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Do Serbs 'Invent' Terrorists?

Case of Adrian Krasniqi, killed by police in Kosovo, raises questions

By Justin BrownSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / November 26, 1997



VRANOC, SERBIA

For more than a month, the men of this remote farming village have spent languid afternoons huddled around a wood-burning heater, trying to piece together the life and death of Adrian Krasniqi.

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Mr. Krasniqi, part of a 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority in the Serbian province of Kosovo, was killed by police Oct. 10 during what officials say was a guerrilla attack on a police station.

The Serbian government alleges that Krasniqi was a soldier in the Kosovo Liberation Army, a mysterious rebel faction that calls for independence from Serbia and possible unification with Albania. Officials say the rebels have been responsible for 42 deaths - Serbian and Albanian - since 1990. Thirty-five ethnic Albanians have been jailed for involvement with the paramilitary group.

Krasniqi, the government says, may have been smuggling arms from Albania to prepare his people for a secessionist war.

But to the villagers in Krasniqi's hometown of Vranoc, the events surrounding his death make little sense.

Police photographed Krasniqi lying dead with a grenade in one hand and a machine gun in the other. Yet no police officers were reported injured and the station remains intact.

"They call him a terrorist," says Krasniqi's uncle, Xhafer Krasniqi. "But where are the victims of his attacks?"

Many ethnic Albanians, as well as Western diplomats, agree that individual terrorists may be lurking in the woods. But they are not convinced that there is an organized resistance movement.

"There probably are instances where terrorism has occurred," says one Western diplomat. "But some of these events are being staged by Serbian authorities."

According to Edita Tahiri, the foreign affairs secretary for the ethnic Albanian political party, the Serbian government may be fabricating terrorist acts to justify police crackdowns in villages near the Albanian border.

"It is the aim of the Serbs to dismantle the peaceful movement of Albanians [in Kosovo]," she says. "It justifies their attacks and makes us look bad to the international community."

People calling themselves leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army have claimed responsibility for attacks, but observers say such communications could easily have been faked.

According to a second Western diplomat, Serbian state radio reported one terrorist attack days before it supposedly happened.

And, in what the Serbian government called the largest coordinated attack to date, 11 police stations throughout Kosovo were raided in September without a single police officer killed.

"For me, as a lawyer, I will not believe [in the Kosovo Liberation Army] until we have proof that it exists," says Fazli Balaj, who represents two men charged with being members of the guerrilla group. He says the police have severely beaten his clients, who are now standing trial in Pristina with 17 other suspects.

Regardless of whether the terrorist group is real, Kosovo, with a population of 2.2 million, appears be a fertile land for the seeds of war.

Since former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic stripped them of their autonomy in 1989, the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo have withdrawn from schools, government, and most of the health-care system. They have built their own underground world, financed partly by family members working abroad, partly by taxes collected by their shadow government. Their leader, Ibrahim Rugova, has preached passive resistance as the best way to achieve statehood.

Many people are growing impatient with Mr. Rugova, however. For the first time since Rugova took power in 1989, opposition leaders are gaining more support.

But to observers, the real danger of Kosovo lies in small villages like Vranoc, where Adrian Krasniqi grew up. The town is less than 10 miles from Albania, where police stations were looted earlier this year, flooding the streets with weapons. Serbian authorities speculate that the guns are easily passing through the porous border into Kosovo.

One smuggler may have been Krasniqi. He came under suspicion from the Serbian government at an early age because his older brother, now in Germany, was active in demonstrations in Kosovo in the early 1980s.

When summoned for questioning in 1995, the younger Krasniqi refused to go, choosing instead to hide out in Pristina and study at an underground university. A year later, his family says, he sneaked over the mountainous border into Albania, where he apparently lived with relatives.

His uncle admits that much about the young man remains a mystery, and even his friends are unsure what he did during the last two years of his life.

"Adrian was determined in the ideas of independence and freedom," says his uncle. "He used to cry when he read in the newspaper about killings of ethnic Albanians.... But I do not think he was a terrorist."