Rivalry Between Kosovo Rebel Groups Reflected in Albanian Politics
22 Apr 99 - 1610 GMT

Even with the end game in Kosovo still open to question, it may be time for NATO to start worrying about political infighting within the ranks of Kosovar politicians spilling over into an armed conflict between rival Kosovar rebel groups.

The two main rebel groups fighting the Yugoslav Army and MUP forces are the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and the Armed forces of the Republic of Kosovo (AFRK). The KLA is alleged to have upwards of 10,000 troops, while the ARFK, which was formed in the wake of several KLA defeats last summer, is believed to number between 120 and 3,000 fighters. For the most part, these groups have fought separately on the battlefield, they have been known in the past to coordinate their attacks in central Kosovo. The KLA is active in the north, west and south of Kosovo and the AFRK is present in the Drenica region of western Kosovo.

However, while the military wings of these rebel groups seem to be putting their differences aside, there still remains a high level of hostility and hatred among their political leaders, who have formed separate «governments» for Kosovo. Hashim Thaqi represents the KLA. The AFRK on the other hand, is loyal to Bujar Bukoshi, a supporter of Ibrahim Rugova.

Bujar Bukoshi, who lived in Germany for most of his tenure, represented Kosovar Albanians from 1991 to 1998. On April 2, 1999, though, Hashim Thaqi declared himself Prime Minister of Kosovo. Bukoshi refused to recognize it, saying it was not formed on the basis of consultations with other Albanian political forces in Kosovo.

Tensions and mutual accusations between Bukoshi and Thaqi have risen in the past two weeks. Thaqi has described Rugova, Bukoshi and the AFRK commander Rustem Berisha as «traitors who will be soon punished». The KLA has also tried to prevent the AFRK from recruiting new fighters among emigrants in Western Europe. KLA recruitment centers, set up in the main Albanian port of Durres, the capital Tirana and the northeastern town of Kukes, are ordering all ethnic Albanians to join the KLA, not the AFRK.

Another problem, mainly between the military wings, appears to be funding. Over the past few years, Bukoshi's movement has collected regular financial contributions from Kosovar emigrants in the West for the «Fund of the Republic of Kosovo.» The KLA recently announced the opening of its own fund, called «Motherland's Call.» Both accounts are used to train Kosovo Albanian fighters, for buying arms and ammunition and for other military supplies.

Fighting between the two groups over funding has intensified in recent weeks. Thaqi said in a statement last week, «We call on Bukoshi to hand over immediately the funds he has collected for the past seven years to the new government.» Bukoshi, however, refused to do so and rebutted, «We shall use our funds to finance the armed struggle of the people against Serb occupiers in Kosovo,» he said in reference to his AFRK fighters.

This rivalry between the KLA and AFRK has also been reflected in Albanian politics. The ruling Albanian Socialist-led government has supported Thaqi, while the main opposition Democratic Party of Sali Berisha is supporting Bukoshi and Rugova. This is split in the Albanian government was spurred by the fact that more than 30 AFRK have been imprisoned after taking part in the armed violence of opposition supporters against the government in Tirana in September last year. AFRK claims that it became involved only after the assassination of its chief of staff Colonel Ahmet Krasniqi during the riots.

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