Comment 15 Dec 10

A Bomb Has Finally Exploded in Albania’s Face

In light of the Council of Europe report on KLA crimes in Albania, Tirana must stop ducking responsibility for such abuses and start investigating crimes, whoever committed them.

By Altin Raxhimi

The Council of Europe investigation has highlighted what Albania’s authorities had long wished would go away – allegations that Kosovo Albanian guerrillas committed grave human rights abuses on Albanian territory during and after the Kosovo war.

The draft report, prepared by the Swiss senator Dick Marty, made public on Tuesday, talks in horrendous details of abductions from Kosovo to Albania and of organ trafficking – claims first mentioned publicly in the memoir of Carla del Ponte, the former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia, ICTY.

The report describes an unholy mixture of guerrilla warfare and organized crime, detailing detentions, beatings and abuses carried out by Kosovo Liberation Army guerrillas against their adversaries, both suspected collaborators with the Serbs and others. Victims were both Serbs and Albanians.

Albania has consistently denied that any crimes related to the Kosovo war occurred on its territory. The Prime Minister, Sali Berisha, earlier dismissed the claims in Del Ponte’s book as something from an Agatha Christie mystery.

The Chief Prosecutor, Ina Rama, said the allegations were too vague to investigate and refused to respond to persistent queries from journalists wishing to discuss the matter. The evidence now is too great to be ignored.

The murder of one man, and the beating of others during the 1999 war in the northern Albanian town of Kukes and in other makeshift detention centres, has recently become the subject of a court case in Prishtina, in Kosovo, although the alleged crimes took place in Albania. Law enforcement bodies there never attempted to inquire into the incidents.

Albanian prosecutors have shrugged their shoulders when asked about crimes related to the Kosovo war. The Ministry of Justice failed to respond to requests from the EU rule-of-law mission in Kosovo, EULEX, for assistance in investigating alleged crimes that Kosovo Albanians committed in Albania.


I have nothing but respect for the honesty and dignity with which Mr Raxhimi and Mr. Andi are dealing with this issue. Being a Serb myself, I know all too well how difficult it is to have a political leadership that has abused patriotism as a cover for war crimes and gangsterism. I had to live with that for many years and it was an awful burden.

I know that we will continue to have various disagreements with our Albanian neighbors about all kinds of issues. However, once "our" war criminals and "your" war criminals are forced out of the politics and into jails,  and respect is paid to the innocent victims on both sides, we will be able to work together and resolve our disputes, as other European nations have done. The culture of our two peoples is much closer than ultra-nationalists on both sides want to see.

I am so tired of being told that the Albanians are our "eternal enemies," of them seeing me in that way, and of being told this will never change.  I want to see Albanians as fellow Balkanians, to have them as neighbors with whom we live in peace and mutual respect. As friends. 

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Officially, Albania was not party to the Kosovo war. But it played a crucial role in the conflict. It sided with its ethnic brethren across the border and the KLA had access to training facilities throughout the country. Albania rejoiced in the fact that some of the world’s leading powers supported the Kosovo Albanian cause.

The government in Tirana let the Kosovo Albanian guerrillas use northern Albania as a base from which to organize their armed resistance to the Serbs. Different factions in the Albanian government, army and intelligence services all gave them a hand.

Albania cannot duck its responsibility anymore. It should stop maintaining that the Serbs had a monopoly on abusive behaviour. It should begin to see the more complex truth about this armed conflict and start investigating and prosecuting crimes independently of who committed them.

Any attempt to ignore the credible allegations documented in the Marty report would effectively mean Albania supported heinous crimes, not a liberation struggle. It would leave a dark stain on Albania if it acquiesced to that. Nor will it ultimately help the Kosovo Albanians to build a healthy society and state.

Albania can, in fact, best help Kosovo by investigating and prosecuting these crimes. This does not undermine the suffering of the Kosovo Albanians, or delegitimize their struggle. It simply separates out those who fought for Kosovo from those who committed murder.

The country should abide by the universal principle that all human life is precious, like the Albanian officer who volunteered for the KLA in the conflict and who told me last year: “An innocent man who gets killed is the son of a grieving mother too. This isn’t what I fought for.”

If Albania wants to join the European Union, it will have to show that it is committed to independent and serious investigations of serious crimes. Prime Minister Berisha must start upholding the rule of law, not demonstrate yet again his penchant for witty one-liners.

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