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Getting to the Bottom of Kondovo: Conflicting Theories, Murky Motives

September 4, 2005

( Research Service)- The revival of militant threats from the village of Kondovo this summer led to a number of theories as to why and how the turbulent situation had arisen and was being sustained. The focus of all the conjecture was the elusive figure of Agim Krasniqi, the 25 year-old local Albanian who was the alleged militant mastermind of the village last fall and winter, and once again this summer.

Despite endless speculation, it now appears that the whole story has not yet been told. New information attests to both a massive, politically-motivated deception, and a covert mediating role by US officials eager to keep the peace.

The ’situation’ first arose in the days preceding the failed November 2004 referendum on decentralization, when around 100 armed and uniformed Albanians massed in the village, many arriving from Kosovo. When after a tense month the situation was defused due to diplomatic intervention, the top officials of major Albanian parties DUI and DPA were happy to take the credit. Order reigned supreme, negotiation triumphed over war, and so on and so forth.

One of Krasniqi’s stated demands for fomenting unrest was to be amnestied like the other NLA war veterans. But this was not accepted by the state. So as spring rolled into summer, an unappeased Krasniqi threatened to bomb Skopje were this request not granted. At least that was the overt reality.

But the rumors are rife. Many believe that Krasniqi is backed by political parties and/or criminal groups. The only question is- which?

Since intelligence information of November 2003 indicated that DPA Menduh Thaci was visiting Kondovo and neighboring Saraj to urge the locals to hold on to their guns (at that time a doomed weapons collection drive was going on), it has been known that the current largest Albanian opposition party has influence in the village. In fact, even before that there were rumors of heavy DPA involvement. In December 2004, Albanian newspaper Lobi recalled that:

“…Kondovo is the only municipality in which the local elections of 2000 have not yet ended. Kondovo does not have a mayor, as the Government appoints a man to fill this office every six months. The local election in the village never ended because on the voting day in the immediate proximity of the polling station a boy was killed. His murderers have not yet been brought to justice. The murder was then associated with the incidents that many saw as activities of DPA racketeers. Many believed too that the murder came as a result of the conflicts of the Albanian political rivals.”

A recent media report in Skopje newspaper Vreme went even further, claiming that Mr. Krasniqi had been deliberately used by not only the Albanian parties, but also by the Macedonian ones – and that the original appearance of his uniformed militants in November 2004 was in fact masterminded by President Crvenkovski, in order to strike fear into the hearts of voters regarding what a positive vote on the referendum could lead to.

However, the Tirana newspaper Gazeta Shqiptare interviewed Krasniqi in August in Kondovo. Around the same time, Vreme ran an article alleging radical Islamist elements associated with the Kondovo madrasah were engaged in money laundering for terrorists. The newspaper had earlier claimed that the Kondovo bunch were trying to “take over” the general Islamic community in Macedonia, replacing moderate, Ottoman-inherited worship with the more austere Saudi Wahabbist order.

However, in the Tirana interview, Krasniqi condemned Ali Ahmeti for insinuating that there were Islamic extremists in the village, claiming that the latter was “playing Crvenkovski’s game” and vilifying the Albanian cause. He also said that the government was not addressing his concerns, and that therefore “…we will stay here, with weapons in our hands, as we did during the war in 2001. We have confined ourselves here for four years and we will not move away until all our legitimate demands are fulfilled.”

Nevertheless, Mr. Krasniqi turned himself in at Skopje’s District Court on 18 August. For the opposition, and some members of the local media, the fact that the wanted criminal could elude police and stroll on in to the court proved the government was in on it. The charges against Mr. Krasniqi (all pre-2001 war related, for robbery, kidnapping and other crimes) were suspended.

As well as the Macedonia opposition, President Branko Crvenkovski (ironically, spiritual father of the ruling SDSM) condemned the court’s decision. The president demanded a review of the entire case, stating that “…if this information proves true, it would mean complete neglect of the rule of law and violation of the constitution and Macedonia’s laws.” Crvenkovski added that the release of Krasniqi contradicted the Macedonian Security Council’s get-tough policy established at an emergency meeting of 14 July.

While Crvenkovski stopped there, VMRO-DPMNE further alleged that Krasniqi’s “amnesty” was the result of a SDSM-DUI secret deal; the party called for Interior Minister Ljubomir Mihajlovski’s head. Another opposition party called for the entire government to be dissolved.

However, shortly thereafter, on 31 August, the Public Prosecutor’s Office protested that Mr. Krasniqi had not in fact been amnestied, but that a temporary revocation of the arrest warrant had been made at the behest of Krasniqi’s lawyer. Now, with the suspected militant “bailed out,” he seems to have disappeared, and is said to be on vacation with his wife.

Two Paths

At this point there are two paths investigators can follow with this case. If one believes that the crisis is not being manufactured, then it is sensible to take the politicians seriously. Thus DPA and DUI saved the day in November, overcoming their longstanding antagonisms, the government really was eager to crack down, the president really is angered and the court merely upholds sound legal principles in releasing the suspect.

This is the direction taken by the softcore-interventionist Transitions Online, in a recent article which discusses Krasniqi in the context of other armed Albanian militant groups such as Gafur Adili’s ANA and the boys in Brest, as well as the bombing of Skopje’s Bit Pazar police station in July. The article takes seriously the opinions of Macedonia’s leaders as well as those of its celebrated pundits. Thus we have the following:

“…In a meeting in July, BDI leader Ali Ahmeti and Albania’s Prime Minister Fatos Nano expressed concern over ‘Islamist elements’ in Kondovo.
…Crvenkovski sees two possible drivers behind the [terroristic] incidents: those unhappy with the Ohrid agreement and those who believe that, by destabilizing Macedonia, they can strengthen their position in talks on the final status of Kosovo, which a
re due to start this autumn.

Another theory, promulgated by editor-in-chief of the journal Forum, Saso Ordanovski, holds that intelligence services from Macedonia’s neighbors to the north and south, Serbia and Greece, masterminded the incidents in an attempt to prevent Macedonia joining the EU and NATO.

Military analyst Petar Skrbina emphasizes the very professional nature of the attacks on the police. He believes only powerful groups could have carried them out, adding that ordinary criminals lacked an obvious motivation for targeting police stations.”

Krasniqi himself derided Ahmeti’s and Nano’s view, claiming that only Albanian nationalist fighters, not Islamists, were present in Kosovo. To take him at his word, Ahmeti is a traitor to the Albanian cause, attempting to smear it with the Islamist association. Srkbina’s observation, while it might have some truth to it, is flawed by his failure to find a justification for acts; after all, aren’t the number one enemies of criminals the police? As for The Big O, this on-and-off sympathizer with the Albanian cause is merely repeating the tired argument that Albanians always make when a terrorist attack is conducted against Macedonians or Serbs- for them, it’s always just a nefarious inside plot designed to blacken the just Albanian liberation cause.

Besides, would the Greeks really seek to destabilize Macedonia, considering how much capital investment they have here? There is indeed Greek-Serbian collusion against Macedonia – but it comes from the Orthodox Churches, not from the ‘intelligence services.’

Independent confirmation of the Vreme allegations came from our own sources with close ties to the village. If true, it would indicate that the Kondovo spectacle has all along been nothing more than a stage-mentioned deception meant to buttress the ruling political class – though, like the war of 2001, it might get out of control, as it almost did this July.

“Agim Krasniqi has been used by all of the political leaders, Macedonian and Albanian alike,” says one intelligence source. “He is a heroin user and small-time dealer controlling a gang of around 10 local individuals. He enjoys being famous- and even more, collecting money whenever the politicians ask him to make some provocation for their own needs.”

Thus, this source claims (vindicating Vreme), Branko Crvenkovski used Krasniqi to instill fear in the hearts of Macedonians in the immediate run-up to the November 2004 referendum: “he allowed Krasniqi to bring in the back-ups [i.e., the 100 or so uniformed men from Kosovo] as a show of force- and promised to pay them for their appearance on the stage. At various other times, both DPA and DUI have employed Krasniqi as well.”

However, after the Kosovars vacated the premises in December, the promised payment allegedly did not arrive. Although Krasniqi kept assuring that it would, the small-time drug pusher could not deliver. Thus the renewed provocation of this summer- a last-ditch attempt by Krasniqi to alleviate the pressure from his debt collectors to the north.

“In fact, even his own local gang didn’t receive their money,” says the intelligence official. “They were mad enough to start something. This was for real – this was not in the script.”

At this point, in the middle of July, the president was making his pronouncements and Ali Ahmeti was promising Krasniqi a “fair trial” if he would just desist and turn himself in.

However, in the end it took the arrival of a trusted external party to cool the situation off:

“Quietly, a US jeep with dark windows and two CIA agents pulled into Kondovo and met privately with Krasniqi,” says the intelligence officer. “They told him basically to knock it off, and send any vigilantes back to where they came from. They also promised he would get paid. So with this pressure, the government paid him, he paid [his brigands], and the situation was relieved- for now, anyway.”

However, Krasniqi’s is not the only game in town. His cause has been overblown in the media as the dueling politicians try to win points from arguing over his symbolic importance vis-a-vis the stated political platforms of their own parties and those of their enemies. More important than Krasniqi in the long-term is the Islamic factor in Kondovo. Macedonian nationalist politicians warned about this a decade ago, when the enormous, foreign-funded madrasah was first opened.

According to the TOL article, “…Macedonian intelligence sources believe that a radical Islamist group is operating out of Kondovo and is responsible for attacks in July on police stations near Tetovo and in Skopje… [They] believe the group is headed by a Ramadan Shiti, a Kosovar who made a spectacular escape from Skopje’s Idrizovo prison earlier this year. Shiti is thought to be linked to radical Islamists who have been trying for the past six months to take control of the Islamic Community (IZ), the Muslim’s community’s governing body. The IZ is based in Kondovo.”

However, to supplement this testimony, our sources claim that Shiti is “leading only one faction of the Islamist groups based from Kondovo- there are others.”

It is also known that young Albanian devotees of Islam are currently studying religion in Iran, Egypt and other Islamic states, while other graduates have since returned to tend the growing flock.

In the end, whether or not Krasniqi himself is a friend or foe of the local Islamists makes no difference; due to his fortification of the village, under the guise of nationalism but really to protect criminal interests, it makes it very difficult for outsiders to monitor what is actually taking place in the religious community there, and whether or not there is a terrorist connection – which is just as they like it.


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