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Political “Interests” Saved Kosovo’s Thugs: Interview with Detective Stu Kellock

January 13, 2006

By Christopher Deliso

In this exclusive Balkanalysis.com interview with a Canadian police detective of long and varied experience, Stu Kellock, readers get the inside story of how UN investigators in Kosovo sought to crack down on criminals and terrorists – but were systematically stopped, because of the perceived need to safeguard the interests of the Western political elite and their local proteges.

Stu Kellock, the former head of UNMIK’s Regional Serious Crime Unit in Pristina, provides an extraordinary insider’s perspective on the difficult and oftentimes dangerous work of investigating organized crime in Kosovo. This article, which contains several minor bombshells regarding the interlinked topics of organized crime, drug smuggling and the Macedonian conflict of 2001, is a must-read for anyone interested in what really happened in the Balkans since NATO’s arrival in June of 1999.

Profile of a Professional

A 28-year veteran of the Toronto Police Service, Stu Kellock has practically done it all- his job portfolio includes intelligence work, close protection, police training, Major Crime Unit, as well as undercover missions and public order duties. Kellock also holds the rank of Captain in the Canadian Forces (Army) Reserve, and in training courses specialized in international terrorism long before it became a hot topic.

This focus turned out to be quite relevant in the wake of 9/11, when Detective Kellock was re-assigned to the intelligence unit and put in charge of the mayor of Toronto’s security detail. Subsequently, Kellock received the honor of becoming the first (and only) international officer to be embedded with the NYPD Intelligence and Counter-Terrorism Divisions, for the period of one year.

Although these are all fascinating topics in their own right, today’s exclusive interview with Detective Kellock concentrates on a slightly earlier mission- his assignment as chief of UNMIK’s Regional Serious Crime Unit in Pristina, Kosovo, from September 2000-June 2001.

During this pivotal period, the security situation in Kosovo grew increasingly fluid as local crime lords challenged the international authorities’ claims to power, while ethnic Albanian insurrections spread into neighboring South Serbia and Macedonia. Detective Kellock and his staff found themselves caught up in a web of political intrigue and blunt local realities that all too often hampered their ability to investigate serious criminal activity in the province.

Although Detective Kellock has provided testimony in the past regarding specific incidents, such as the Podujevo bus bombing, today’s interview for Balkanalysis.com marks the first time he has gone in to such detail regarding what he saw and experienced as a leading crime fighter in post-Milosevic Kosovo.

First of all, why would a police detective from the great city of Toronto be drawn to work in God-forsaken, depleted uranium-filled Kosovo, anyway? For Kellock, “aside from the obvious adventure – travel, which I enjoy – there was the challenge, the opportunity to serve the country and the ability to effect positive change in a difficult environment.”

The detective adds that it was an “incredibly humbling experience” to be able to participate in the reconstruction and redevelopment of Kosovo, “something I thought I may never have the opportunity to experience again.”

The Situation on the Ground: Non-Stop Action

As one might expect, the average work day was demanding for Detective Kellock – “I was on call 24 hours,” he attests. “We worked for 30 days consecutively followed by six days off. As the chief of the unit, the workload was something I have never, nor will ever experience again.”

A lack of proper communications made the job more difficult for UNMIK investigators. According to Kellock, telephones were unreliable or non-existent, and his staff was forced to carry their radios with them at all times. And, despite his attempts to complete an hourly diary of events, Detective Kellock quickly found that it was virtually impossible: “there simply was not the time between events to capture the information- time moved so fast.”

As he recalls, fighting crime in Kosovo was a tiring and never-ending battle, “a series of shootings, bombings, kidnappings, explosions, rapes and other serious crimes including human trafficking and terrorism,” all of which kept him and his staff busy at all hours of the day.

Despite the oftentimes critical view of cooperation between UNMIK’s disparate foreign employees and the locals, Detective Kellock found that in his era of involvement, at least, there was much to be commended about the poise and team-first attitude of his colleagues working under pressure and restricted by numerous intrinsic disadvantages.

At the unit level, he confirms, the quality of cooperation was “absolutely overwhelming.” Kellock’s unit consisted of 24 international investigators, 15 local staff and 7 KPS (Kosovo Police Service) officers. He found that “the professionalism, dedication and commitment of the officers to assisting all the people of Kosovo was incredibly humbling and reaffirmed our very reason for being there.”

The Ominous Ramifications of Success

However, Detective Kellock goes on to say that gaining the trust of the local community – something “paramount to the success of our mission and indeed the entire mandate as stated in UN Resolution 1244” – was hampered severely by what he calls “the agendas at play.”

These involved both those of the local political/paramilitary groupings and of the international power brokers present in Kosovo. National, clan and supranational interests were inextricably interwoven in complex and murky ways, out of all proportion to the size of the territory in question.

Kellock had decided that it was best to deal, not with the emotive issues of perceived historical injustices and claims, but only with the investigations – “notwithstanding the ethnic or cultural differences of opinion on where to look for clues. We had to follow them wherever they might lead.”

However, it soon became clear that the Serious Crimes Unit staff members, in their zeal for professionalism and lucid, facts-oriented investigations, were headed for a train wreck with the established interests of Kosovo’s rich and powerful elite.

For the detective, this realization hit home with one of the biggest victories of his tenure- the arrest and prosecution of Sabit Geci. “It was a watershed moment for the UN Mission in Kosovo,” avows Kellock, “and I take great pride in that particular investigation.” However, this audacious arrest of a leading KLA founder got Kellock’s superiors sweating, and may have restricted the reach of further investigations. Most ominously, says Kellock, “I certainly did feel threatened after the arrest and detention of Sabit Geci.”

Dubbed at the time “a kingpin in Pristina’s underworld with highly placed political allies in the PDK” [of Hasim Thaci] by AFP, Geci was arrested in October 2000 following “a shooting incident at one of Pristina’s most notorious nightclubs… The Miami Beach [and] one week later, in a dawn sweep on 13 properties, including Geci’s home, they arrested 25 more suspects.”

Geci was tried in April 2001, and sentenced to 5 years and 6 months in jail. In January 2002, his sentence was upheld by a UN judge. Detective Kellock emphasizes how astonished some of his peers were by his vigorous action against the crime lord: after all, “Geci and Hasim Thaci were Skenderaj incarnate- how dare I arrest a modern war hero!”

For this very reason, there was apparently a high degree of uncertainty and distrust among the UN top brass regarding the action. Kellock recalls “a very interesting statement made to me by a very senior police officer after [Geci’s] conviction – along the lines of “we did not know whether or not to allow you to continue your investigation – we were pleased that you did and the result that was obtained.’ That was 8 months after Geci’s arrest.”

Secret Meetings and Innuendo: UNMIK’s Political Priorities

However, says Kellock, “it was at that point when things changed for me. Secret meetings, innuendo and comments made to me made it very clear that some were not pleased with this situation.”

The investigation had cemented for him something that had been apparent at least since January 2000, when according to AFP UNMIK Chief Administrator Bernard Kouchner ordered police that his explicit permission would be required if they sought to raid the premises of any of Kosovo’s leading families.

It became very clear, avers Kellock, that despite its purported stance of “moral, ethical and legal compliance with UN Resolution 1244,” the top civilian leaders of UNMIK “would do so only if it served their interests in Kosovo.”

According to Kellock, there was a “real reluctance to prosecute [former] KLA members… of course I understand the complex nature of the mission and the very reason that NATO and UNMIK were there was to “protect’ human rights – particularly Kosovar Albanian rights. To therefore prosecute them for criminal acts and war crimes would not have been politically palatable.”

As has been repeated again and again by internationals working in Kosovo and the independent media, prosecuting the warlords would cause a backlash against KFOR and UNMIK- meaning that for the past six and a half years, the UN has been living as a virtual hostage to the “decommissioned” leaders of the KLA- who were, in many cases, merely transformed into the ranks of the KPC or the political structures.

Their status, which gave them a combination of respect and fear among the local population, meant that they were (and are) practically untouchable. “After all,” reminds Kellock, “they were war heroes, not war criminals, weren’t they?”

According to the detective, it was made abundantly clear that his team was to take a hands-off approach with respect to members of the KLA/KPC, for pragmatic and existential reasons.

“The general theory was that by their size and influence they would de facto be the next governors of Kosovo,” he says. “The UN or KFOR could little afford to have internal discord or violence perpetrated against each other by the very people they were there to protect – a lesson that could serve the UN well in other missions.”

On the other hand, there were others in UNMIK, such as the senior police official, who made it clear that they were happy to see mafia figures actually face prosecution. Yet the all too real difference in treatment was political and driven by other exigencies. Geci and his colleagues “were either the great saviors of Kosovo or nothing more than a bunch of criminal thugs,” says Kellock, whose experiences led him to be inclined towards the latter interpretation. “Geci’s conviction and the statement rendered by the Court more than validated my opinion.”

Kosovo’s First Elections: America Defeated by Great Britain?

The first post-Milosevic elections in Kosovo occurred in late October 2000, and transpired largely without incident. However, their outcome – the “unexpected” success of relatively peace-oriented veteran politician Dr. Ibrahim Rugova – interrupted the expected “smooth transition of power” from the KLA in combat fatigues to the KLA in suits.

In the run-up to the elections, “it became painfully clear to me that there was influence being exerted on the Kosovars,” testifies Kellock. “It was my feeling that the LDK, led by Dr. Rugova, was being influenced more by the UK and that Hasim Thaci and his PDK were being touted by the US.”

Why? The detective surmises that the two candidates could deliver, or at least begin to deliver, on the underlying foreign policy goals of these two great powers. For the British, who in Kellock’s view were in no mood for another extended peacekeeping mission in the Balkans, “the professor, Rugova was seen as a more “workable’ candidate with a vision of making Kosovo “European’ in orientation.”

However, for the US, whose long-term plans for a strong military presence had been demonstrated with the quick creation of the enormous Camp Bondsteel, the former KLA leader from that western hotbed of unrest, the Drenica Valley, could serve a different purpose.

He “was regarded as the proverbial cowboy riding in and saving the day,” says Kellock, “albeit one with a completely different personal agenda: that of increasing his personal wealth and cozying up to the United States for economic and military support- it was clear that the US wanted that [long-term military] presence, and the person to ensure it was Hasim Thaci. Therefore, securing his election was of critical importance to the American plan for Kosovo.”

However, Thaci did not win and Kellock finds it noteworthy that for two weeks after the elections, “Thaci was not seen or heard from- something to think about, but perhaps not too much. After all, it’s the Balkans, and not much seems to make much sense.”

Confirming the tendency of high-level foreign diplomatic meetings to be held in neighboring Macedonia, where the situation has usually been less violence-prone, Kellock bucks the official line when he states that Colin Powell’s planned visit to Kosovo in April 2000 “was curtailed due to security reasons.”

The official US explanation for why Powell’s trip was changed to Skopje was that “poor weather” prevented him from making the 30-minute chopper ride over the border. However, the fact that war was going on intermittently in Macedonia at the time with assistance from the Kosovo side probably had more to do with it.

The Podujevo Bus Bombing: A Police Failure Worsened by Conspiracy

The all-time low in prosecuting terrorists and murderers in Kosovo dawned on February 17, 2001, when a bus carrying Serbs of all ages to visit a cemetery in Kosovo was blown up by Albanian terrorists as it passed along a road supposedly cleared by UN troops. The Sunday Times would later reveal that a simple British troop mistake of failing to check all the culverts and drainpipes along the route led to the tragic deaths.

In the immediate aftermath of the bombing, Kellock recommended that “a special task force be assigned immediately to the investigation. I expressed this desire to every senior official to attend the scene.”

However, the chief detective’s request was not granted, and “even more sinister was the fact that evidence from the scene was suppressed and destroyed even before the commencement of the official investigation. It was this lack of co-operation and direction that subsequently proved my intuition [regarding whitewashing KLA crimes] was correct.”

Indeed, as the Washington Post reported in July of that year, “after the bus bombing, NATO paved over the crater on the Nis highway within hours, an act that several police officers said destroyed potential evidence.” Furthermore, NATO did not share intelligence with the UN police, phone logs of suspects’ calls were hidden in Monaco, where Kosovo’s main mobile operator is based, and the main suspect miraculously escaped from the most secure location in all of Kosovo- the American Camp Bondsteel.

Referring to the dramatic jailbreak of Florim Ejupi, a 23 year-old Kosovo Albanian whose DNA was traced to the crime scene, Detective Kellock said at the time that in his opinion, Ejupi “did not escape… in my opinion he was taken elsewhere for questioning or something and I still do not understand why we, the police in the investigation who held jurisdiction, were not involved.”

Five years later, the detective still feels the same way- though he has confirmed for us that he was not the anonymous police source quoted by the Times as claiming Ejupi was on the CIA payroll.

“However, it could be possible,” agrees Kellock, in light of all the strange coincidences and sordid miracles of this ugly, unsolved incident. “There seemed to be a certain paranoia in dealing with the KPC, and I was often delayed in making arrests or conducting operations until “clearing’ them with higher authority,” he states.

Several other UN officials quoted at the time in relation to the bus bombing confirmed Kellock’s suspicions. One was Christer Karphammar, a Swedish prosecutor and then Kosovo’s first Western judge. He told the paper that “U.N. and KFOR senior officials opposed or blocked prosecution of former Kosovo Liberation Army members, including some now in the KPC. “That means some of the former [KLA] had an immunity. The investigations were stopped on a high level.'”

American covert influence was again detected with the failure to arrest another suspect, Sami Lushtaku. The newspaper fingered one Jock Covey, “a U.S. diplomat serving as deputy head of the U.N. mission in Kosovo” as having been “instrumental in blocking Lushtaku’s arrest on at least two occasions… he told colleagues that if Lushtaku, who is popular in Kosovo, were jailed, it could destabilize the province on the eve of municipal elections and bolster hard-liners in Serbian parliamentary elections in December. Covey, who has left the United Nations for private industry, declined to comment.”

Detective Kellock agrees that the arrest of Sami Lushtaku was “derailed,” but he cannot “state absolutely that it was [done so] by Jock Covey.” Covey (make your FOIA requests here) is a one-time aide to Henry Kissinger who served in a variety of diplomatic missions, including in Bosnia in the mid-1990’s. Upon leaving the Kosovo mission, Covey was hired by the Bechtel Corporation, where he went on to outdo himself in the calculated art of damage control.

In the end, Kellock notes sadly that “the inferences, nuances and experiences of the investigation of a high-ranking UCK commander in the Geci case, would turn out to be a sign of things to come in the investigation of the Nis Express bus bombing.”

Reading the Macedonian War: A Surprising Handicap

Just as the Podujevo bus bombing tragedy unfolded, war was intensifying in Macedonia to the south between the self-styled freedom fighters of the NLA and the Macedonian government.

Although it is relatively speaking a minor one, Detective Kellock’s revelation regarding his unit’s limited knowledge of the conflict going on nearby is astonishing.

Considering the ultra-modern technology, manpower and other tangible assets available to UNMIK, one would assume that they had a handle on the situation- especially considering that much of the war was being dictated by the NLA’s leaders in Kosovo.

In fact, says Kellock, the truth was somewhat different: “at the time, we learned of significant turmoil within the Macedonian Armed Forces [because] it was described by the BBC – which was the source of most of our information about that particular situation.”

However, it was not only this one case that Kellock recalls; in general, he says, “we relied on the BBC for the most part” for their news updates on the war in Macedonia. However, he also does say that “we knew by our own means what was happening and who had left town during this time,” but does not provide details.

What, then, of the common rumor that British spies were posing as journalists during the early stages of the 2001 war, when several quickly found oddly convenient places behind enemy lines in remote mountain villages? While he will not go into details, Kellock affirms that these “observations [regarding] the press are accurate.”

Beyond this, perhaps most interesting is Kellock’s contention that his team was deliberately kept in the dark regarding the unfolding war- despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that all the same characters being investigated by them were involved in orchestrating it behind the scenes.

“Oftentimes at meetings we were “excused’ so higher commanders could discuss this situation,” recalls Kellock. “However strange this was – that the chiefs of various units were excluded – it was commonly accepted.”

Drug Routes, Customs Intimidation, “Dual Use” Procurement, Islamic Charities

Kosovo has always been a center of organized crime, but especially after the UN’s arrival “business” proceeded apace. Lax control of borders and a new domestic market of wealthy foreigners with sundry appetites to please meant a golden age for the mafia- just another reason why prosecutions were slow to be handed down. The province was and is used as a hub for trafficking in illicit material including drugs and humans, gasoline and guns, Kellock states.

“Heroin was being smuggled through Kosovo,” he adds. “It originated in Afghanistan, passed through Iran, Turkey and Bulgaria, and then made its way through the [Albanian-majority] Presevo Valley of south Serbia, arriving in Kosovo.

“Once inside the country, the drugs would be transported from across to northern Albania – through the KLA stronghold of the Drenica valley, to places like Tropoje for distribution, either north by land or across the Adriatic to Italy.”

The multi-national network relied on interlinked ethnic mafias, “whose members care not about the cultural background of those they do business with.”

Kellock and his colleagues found that the long arm of the lawless had a firm reach on Kosovo society and law enforcement, even on those officers who weren’t connected with one of the crime families.

“Although I was not involved in border enforcement, on several occasions the connection with the notorious Sabit Geci was evident,” attests Kellock. “In fact, I specifically investigated a case where the Customs officer was threatened with death and the killing of his family- apparently he had had the bad luck of not knowing who a certain convoy of vehicles “belonged to.’ He charged them a duty, but was forced at gunpoint not to inspect the vehicles; after a visit to his house later on, the officer was forced to “repay’ the duty to those he had collected it from.”

Given the post-9/11 focus on weapons of mass destruction and “dual use” technological items, one would expect a trouble spot like Kosovo to come up in this context. However, in Kellock’s time – admittedly, before 9/11 changed the focus of the mission in some ways – it seems little attention was given to the issue.

Nevertheless, he does add some interesting relevant details. Aside from the locals’ perhaps natural interest in technology and consumer electronics, which they sought to acquire from the KFOR bases, terrorists took a keen interest in getting their hands on a common electronic device normally believed to be harmless pagers. According to Kellock, UNMIK police seized numerous pagers during his tenure, because of their demonstrated use as detonation devices for IEDs.

Well before the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the foreign Islamic interests were on the move in Kosovo. “One of the first priorities of their “charities’ in Kosovo following the war,” says Kellock, “was the rebuilding of mosques – not wells, electrical stations, schools, hospitals, bridges or other infrastructure. I believe at one point there were hundreds of charities in Kosovo – many not recognizable or accredited.”

However, Kellock maintains that as for his team, “we did not investigate any charities working in the theater. The OSCE and UNMIK itself were responsible for the accreditation of IO and NGO’s. We had enough problems to deal with without that one too!”

UNMIK Corruption- And a Deadly Cover-Up

On the weighty and controversial subject of UN corruption and cover-ups, Kellock points to two specific cases which he felt were not handled correctly. First, stating that if not whole groups of UNMIK staff, at least “certain individuals” were involved in corrupt dealings with local mafia, “especially with the trafficking of women.” Kellock testifies that “I attempted to have several UNMIK members arrested but was not allowed to do so – they were repatriated instead.”

An equally serious case Kellock was involved with was the tragic death of AP journalist Kerem Lawton, killed by a mortar during a battle on the Kosovo border between Albanian and Macedonian forces. The Albanian side was quick to blame it on the Macedonians, who vehemently denied it. “There was “not the remotest possibility’ that Macedonian soldiers had fired the shells,” The Guardian quoted government spokesman Gjorgji Trendafilov as saying.

Regardless of what really happened, the journalist’s death intensified Western pressure on the Macedonians to give a “proportionate response” to NLA violence. According to the paper, KFOR warned that “the lives of our soldiers were endangered in an area that is clearly inside Kosovo territory.” And the then-UNMIK head, Hans Haekkerup, blustered, “I will be raising the urgent need for restraint by the Macedonian forces and for dialogue to replace shooting when I visit Skopje tomorrow.”

However, what the UN power bosses didn’t see fit to question was how their allegedly well-protected border zone could have become a safe haven for terrorists. Indeed, why would the Macedonians need to take the battle to the border, unless they were taking fire from the other direction? Stu Kellock provides an extraordinary detail regarding what really happened with the death of Kerem Lawton:

“It was one of the most intense days of my entire tour in Kosovo… I was intimately involved in attempting to decide if the body was legally required to have a post mortem conducted in Pristina. This was significant as the Brits demanded that no PM be conducted, but others, including US officials, were of the opinion that a PM must be completed prior to the body being sent back to the UK. An international judge subsequently ruled that it did not have to be done – the body was sealed several times and immediately sent to the UK on a jet that was sitting running on the tarmac at Pristina airport.

The issue at hand was whether or not the shrapnel that caused his unfortunate demise was that of an American mortar. If it was removed from the body in Pristina, then potentially it might no longer be available as evidence. If it in fact WAS American then it would prove that American weapons were still in fact being used by radical Albanian guerillas. A letter was sent to me from the company who employed the deceased – but I never received it.”

Conclusions

Now, though almost five years have passed since he left Kosovo, the memories and lessons of that “peacekeeping” experience have stayed with Kellock. “I have been attempting to keep abreast of the situation in Kosovo – as it is never far from my thoughts,” he says.

“The bravery of those Kosovars – on both sides of the ethnic fence – is truly humbling. Those individuals who came forward to provide statements and evidence against criminals trusted us to do the right thing. I can only hope that we had some positive impact on the quality of life of the people of Kosovo.”

As Kellock concedes, “Kosovo is hardly on the world stage as it was in 1999.” However, he is quick to add that “with the rise of Islamic radicalism it would be foolhardy and naive to suspect that there are not those there who would exploit the situation.”

Despite his measured criticism of American policy and American protection of the most notorious criminals in the province, Kellock takes a pragmatic view. “The continuing unrest in the Balkans justifies a strong US military presence in the region. I don’t believe that they truly will ever be “finished” in the Balkans- there has been conflict there for over 600 years and I think it would be foolhardy to think that [merely] a division of the US Army is going to put an end to it.”

Nevertheless, despite all he witnessed and experienced Detective Kellock remains optimistic. “My feeling though is that all is not lost – with the education and integration of the children and the development of a new sense of pride, one based not on ethnicity but on unified nationalism, there is hope. As in most conflicts, respect is the key to success. If the good people of Kosovo can rise above their ethnocentric beliefs, and work towards a common goal of [creating] a respectful and tolerant society for all, then their future will be very bright indeed.”

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