BALKANS: NATO launches anti-Muslim witch-hunt

Wednesday, November 14, 2001 - 11:00


Following the September 11 World Trade Center atrocity, the US produced a list of countries which allegedly "harbour terrorists" or where "terrorists" have bases. In the Balkans the list consisted of Bosnia, Albania, Macedonia and Kosova.

The fundamentally anti-Muslim nature of the NATO intervention in the Balkans has come to the fore. NATO has launched a witch-hunt, with all "Islamist" forces declared suspect of links to Osama bin Laden. This has been given backing by the Serbian-Yugoslav, Croatian and Macedonian governments, all raising their hands as front-line states in the "war against (Islamic) terrorism".

In Bosnia, NATO has swung into action in open violation of that country's sovereignty. According to the Sarajevo journalist Emir Habul, "in late September, using armoured vehicles and helicopters and blocking the approach roads to surrounding villages, American troops launched a spectacular operation, taking the unfinished airport near Visoko, north of Sarajevo, lasting one day and night". Two guns and several shells left from the war were found.

In Bihac, on September 22, SFOR (NATO) units and FBI members arrested a Jordanian, Abu Kharroub Majed, after "prolonged surveillance". When Majed was released two days later, it turned out that he had been living in Bosnia for 20 years, had normal citizenship papers and worked for the High Saudi Committee for Children Without Parental Care (VSK).

According to Habul: "On that day the VSK was to pay financial aid for 519 orphans. A week earlier another such payment was stopped due to action by Italian troops. SFOR raided the VSK's offices and arrested two local staff. A day earlier a Jordanian and an Egyptian were arrested in a Sarajevo hotel. The only thing SFOR discovered was a strong-box containing a large amount of money."

The operations and the identity of those arrested were kept secret. Only foreign troops took part in these operations, with local police and officials kept completely in the dark.

Those arrested were kept in isolation at a military base and interrogated by the FBI. They were denied access to legal counsel, in open violation of Bosnian law. They were also detained for periods which violated Bosnian law, under which a suspect can be held without charges laid for only 24 hours.

At the centre of this hysteria are some 3000 foreign Muslim fighters, the mujahedeen, who came to assist Bosnia against Serbian and Croatian aggression during the 1992-95 war.

While their vision of an "Islamic state" in Bosnia was at odds with that of Bosnia's multi-ethnic government, in the Balkan context it was Serbian and Croatian anti-Islamic chauvinism and genocide, not Islamic fanaticism, that was the leading danger. The Bosnian government had little choice but to accept aid from whoever was willing to give it since the country's defence was crippled by a UN-NATO arms embargo.

When the war ended, NATO demanded the expulsion of these fighters as a condition for Western aid. However, some remained, married Bosnians and applied for citizenship. Some 300 former mujahedeen fighters settled in Bocinja, a former Serb village in central Bosnia, but many have now left as Bosnian Serbs return to their pre-war homes.

While itself investigating all citizenships granted to foreign Muslims, the Bosnian government of Prime Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija has been alarmed by SFOR's violations of its sovereignty. It managed to force the concession that suspicious citizens should be first brought to SFOR by the local police, but it remains to be seen whether NATO will take any notice.

The partners in Bosnia's violent carve-up, Serbia-Yugoslavia and Croatia, have been having a field day with ridiculously inflated claims of the numbers of mujahedeen in Bosnia and claims that bin Laden was given Bosnian citizenship.

Serbia's deputy prime minister, Nebojsa Covic, told German MP Friedberg Fluger that "there were over ten thousand mujahedeen in Bosnia and many still remain — and there are over three thousand in Kosovo. They are all little bin Ladens". Voice of America reporter Berry Wood concurred that "some radical Islamic groups in Bosnia are closely linked to the terrorist web" and include many of Osama bin Laden's followers.

Sinisa Vucinic, who led the fight to prevent Slobodan Milosevic being taken to the war crimes tribunal in the Hague, revealed the thinking of the current rulers in Belgrade, declaring that "78 days of (NATO) bombing are easier to forgive than five centuries of (Ottoman) oppression".

Vucinic was dredging up the ideological glue of Milosevic's neo-Chetnik movement — that the Serbs led the defence of "Western, Christian civilisation" against "Islamic barbarism" by fighting the Turkish Ottoman Empire and were continuing this role in Bosnia and Kosova.

Serbia-Yugoslavia aims to turn the Western powers' anti-Muslim crusade into support for its campaign against former Albanian guerillas in south-east Serbia, who had been fighting to defend the local Albanian population from state repression. Covic claimed on September 20 that these guerillas had "a direct link ... with the recent events in the US".

The US ambassador to Yugoslavia, William Montgomery, shared Covic's concerns, claiming "militant extremists who were defeated are very unhappy and would like to come back".

Covic, the former Milosevic-era mayor of Belgrade, is widely credited with bringing that conflict to an end early this year. Serbian troops, backed by NATO, moved into a "buffer zone" between Serbia and Kosova, to drive out the guerillas. As a result, Covic has become the West's favourite leader in Belgrade.

Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic demanded the Hague Tribunal arrest former Kosova Liberation Army (KLA) leaders Hashim Thaci, Ramush Haradinaj and Agim Ceku because "after the events in America you are even more obliged to do so, because what is at stake is the future of the international struggle against terrorism". The three are now civilian leaders in Kosova, have not been accused of war crimes and have vigorously condemned terror against the Kosovar Serb minority by vengeful returning Albanian refugees or criminal gangs.

Serbia-Yugoslavia's attempt to be promoted regional "anti-terrorist" bulwark is paying off. In his note of congratulations to Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica on the anniversary of Milosevic's overthrow, US President George Bush expressed expectations of Yugoslav cooperation against terrorism. Ambassador Montgomery stated that "we are very satisfied" as Yugoslavia had given its "full support and cooperation".

The KFOR (NATO) commander in Kosova, General Thorsten Skiaker, said, "the international community will not see Kosovo as it saw it in 1999". After September 11, "No longer is anyone willing to consider extremists as people whose grievances should be understood".

French intelligence agents in their northern sector of Kosova have reportedly asked Yugoslav authorities to provide them with information on the activities of mujahedeen units allegedly operating in parts of northern Kosova. The fabulously mineral-rich northern region has been partitioned off by French NATO troops as a Serbian sector since NATO entered Kosova in 1999.

Even with this partition, the West continues to deny the rest of Kosova the right to national self-determination. On September 4, following requests by Covic for further guarantees, NATO secretary-general George Robertson repeated that Kosova's independence was "out of the question". The same "out of the question" affirmation was repeated by the UN Security Council on October 6.

When Bush visited Kosova in July, he refused to meet local Albanian leaders, and lashed out at them for allegedly aiding the NLA in Macedonia. The US drew up a list of officers in the Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC) whose assets were frozen and who were banned from entering the United States. The head of the UN administration in Kosova, Hans Haekkerup, struck these Albanians off the ballot in the forthcoming Kosova elections. The European Union also drew up a list of 38 Albanians from Kosova and Macedonia to be banned from travelling to EU states.

Announcing a change in US policy in the region, the London Sunday Times interviewed the new US ambassador to Britain, William Farris, who said that the US is planning a long-term increase in its military presence in the Balkans, viewing it as a buffer zone between the West and the "terrorist threat" from the East, a training ground and an operational zone in the "anti-terrorist" war. This reverses the Bush administration's earlier desire for US forces to quit the Balkans. Farris announced he would soon visit Belgrade to discuss putting this plan into practice.

Yugoslav military delegations, headed by Covic, have visited NATO headquarters three times this year to discuss joining NATO's Partnership for Peace program. They also visited the US army command in Europe, in Stuttgart, to discuss organising training courses for Yugoslav officers in US military academies.

From Green Left Weekly, November 14, 2001.

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From GLW issue 471