Coziness With KLA Could Backfire on U.S.

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Is the U.S. consorting with Stalin-esque killers in Kosovo? Quite possibly, according to allegations published Friday by the New York Times. Citing current and former commanders of the Kosovo Liberation Army as well as Albanian government officials, the Times reports that KLA leader Hashem Thaci and two of his lieutenants allegedly directed a purge in which as many as six rival commanders were shot dead in a bitter struggle for control of the organization. Thaci has denied the allegations. Of course, such skulduggery might be par for the course in guerrilla movements, but the KLA has been implicitly anointed as Washington’s political partner in Kosovo. As early as the Rambouillet talks in February, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright initiated a friendly photo opportunity with Thaci and his delegation, and last week pressed unsuccessfully for NATO to agree to the KLA's forming a provisional army for Kosovo. Last Monday, her spokesman, James Rubin, held a joint press conference with Thaci in Kosovo.

"The KLA has engaged in a lot thuggery to get where it is today, and Thaci is well known as a hard-liner within the organization," says TIME Central Europe reporter Dejan Anastasijevic. "While the Times story cites no direct evidence of his involvement in any specific killing, he’s certainly never condemned that kind of behavior." Besides the alleged internecine killings, the KLA is also known to have targeted Serb and Gypsy civilians, moderate ethnic Albanian politicians and those it considered traitors. "As a hard-liner, Thaci has a very low threshold for calling people ‘traitors’ -– it could be an ethnic Albanian postman working for the Serb authorities, or even just one who questioned KLA strategy." If proved, the charges against Thaci could be embarrassing for Washington, which on Thursday put a $5 million bounty on the head of another war thug, Slobodan Milosevic. The U.S. association with Thaci may also be dangerous for the Balkans as a whole. "The KLA hasn’t abandoned its goal of creating a Greater Albania, and pictures of U.S. officials alongside KLA leaders sends the message that Washington supports the KLA option," says Anastasijevic. "That can’t lead to any good result in the region."