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Tuesday, April 20, 1999 Published at 16:30 GMT 17:30 UK

World: Europe

Analysis: Nato and the KLA

Thousands of KLA supporters are returning to Kosovo to fight

By South-East Europe Analyst Gabriel Partos

Macedonia's Interior Minister, Pavle Trajanov, says he has received assurances from Nato and the United States that they will not be supporting the Kosovo Albanian guerrillas of the Kosovo Liberation Army, the KLA.

Kosovo: Special Report
Mr Trajanov's remarks this week coincided with renewed reports in the British press that the KLA was providing intelligence to help Nato's air strikes against Serbian targets.

John Roper of the Institute of International Affairs: "Not the sort of thing governments want to talk about"
Serbia's security forces have been trying to suppress the KLA for the past 14 months - an undertaking that has been going on with renewed vigour since Nato launched its air strikes against Yugoslavia four weeks ago.

But the signs are that the KLA is continuing to fight back and large areas remain under its control.

KLA resistance

There have been several reports in recent days from the handful of foreign journalists who have managed to get inside Kosovo about the KLA's resilience.

[ image: A bunker inside Macedonia said by local police to be a KLA base]
A bunker inside Macedonia said by local police to be a KLA base
An article in the British paper, The Daily Telegraph, describes the KLA's continuing hold on the Rugovo valley in western Kosovo.

Meanwhile, thousands of ethnic Albanian men who have fled Kosovo are returning to the province to join the KLA once they have taken their families to places of refuge in Albania and Macedonia.

The KLA has also stepped up its co-operation with Nato. The guerrillas handed over a captured Yugoslav army officer to the Albanian authorities who, in turn, surrendered him to Nato.

The KLA says it is handing over three more detainees. More importantly, the KLA is also stressing that it is providing intelligence to Nato about Yugoslav military targets in Kosovo.

[ image: Serbs in Macedonia protest against Nato bombs]
Serbs in Macedonia protest against Nato bombs
According to The Times newspaper, the information is passed on by satellite phone to Western diplomats in Macedonia who then forward the details to Nato.

That way, there is no direct link between Nato and the KLA - which would be a diplomatic embarrassment for the Western alliance.

Given this roundabout way in which the information gets passed on, there is considerable doubt as to how useful the KLA's intelligence proves in practice.

The Serbian military can move its armour on before Nato gets the intelligence; while for fixed targets, Nato usually relies on its own satellites and spy planes.

Nato's dilemma

The absence of formal links with the KLA is a sign of Nato's dilemma over Kosovo. The KLA is the only force on the ground that can do something to protect Kosovo's Albanian majority from ethnic cleansing and to that extent Nato would want to help the guerrillas.

On the other hand, Nato does not want to be seen as the KLA's air force, working hand-in-hand with the guerrillas.

There are several reasons for Nato's reluctance to co-operate with the KLA:

  • To start with, there is a UN arms embargo in place on all weapons supplies to Yugoslavia

  • Breaking that embargo to arm the KLA would encourage Russia to deliver weapons to the Serbian security forces

  • Several countries in the region - Macedonia with its large ethnic Albanian community in particular - are worried about the KLA and its radical elements who have who have suggested that its struggle for Kosovo's independence may be only the first step towards creating a greater Albania.

That is why Macedonian Interior Minister Pavle Trajanov was keen to announce on Tuesday that he had received assurances that Nato would not be supporting the KLA.

In any case, Nato and the West, in general, expect that the air campaign will force Belgrade to stop ethnic cleansing in Kosovo and accept some kind of international protectorate over Kosovo that would be enforced by a multi-national troop contingent.

There is no desire at this stage to see an independent Kosovo, as envisaged by the KLA. Nor would the West want to help the KLA emerge from the current conflict as a powerful force which would then be difficult to put under control.

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