Dealing with Bad Guys

Article excerpt

If the NATO mission in Macedonia goes down in flames, it might well be due to two men on opposing sides of the ethnic divide. The Albanian, Xhavit Hasani, 50, is a woodcutter from the hills with an elementary- school education, a rude way of speaking and a chip on his shoulder as big as a log. "The Macedonians are even afraid to dream of me," he boasts. Ljube Boskovski, 40, the Macedonian, is a lawyer by education, whose overblown manner sometimes causes even sympathetic listeners to laugh. He no longer sleeps, he likes to say, because he's up all night defending his country.

Both are hard-core ethnic nationalists--and evangelists for their cause. For the past two years Hasani has been recruiting young men for the Albanian rebels, walking the highland villages along the border of Kosovo where he's considered a war hero, though he never apparently fired a shot at the Serbs. A convicted peacetime cop-shooter and reputed smuggler, Hasani is a founding father of the National Liberation Army (NLA). Now he's accused of joining a radical breakaway faction, the Albanian National Army, which has denounced the peace deal that brought NATO into the country.

As for Boskovski, he's Macedonia's Interior minister, an intimate of Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski and an ultranationalist of the so- called World Macedonian Congress, a rabidly right-wing group that refers to NATO as the "New Albanian Terrorist Organization" and is blockading a highway the alliance uses to supply its troops in Kosovo. He brings a multimedia approach to civil war. An MTV-style video with a rap track plays twice a night on local TV, as well as on giant video monitors in downtown Skopje, urging young Macedonians to join the Tigers, an elite militarized police force. Dressed in black balaclavas, the Tigers strut their stuff, racing along with tree branches stuck to their heads, while Boskovski slouches against his spanking new Merc and gives them the thumbs up, in time to the beat.

NATO would do well to pay attention to this improbable pair, and others like them. They pay lip service to Western peace efforts. But evidence suggests their true intentions are quite different. And they have the power to cause great trouble--as NATO officials are well aware. Alliance envoy Daniel Speckhard met with Boskovski twice in the 24 hours before the deployment. The Interior minister promised to cool his rhetoric and remove the roadblocks, then flew to the Adriatic coast for a week's vacation as NATO troops poured in. Up in the hills north of Skopje, British paratroopers from the 16th Air Assault Brigade made their way to the village of Nikustak, where the NLA's 114th Brigade holds fort--and Xhavit Hasani acts as official in charge of morale and information. He was on the team, he said. "I'm satisfied with NATO coming in here," Hasani later told NEWSWEEK by mobile phone. "I trust that NATO, and especially the Americans, will do what they promised."

That's a dubious assurance, considering the widely different perceptions of NATO's role. The alliance has in fact promised only to collect weapons surrendered voluntarily by the rebels, then go home in 30 days. The NLA rebels expect them to stay a lot longer--and to guarantee their security. The Macedonians, by contrast, don't want NATO there at all. And if anybody starts shooting, the alliance has warned it will leave. Good will is in short supply. The government claims the guerrillas must pony up 85,000 weapons--more than 10 per fighter; the rebels say they possess only about 3,000. …