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Should Iran Help Fund War in Muslim Kosovo?

By Jonathan S. LandayStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / April 15, 1998



BOSTON

Kosovo's liberation movement may be beset by deep tactical and political divisions.

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The movement's main US operative, who spoke in an interview in Brooklyn, N.Y., on condition of anonymity, asserts that some rebels want to accept offers of weapons and training from Islamic radicals, or mujahideen, from Iran and other Muslim states who fought for the Bosnian Muslims.

"I am personally against this. But there are people who have offered help and you can't stop them giving help when help is needed," he says. He warns that the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) could be driven to align with radical Islamic groups should Serbia launch an all-out offensive in Kosovo and the international community sit by, as occurred in Bosnia.

But associates of the movement who are based in Switzerland vehemently deny any contacts with Islamic radicals. "For us, religion means nothing. We are Europeans and we have nothing to do with mujahideen or other extremists. We have decided to fight alone to the end," says Jashar Salihu, whose 1987 release from jail, where he had been a political prisoner of the Serbs, was championed by Amnesty International. Danielle Mitterrand, wife of late French president Franois Mitterrand, also wrote letters on Salihu's behalf.

In the United States, KLA sympathizers are actively soliciting funds from affluent Albanian-Americans, some of whom are said to have carried suitcases of cash to Switzerland. They also brought KLA members to a fundraiser in Brooklyn, N.Y., earlier this year.

"There is a lot of money flowing now because there is a fear of war, a fear of more massacres, a great emotional flux within the community," asserts Isuf Hajrizi, a native of Kosovo who writes for Illyria, a Bronx, N.Y.-based Albanian-American newspaper.

KLA supporters in the US are also working through the Albanian-American Civic League, a lobbying group, to drum up political support for their cause in Washington. They have spoken to officials at the National Security Council and have the attention of a number of influential lawmakers, including Sen. Jesse Helms (R) of North Carolina and Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R) of New York, the chairmen of the Senate and House foreign relations committees.

The league's political action committee has seen its donations skyrocket. While it collected some $9,000 in the last quarter of 1997, since the Serbian police crackdown it has won pledges and cash totalling more than $120,000 for campaign contributions to sympathetic lawmakers up for reelection this year.

The league not only supports the KLA and its goal of independence for Kosovo, but advocates the "liberation" of areas of Macedonia, Montenegro, and Greece, in which Albanians have lived for centuries, a recipe for a regional cataclysm.

"The Albanians are a divided nation. We need to stand up for the nationhood of these people," asserted Joseph DioGuardi, a former Democratic congressman from New York and the league's president, as he sat recently with members of his group in a private room off the House of Representatives dining room, waiting to meet congressman Gilman.

Said Mr. DioGuardi, whose father was from Albania: "We are trying ... to use our influence in Congress in the American tradition."