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The Truth About Ramush Haradinaj

On July 18, 2000, Major General Ramush Haradinaj, a highly decorated commander in the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) and former deputy commander of the Kosova Protection Corps (TMK), returned to Prishtina, following surgery and recovery from shrapnel wounds at a U.S. military hospital in Germany. Contrary to reports by the Associated Press from July 7 to July 9, his injuries were not the result of a “shootout with political rivals” in Strellc on the morning of July 7. Instead, Haradinaj was the victim of an assassination attempt by Kosovar Albanians deeply involved in organized crime.

Upon resigning from the Kosova Protection Corps last April, Ramush Haradinaj became the founding president of the Alliance for the Future of Kosova, a nonpartisan movement dedicated to building democratic institutions in every sphere of life in Kosova and preparing for the administration of Kosova by Albanian Kosovars. By June, as confirmed by the International Crisis Group in its report on the forthcoming local elections in Kosova, the Alliance had registered candidates in each of Kosova’s thirty municipalities, placing it on a par with the Democratic League of Kosova led by Ibrahim Rugova and the Democratic Party of Kosova led by Hashim Thaci. Not only did Haradinaj’s political competitors seize on the opportunity to misrepresent the incident in Strellc, but the Associated Press reported it without conferring with the principals and quoted many misleading statements from the perpetrators and sources friendly to them. As a result, what started out as a visit to the Musaj family by Ramush Haradinaj and his brother, Daut, Zone III commander for the Kosova Protection Corps, to settle some differences in a peaceful way ended up turning into an international incident with

implications for Kosova’s political future.

While the events that took place in Strellc in the early morning hours of July 7 were subsequently clarified and corrected by some of the Kosovar Albanian media, they went totally unreported in the Western press. For this reason, as U.S. spokesperson for the Alliance for the Future of Kosova, I want to set the record straight.

On Thursday, July 6, Ramush and Daut Haradinaj, arrived at 9:00 p.m. at a farewell party in Peja for departing UNMIK regional administrator for Dukagjin Alain Le Roy. General Agim Ceku, commander of the Kosova Protection Corps, and two other colleagues also attended the event. Alain Le Roy had worked closely with Ramush Haradinaj during his tenure as Kosova Protection Corps commander in Peja and later as national deputy commander of KPC.

When the party was over at midnight, Ramush Haradinaj planned to return to Prishtina with Agim Ceku. However, Daut Haradinaj told Ramush that just a few days earlier the father of Sadik Musaj had gone to the home of their father, Hilmi Haradinaj, with ten other men from Strellc, Decan, and Isniq to get an explanation about the abduction of Sadik’s brother (and also, reputedly, about the sons of the Osaj and Muriqi families) after the NATO bombing campaign. The elder Musaj blamed the abduction on Ramush Haradinaj. The confrontation was angry and threatening. In response, Hilmi Haradinaj

explained to the men that his home was not an official headquarters, and that they should speak directly with his son, Ramush, in Prishtina. He also reminded Musaj and his cohorts that he was still mourning the loss of two sons who were killed during the war.

Although it was late, Ramush Haradinaj decided to take advantage of his proximity to

Strellc to arrange a future meeting with Sadik Musaj in Prishtina. In response to criticism about violating Albanian tradition by arriving at a private home after 10:00 p.m., he would later say that, in theory, this was correct and that he was sorry for an error in judgment. But in reality, he felt that he had to seize the moment. He had plans to start a new branch of the Alliance in Zubin-Potok on the following day and would not have

time to return to Strellc, and he was worried that the Musajs might hurt his father in his home in Gllogjan if he did not make contact with them.

Ramush Haradinaj and his brother, together with two aides, arrived at the Musaj home at 1:00 a.m. As they got out of their car, Ramush announced their arrival. A woman responded from behind closed doors, saying that there were no men inside. According to Daut Haradinaj’s account, which was published in Kosova’s Zerion July 10, the woman, who did not identify herself, asked who they were. Ramush replied: “I am Ramush Haradinaj. Don’t be afraid. I haven’t come here to hurt anyone. I have come only to tell you that I have nothing against you and that I am not indebted to your family. I would like you to leave my family alone, because they, too, are suffering the loss of sons during the war. If anything is bothering you, please come visit me and we will discuss it.” He then asked the woman to give this message to the Musaj men.

As Ramush Haradinaj later told Zeri in an interview on July 19, the woman told him to call on the house next door. When he did, a man came out screaming that he did not want to speak with anyone and then retreated indoors. A second later someone hurled a hand grenade at the Haradinajs. The grenade hit the ground between the two brothers, exploding close to Ramush. Daut, who was wounded in the leg, responded in self-

defense by firing thirteen bullets at the building from which the grenade had been thrown. “I didn’t shoot to kill anyone, but to enable us to pull out,” he explained. Ramush Haradinaj, who was hit in the forehead and nose, ran in the direction of the car. Although he was carrying a gun, he never used it. According to Daut, before Ramush lost consciousness, he yelled, “Why are you firing like a child? We haven’t come here to

fight. Let’s just leave; I’m injured.”

Daut Hardinaj recovered a few days later, but Ramush Haradinaj was taken to the U.S. military base at Camp Bond Steel in Ferizaj following the attack and subsequently to a U.S. military hospital in Germany on Sunday, July 9, for an operation. The shrapnel that had lodged in his nose and forehead was threatening his carotid artery.

In the wake of the assassination attempt, Sadik Musaj told Associated Press Television News that he and his family had simply returned fire, after Ramush and Daut Haradinaj attacked their home with sixty men armed with automatic weapons. Musaj then went on

to claim that the attack was politically motivated, because he and his family were

supporters of the rival Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) led by Ibrahim Rugova. He also alleged that Ramush had abducted his brother last summer, because he had allied himself during the war with FARK, a militia sponsored by Kosova’s former Prime Minister Bujar Bukoshi in opposition to the rise of the Kosova Liberation Army. Compounding this disinformation, Bislim Balaj, a friend of the Musaj family who was at the scene the next day, was quoted as saying that Ramush Haradinaj “wants to win the election in Kosova by force by killing his rivals.”

The AP reporter concluded that this incident “could drive up political tensions among

Kosovo Albanians in advance of local elections expected in October” and “raised questions about NATO’s control of the Kosova Protection Corps, which was supposed to be an unarmed, civilian relief and humanitarian organization set up last year to provide a role for former KLA fighters.” (The problem remains that this incident had nothing whatsoever to do with either the upcoming elections or with the Kosova Protection Corps.)

In spite of the international community’s involvement with and respect for Ramush

Haradinaj and his brother, the Associated Press’s rendition of the shooting, as it was portrayed by Sadik Musaj and Bislim Balaj, initially received support from several unexpected quarters, including some UN personnel, who spoke only on condition of anonymity. Clearly, Ramush’s political opponents, who questioned in the press why he and his brother had gone to Strellc armed in the middle of the night, had succeeded in throwing the Haradinajs’ version of events into question.

By Tuesday, July 12, the AP story began to unravel, when Bislim Balaj, known in Kosovar Albanian circles for his role in organized crime, shot Sadri Azem Ahmetxhekaj to death in broad daylight in Decan. Ahmetxhekaj was a man who supported the Alliance, had served with the “Agim Ramadani Brigade” during the war, and who had worked his entire life on behalf of Kosova. Simultaneously, the involvement of Balaj and the Musaj family in the trafficking of drugs, weapons, and gasoline and their attacks on innocent civilians, abduction of former members of the KLA, and ill treatment of members of the Kosova Protection Corps was revealed in the Kosovar Albanian press. It

was also reported that the Alliance for the Future of Kosova, the Kosova Protection Corps, and other responsible Kosovar Albanian individuals and groups had warned

UNMIK and KFOR on numerous occasions about the criminal activities of these

individuals, but no action was taken to arrest them.

On Thursday, July 13, Daut Haradinaj walked through the streets of Decan in an effort to calm the civilian population. At the same time, the Alliance for the Future of Kosova called for a full-scale investigation of the attack on the Haradinajs and the illegal

activities of the Musaj family and other armed groups operating in the vicinity of Peja and Decan. The Alliance was to later learn that the UNMIK police and the Italian KFOR

had been aware all along about the structure of these criminal operations and their future

plans, but they had failed to intervene.

Even so, when Ramush Haradinaj returned from Germany, he publicly apologized to the Musaj family for his late-night visit, speculating that they had acted out fear, and invited them to meet with him. He further explained that he had no knowledge of the abduction of soldiers from his zone in postwar Kosova. As he told Zeri: “I may have made a mistake in going to the Musaj house late at night, but there was absolutely no reason to attack me with a hand grenade. Also, this incident is being inappropriately connected to events that occurred after the war. There was real chaos when the NATO bombing ended. The chain of command collapsed. Soldiers, battalions, and special units, including many from Albania, moved throughout Kosova and chose their own directions. I do not know anything about the missing soldiers of the “Mergimi Brigade” [purportedly some four to six men from this brigade were apprehended in Peja and taken to Ratish]. I had neither public nor private contacts with this group, and I do not know

how they operated during the period of demilitarization. But I do know that they were never registered in the Dukagjin zone, where I was the commander, and I also

can attest to the fact that my people and I have never been involved in abducting anyone.”

I said at the outset that the events of July 7 have implications for Kosova’s political future. Why? Because many policy makers in the West do not realize who Ramush Haradinaj is. They do not know that he is regarded by the people of Kosova as the heart and soul of the Kosova Liberation Army in its finest manifestations as a Kosovar Albanian people’s movement for liberation from brutal occupation and genocide at the hands of Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic and his henchmen. They do not know that, when he could have benefited financially from his military status after the war, he chose instead to return to his village and then begin the difficult work of restoring the lives of the traumatized Albanian people of Kosova. They do not know that Ramush is fluent in Albanian, French, and English; that his wife to be is Finnish; and that he is fiercely devoted to the human rights of all peoples. They do not know that Ramush Haradinaj has the respect and support of the majority of Kosovar Albanians because they believe that he has integrity, compassion, intelligence, and unwavering commitment to the Albanian national cause in a political landscape where opportunism has often prevailed, sadly with the support of the international community.

Above all, policy makers in the West should realize that if Kosova is to become a genuine democratic state, then the Alliance for the Future of Kosova, as well as other

parties outside those that already have been baptized by the UN Mission, must have the

opportunity to emerge and compete. Without the development of an authentic democratic process in Kosova, including the establishment of a multiparty system and a free market economy, one-party rule will result, and, as in Bosnia and Russia, a small numb er of ruling elites will end up controlling all of the resources. Although this outcome would violate the spirit and intent of the majority of Kosovars, it threatens to

become a reality in large measure because the West continues to limit Kosova’s political

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