ushtria Clirimtare e Kosoves, or UCK -- as an international terrorist organization, saying it had bankrolled its operations with proceeds from the international heroin trade and from loans from known terrorists like Osama bin Laden.

"They were terrorists in 1998 and now, because of politics, they're freedom fighters," said one top drug official who asked not to be identified.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, in a recent report, said the heroin is smuggled along the Balkan Route in cars, trucks and boats initially to Austria, Germany and Italy, where it is routed to eager buyers in France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and Great Britain. Some of the white powder, the DEA report said, finds its way to the United States.

The DEA report, prepared for the National Narcotics Intelligence Consumer's Committee (NNICC), said a majority of the heroin seized in Europe is transported over the Balkan Route. It said drug smuggling organizations composed of Kosovo's ethnic Albanians were considered "second only to Turkish gangs as the predominant heroin smugglers along the Balkan Route." The NNICC is a coalition of federal agencies involved in the war on drugs.

"Kosovo traffickers were noted for their use of violence and for their involvement in international weapons trafficking," the DEA report said.

A separate DEA document, written last month by U.S. drug agents in Austria, said that while the war in the former Yugoslavia had reduced the drug flow to Western Europe along the Balkan Route, new land routes have opened across Romania, Hungary and the Czech Republic. The report said, however, the diversion appeared to be only temporary.

The DEA estimated that between four and six metric tons of heroin leaves each month from Turkey bound for Western Europe, the bulk of it traveling over the Balkan Route.

A second high-ranking U.S. drug official, who also requested anonymity, said government and police corruption in Kosovo, along with widespread poverty throughout the region, had contributed to an increase in heroin trafficking by the KLA and other ethnic Albanians. The official said drug smuggling is "out of control" and little is being done by
neighboring states to get a handle on it.

"This is the definition of the wild, wild West," said the official. "The bombing has slowed it down, but has not brought it to a halt. And, eventually, it will pick up where it left off."

The heroin trade along the Balkan Route has been of concern to several countries:

The Greek representative of Interpol reported in 1998 that Kosovo's ethnic Albanians were "the primary sources of supply for cocaine and heroin in that country." Intelligence officials in France said in a recent report the KLA was among several organizations in southern Europe that had built a vast drug-smuggling network. France's Geopolitical Observatory of Drugs said in the report that the KLA was a key player in the rapidly expanding drugs-for-arms business and helped transport $2 billion worth of drugs annually into Western Europe. German drug agents have estimated that $1.5 billion in drug profits is laundered annually by Kosovo smugglers, through as many as 200 private banks or currency-exchange offices. They noted in a recent report that ethnic Albanians had established one of the most prominent drug smuggling organizations in Europe. Jane's Intelligence Review estimated in March that drug sales could have netted the KLA profits in the "high tens of millions of dollars." The highly regarded British-based journal noted at the time that the KLA had rearmed itself for a spring offensive with the aid of drug money, along with donations from Albanians in Western Europe
and the United States.

Several leading intelligence officials said the KLA has, in part, financed its purchase of AK-47s, semiautomatic rifles, shotguns, handguns, grenade launchers, ammunition, artillery shells, explosives, detonators and anti-personnel mines through drug profits -- cash laundered through banks in Italy, Germany and Switzerland. They also said KLA rebels have paid for weapons using the heroin itself as currency.

The profits, according to the officials, also have been used to purchase anti-aircraft and anti-armor rockets, along with electronic surveillance equipment.

 

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