Why War-Crime Probe of KLA Spells Trouble

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The U.S. may have anointed the Kosovo Liberation Army as the White Knights of the Kosovo war, but war crimes prosecutors aren't convinced — and that could put NATO on a dangerous collision course with the men it installed in power in the breakaway province. The Hague Tribunal, which last year indicted President Slobodan Milosevic for war crimes, announced Tuesday that it is currently investigating five cases of atrocities against Serbs allegedly committed by members of the KLA. And observers believe that if charges are pursued, they may involve some of the now-disbanded movement's senior leaders, who currently occupy key positions in the U.N.-supervised administration of Kosovo.

Kosovo analysts have long sensed the hand of the KLA in a continuing campaign of violence against the territory's remaining Serbs, and tensions between the organization and NATO have reached their highest point since the war following the discovery, two weeks ago, of massive arms caches in the Drenica valley, a KLA stronghold. Although the former guerrilla movement's leaders have denied any knowledge of the caches, which would be in violation of undertakings to hand their weapons over to NATO, it's unlikely that large amounts of weapons would have been stockpiled without a green light from some quarter of the KLA leadership. The movement has never accepted the limits the international community has sought to impose on their aspirations, and vowed to press on for independence and confederation with Albania rather than the multi-ethnic autonomous enclave favored by the West.

War-crimes prosecutions could bring NATO-Kosovar relations to a breaking point, because they'd oblige the peacekeeping force to arrest suspects that the current Kosovar Albanian leadership may be reluctant to hand over. A bomb threat called in last week at a hotel used by officials of the international community was seen by some as a warning from former KLA elements to NATO to back off, following the discovery of the arms caches. Now, Washington and its allies may be set to learn the hard way that while Kosovo had no shortage of bad guys and innocent victims, the "good guys" may have been miscast.