The Halifax Herald Limited, September 10, 2001
NATO playing favourites in treatment of indicted war criminal
Indicted war criminal Agim Ceku still collects a UN paycheque
By Scott Taylor ON TARGET
WITH SOME 200 troops now on the ground in Macedonia, as part of NATO's latest intervention force, it's about time somebody started seriously questioning Canada's long-range Balkan policy.
Throughout the decade of bloody civil wars in the 90s, which accompanied the disintegration of Yugoslavia, Canadian soldiers have been on continuous deployment to the region. Originally serving as UN peacekeepers (who evolved into NATO peacemakers by the time of the Kosovo crisis), Canada's military had become a belligerent in this complex conflict. Despite our oft changing role, one constant that has remained is the reality experienced by our frontline soldiers, which is rarely reflected by the Western (read: U.S. State Department inspired) media portrayals of the ongoing Yugoslavian tragedy.
The most vivid examples of this dichotomy became evident during the 1999, 78-day NATO air campaign against Yugoslavia. As cockney spokesman Jamie Shea took to the airwaves to demonize the Serbian people and justify NATO's attacks, respected veteran officers such as General Lewis Mackenzie and Colonel Don Ethell spoke out to publicly denounce Canada's participation in the bombing. Having witnessed first-hand the multi-factional hatred which pervades the Balkan theatre, Canadian soldiers are unwilling to assign blame and/or take sides in this brutal civil war. However, driven by U.S. interests and fuelled by a jingoistic media corps, NATO leaders have not been so hesitant to play favourites.
This current crisis in Macedonia originated last March with Albanian guerrillas attacking from inside NATO-occupied Kosovo. The guns carried by the Albanians were the same weapons that NATO was to have removed from the Kososvo Liberation Army (known as the UCK) back in 1999. However, over the past two years with a powerful 40,000 strong occupation force, NATO has been unwilling and/or unable to strip these Albanian (UCK) guerrillas of their arsenal. Only now that a wave of terror has been successfully exported into heretofore peaceful Macedonia, and the UCK have seized control of some 30 per cent of Macedonia territory, has NATO decided to intervene.
The Canadian Combat Group which has been hastily dispatched from service in Bosnia to participate in the Macedonia mission is equipped with new Coyote reconnaissance vehicles. These state of the art armoured personnel carriers have been roundly praised by NATO spokesmen for "providing a vital asset in monitoring the flow of illegal arms across Macedonian/Kosovo border."
Disgruntled Macedonian citizens are correct in asking "if such a surveillance capability existed within NATO's arsenal-why wasn't it employed to prevent Albanians from entering Macedonia in the first place?"
A similar stumper could be posed to NATO spokesmen regarding their reluctance to arrest the UCK's military figurehead General Agim Ceku, an indicted war criminal. Many of our peacekeepers witnessed the barbarism committed by Ceku's troops in Croatia in 1993 and 1995 and it is largely on the strength of Canadian soldiers testimony that The Hague War Crimes Tribunal has been forced to issue this rogue commander a sealed indictment.
Agim Ceku, an Albanian Kosovar by birth, began his military career as an officer in the former federal Yugoslavian Army (JNA). When the initial Yugoslav break-up occurred in 1991, Ceku was quick to switch his loyalty to the Croatian cause of independence. As a colonel in the Croatian army, Ceku commanded the notorious 1993 operation now known as the Medak Pocket.
It was here that the men of the Second Battalion Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry came face to face with the vulgar savagery of which Ceku was capable. Over 200 Serbian inhabitants of the Medak Pocket were slaughtered in a grotesque manner (female rape victims were found after being burned alive). Our traumatized troops that buried the grisly remains were encouraged to collect evidence.
Nevertheless in 1995, Ceku, by then a general of artillery, was still at large. In fact, he was the officer responsible for shelling the Serbian refugee columns and for targeting the UN "safe" city of Knin during the Croatian offensive known as Operation Storm.
Just a few months after the Storm atrocities, Canada's own Louise Arbour began making a name for herself as the chief prosecutor for The Hague tribunal. Despite the Canadian connection to these alleged crimes, Arbour and her lawyers chose instead to pursue more "politically prominent" individuals and seemingly little was done to bring Ceku to justice.
Fast forward to January 1999 and the world's attention begins to focus on a war ravaged Kosovo. With the blessing of the U.S. State Department, Agim Ceku took his retirement (at age 37) from the Croatian army and was pronounced Supreme Commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK).
Throughout the air campaign against Yugoslavia, Ceku was portrayed as a loyal ally and he was frequently present at the NATO briefings with top generals such as Wesley Clark and Michael Jackson.
Under terms of the Kosovo peace deal, Ceku's Albanian guerrillas were to be disarmed and re-constituted into a UN sponsored, (non-military) disaster relief organization known as the Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC). ButCeku's UCK never gave up their guns - nor their quest for a Greater Albania.
Although he is nominally maintaining an 'arms-length' posture towards his former comrades, Agim Ceku is still worshipped as a saviour by both the UCK troops and Albanian-minority in Macedonia.
As this indicted war criminal continues to enjoy his freedom, bask in public attention, and collect a UN paycheque, our Canadian soldiers are risking their lives to disarm his UCK in Macedonia.
All in the name of peace and justice.