Former Kosovo Liberation Army Morphing into a National Guard

Article excerpt

On the walls along the dim hallways of the Kosovo Protection Corps headquarters hang rows of pictures that tell the story of the KPC's missions since its inception three years ago. Seeking to put behind a murky past, the Corps--a civilian agency consisting largely of former Albanian guerrilla fighters--hopes to become a real national army.

For now, the KPC is helping with the reconstruction of the villages destroyed during the 1999 ethnic war between the Serbs and the Albanians, respond to fires, floods and acid spills. The organization has cleared 185,000 meters worth of minefields and offered support after last year's earthquake in the town of Gjilan.

However, eventually gaining international credibility as a professional military force is important to the KPC, which is designed to be primarily a disaster-relief, first-responder organization. In the words of Lt. Gen. Agim Ceku, the organization's commander, the KPC wants to become the "national guard of Kosovo."

A province of what is now Serbia and Montenegro, Kosovo has been under the governance of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), and NATO protection since the 11-week NATO bombing of Serbia ended in the summer of 1999.

"Right now, we have to find a [way to see] how Kosovo people can play a role in their own security," Ceku told National Defense in an interview at his Pristina headquarters. "We don't want only to enjoy the security, we want to offer the security also."

"We need to encourage the international community to accept the debate," he says, sitting in a conference room, surrounded by a few of his top aides.

Kosovo Liberation Army

The vast majority of the KPC members are former Albanian guerrilla fighters from the Kosovo Liberation Army, who fought the Serbian forces before NATO's intervention in 1999.

The end of the war over Kosovo marked the beginning of the guerrilla army's transformation. On June 21, 1999, Hashim Thaci, as the commander-in-chief of the KLA, signed an "Undertaking of Demilitarization and Transformation," under which the KLA would cease to exist as a military organization beginning September 20, 1999. On that date, KFOR (NATO's Kosovo Force) confirmed that the demilitarization was complete, the International Crisis Group wrote in a report entitled "What Happened to the KLA?" published in March 2000.

However, Thaci's policy on the transformation of the KLA, as he publicly expressed during that summer, was that the guerrilla group would divide into three components, the report said. Part would become a new political party, another would join the new Kosovo Police Service, and the third would become a new, armed force, not quite a new army, but an embryo of one, usually likened to the U.S. National Guard, according to ICG.

While KLA members formed the political party and some entered the Kosovo Police Service, KFOR and the UN created the mostly unarmed Kosovo Protection Corps. It was a way to offer a compromise between their mandate to demilitarize Kosovo and the KLA leaders' determination to maintain some sort of standing force.

The KPC is tasked and trained to be a multidisciplinary, multi-ethnic, indigenous civil agency that will be able to respond to disasters affecting the population and territory of Kosovo. The Corps has to conduct search and rescue operations, assist in rebuilding the infrastructure and provide support to the United Nations. It is also tasked with de-mining the whole territory of Kosovo.

In January 2000, according to Ceku, the agency officially started training as the Kosovo Protection Corps. Currently, the KPC has 5,052 members, of which 2,000 are reservists.

The organization is said to be modeled after the French Securite Civile. KFOR and the UN said that by no means is it supposed to be simply a continuation of the KLA under a new name, with harmless tasks.

The International Organization for Migration conducts and oversees the training for new KPC members. …