Kosovo: Illegal army grows as status decision nears, says report

An illegal paramilitary organisation calling itself the Albanian National Army (ANA) is recruiting new volunteers as a decision on the future of Serbia’s breakaway Kosovo province draws closer, Pristina Albanian language media reported on Tuesday.

The daily Ekspres published a report from an induction ceremony in the Drenica hills in northern Kosovo on Sunday night where 20 new members joined the ANA. The newspaper said its reporters attended the ceremony and published pictures of armed masked men in uniforms.

It claims the ANA membership is growing rapidly and numbers about 12,000 people.

“We are exceptionally unhappy with our political leaders,” a local ANA commander named Preka, told Ekspres.

Kosovo, whose majority ethnic Albanians are demanding independence from Serbia, has been under United Nations control since 1999, when NATO bombing pushed Serbian forces out of the province amid reports of gross human rights violations and a mass exodus of ethnic Albanians.

Belgrade opposes Kosovo independence, which would give ethnic Albanians broad autonomy, and Serbia’s ally Russia has in the Security Council blocked a plan by the chief UN negotiator Martti Ahtisaari for internationally supervised independence.

A new negotiating troika has until 10 December to try to reach a negotiated settlement, but ethnic Albanian leaders have said they would declare independence unilaterally if no agreement was reached.

The UN administration in Kosovo (UNMIK) in 2003 declared ANA a terrorist organization, but Preka said it was wrong.

“The ANA is not a terrorist organisation, the ANA has its roots in the hearts of people,” he explained.

There is a 16,000-strong international military presence in Kosovo and its commanders have acknowledged that armed bands have been spotted around the province.

Serbian leaders have said the appearance of paramilitary groups was to keep pressure on the international community to speed up Kosovo’s independence. Kosovo politicians are involved in the campaign for Sunday’s parliamentary and municipal elections and had no immediate comments on the reports.

But a local Serb leader, Nebojsa Jovic, warned that the ANA might be preparing to storm predominantly Serb settlements in northern Kosovo, including its center Kosovska Mitrovica, when independence is proclaimed.

Source: AKI

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