The Gun-Running Trail Into Kosovo Powder Keg
In Albania, arms flow north to Kosovo brethren - for profit
Ali Mata wears his black hair tousled, his beard bushy. On the streets of Kukes, it projects him as a guy not to be messed with.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
He talks the talk of an Albanian nationalist. Today, Mr. Mata is railing against the Serb "wild animals" next door in Yugoslavia, and of their atrocities against Albanians through the centuries.
Mata thirsts for revenge after the recent massacre of some 80 ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, the southern Serbian province on the other side of the mountain.
"It's been a dream of mine since I was young," he says, "to fight against the Serbs because of all the crimes against my [ancestors'] village in 1913 and which they are still doing today to my Kosovo brothers."
But Mata's tirade is a bit disingenuous: He is a truck driver-turned- gun- trafficker with a financial stake in the misery of his Kosovo "brothers."
Such is the nature of arms-dealing in the Balkans. It will likely continue as Kosovo emerges as a potentially lucrative market.
After Serbian police cracked down on Kosovo Albanian "terrorists" earlier this month, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic crowed he had broken the shadowy Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). To the contrary, the killings seem to have radicalized more of the Albanian-dominated province's population.
Support for the KLA is rising, despite heated international diplomacy to stave off a new Balkan war. Growing numbers of Kosovo Albanians - as well as restive Albanians in northeastern Albania and northwestern Macedonia - are now spoiling for a fight with the Serbs. One Kosovo Albanian, now living in Albania, said the police onslaught was a virtual declaration of war.
"History has shown us that no nation has won its freedom through negotiation, only through fighting," says the man, who claims he fled from Serbian police several months ago. "I hope this war continues because it's the only way to rid ourselves of the Serbs."
But for the KLA to strike back effectively, it will need arms: Serb police say they destroyed or confiscated a significant quantity of weapons. On Wednesday, they displayed piles of bombs, guns, and grenades they said had been taken from Kosovo "terrorists."
Military analysts suggest that potential arms smugglers could include those operating within Croatia, Bosnia, even Slovenia - Serbia's partners in the old Yugoslavia. Before Mr. Milosevic sparked its disintegration a decade ago, Yugoslavia was one of Europe's top arms producers.
There is no love lost for Milosevic in those former republics.
But a more surefire source for rearmament may be the ethnic Albanian brethren across Kosovo's mountainous borders with Albania and Macedonia. The threat is real: Albanians, while desperately poor, are a remarkably well-armed people, courtesy of the chaos that engulfed Albania last year.
The crisis was triggered by the collapse of massive pyramid-investment schemes. Looters raided weapons depots the Army had abandoned. Suddenly, Albania was awash in guns. Some 1 million guns were stolen in a gun-loving Balkan nation of only 3.2 million.