‘Unfounded’ Al Qaeda rumors aim at destabilizing Kosovo, says Rugova

Pristina – The situation in Kosovo today bears no similarity to that in 1999 when the ethnic Albanians of the KLA, with the help of NATO forces, ousted their hated enemies, the Serbs. Impressive reconstruction, asphalted roads, luxury cars, well-dressed people, a sufficiency of goods are now the rule in a region whose leadership is hard at work to achieve the goals set by the international community in establishing a state capable of governing itself. Then there is the other side of the moon, where the few remaining Serbs are enclosed in ghetto-like enclaves from which they emerge only in the presence of soldiers from the international peace force, where the black market is rife and the production base is the para-economy. Kosovo’s people, still high on their sense of national liberation, give the impression of caring nothing more about what tomorrow might bring other than their country’s full independence. They believe that the sooner they achieve it, the sooner nationalism will be tamed, smuggling wiped out and reconciliation achieved with the Serbs. Only then, they believe, will the Balkans finally settle down. As shown in this interview with Kathimerini, even their moderate president and long-time leader, Ibrahim Rugova, appears convinced that the key that will open the gates of Paradise for the Kosovars is none other than independence. You are aware that the secret services suspect that Al Qaeda has links to the Balkans and naturally to Kosovo. Have such reports reached your government? We have aligned ourselves with the USA and with European countries in regards to dealing with the activities of terrorist groups. The Albanians of Kosovo and I personally condemn the terrorist activity of Al Qaeda, but I do not believe that this organization can in any way become active in Kosovo. Nor that some people might be connected to Islamic fundamentalists or terrorist groups? I am certain that there are none here in Kosovo. Of course, I have read of some such dangers here, but they are unfounded. Some people might want to spread these reports in order to create a climate of destabilization here in Kosovo. So where is Kosovo going now? If you want a brief reply, let me say that it is moving toward independence. I believe that within 2005 things will have settled. We are working toward meeting the criteria set for us. I maintain that Kosovo should acquire its independence as soon as possible. That will speed up the process of consolidating peace and stability in the region. You should know that here, in cooperation with the international community, a democratic society is being built. Those opposed to Kosovo’s independence cite fears that it will lead to an uprising by the Albanians in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the Serbs in Bosnia or the Albanians in Southern Serbia, all making similar demands on the international community, with the risk that borders might change again, or that even another war might break out. What is your view? An independent Kosovo does not mean a change of borders in the region. Kosovo’s independence has the approval of the Albanians of Macedonia, of Albania, of the Presevo Valley and of Montenegro. Any talk of a change of borders is purely an assumption. With regard to the Serbs of Bosnia, as far as I know they signed the Dayton accords that provide for the preservation of the united state of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Don’t forget that Kosovo was once a constitutional entity in a united Yugoslavia and I think that these various claims are aimed at hindering Kosovo’s independence process. I am certain, and I say it again, that Kosovo’s independence will bring calm to the region. How do you imagine your sate? Multiethnic or monoethnic, as appears to be the case, given the systematic attempt to get as many of the remaining Serbs as possible to leave? As in every democratic country, here everyone will live together and I must say that we have made progress in creating a multiethnic Kosovo. Here the minorities are present, they are represented in Parliament and of course they have their places in local government and in the public administration. You say progress has been made, but Serbs remain virtually imprisoned and when they want to come out of their enclaves they need the protection of KFOR soldiers. We have been through a great deal because of the war, but I think the Serbs can move about freely in many areas. We no longer need the heightened and systematic presence of the police force. Don’t forget that Albanians, too, are not able to move about freely where Serbs are in the majority. But I must reiterate that the situation is much better than it was before regarding the free movement of Serbs. As with other minorities, Serbs are guaranteed schools, hospitals and generally everything that will make them feel free. I think that Kosovo’s independence will do much toward improving living standards for Serbs as well as the other minorities. There used to be the view that the Albanians ruled Kosovo and restricted the freedom of Serbs, but that is not so. We Albanians want Serbs to be incorporated into the core of Kosovan society. That is all very well for the Serbs who are still here, but what about the many others who left as refugees? I have often stated that I favor the return of Kosovo’s refugees and I do not know why that has not been understood. Let me remind you that so far more than 7,000 Serbs have returned to Kosovo. I imagine that you are aware of certain scenarios regarding the division of Kosovo. For example, that the Serbs take the northern part, based in Mitrovica, and the Albanians the rest. Are you considering this? No, we will not accept anything like that. If the borders of Kosovo are altered and Mitrovica is lost, we will have renewed conflict in the Balkans. I think this is all part of the hypotheses that are aimed at undermining the independence process. Last month, you began talks in Vienna with the Serbs of Belgrade. Are you optimistic about these talks? Are you prepared to hold a dialogue on the eventual regime? Vienna was a success. We will look at the possibilities and discuss practical issues, and then we will see. Everything can be discussed as a natural chain of events, but at any rate I think that the meeting was a success. What is your response to accusations that Kosovo is a springboard for Albanian nationalists, causing problems in neighboring states, such as FYROM, with the so-called Albanian National Army? These are old prejudices about Kosovo that are without foundation. Even during the communist period, such accusations were made against Kosovo. But I repeat, this will all stop once we have independence. Has information on the existence of such an Albanian National Army not come to your attention? I think that here in Kosovo everything has been done regarding the possible appearance of such groups of individuals linked with this National Liberation Army. Much has been written and even more has been heard about your famous meeting with (former Yugoslav leader Slobodan) Milosevic [in 1999]. What exactly happened? Did you go because you really wanted to contribute to finding a solution in order to avert bloodshed or did Milosevic force you to meet him? That is part of history and I have already made a statement at The Hague [war crimes tribunal, on May 3, 2002]. I was imprisoned here. They could have killed me. It was only a matter of luck that this did not happen. But that is in the past, let’s forget it. There has been much speculation about the scarf you wear around your neck. It’s been said that you’ve been wearing it for so many years as a symbol of the Serbian yoke, and that you will take it off when Kosovo is free. So why haven’t you removed it? Yes, there have been many rumors about the scarf, which I happen to like. I actually wear it for health reasons.