Albanians worried as 'Serb Godfather' arrives

April 21, 1993|By Dukso Doder | Dukso Doder,Contributing Writer

PRISTINA, Kosovo -- Arkan, known as the Serb Godfather or the Baby-Faced Killer, has arrived in this dusty provincial capital with a style borrowed from a bad Mafia movie.

Although he has swapped paramilitary fatigues for civilian clothes, his presence has created fears that Kosovo may be the next Bosnia-Herzegovina, the next Balkan battleground that the international community will fail to stop.

Arkan has taken over two floors of Pristina's majestic Grand Hotel. His shaven-headed young toughs now sport black shirts, ties and dark sunglasses as they accompany their boss on "walkabouts" through Albanian neighborhoods.

They flank him on weekly television broadcasts as he warns Albanians who do not like it in Kosovo,this southern Serbian region that Serbs consider the cradle of their civilization, to take a long hike across the mountains into Albania.

Arkan also uses television to give the Kosovo population of 2.2 million people, 90 percent Albanian, intimidating glimpses of his new military training camp on the lower slopes of Mount Grmija outside Pristina.

He has formed three detachments of more than 200 fighters each, adding a new twist to screws which have been turning for more than two years since ethnic Albanian leaders declared Kosovo's independence from the Yugoslav federation.

Even without such tactics, Arkan's notorious reputation has been enough to strike fear among Kosovo residents.

Arkan, real name Zeljko Raznjatovic, is wanted by Interpol for bank robberies in Sweden. Before the outbreak of Yugoslavia's civil war, he formed a well-trained and efficient private army which took part in the wars in Croatia and Bosnia.

Arkan's attention to Kosovo began when he was elected deputy to the Serbian parliament for the region in December elections boycotted by Kosovo's Albanians. Besides intimidating Albanians, his role appears to be designed to give the Serbian minority a psychological boost.

If a conversation between a Serbian woman and her 3-year-old grandson is anything to go by, he is succeeding: "What is going to happen when Arkan comes?" the woman asked. "Bang, bang, bang," the child replied.

In the tense, pressure-cooker atmosphere in Kosovo, Albanians privately admit their growing alarm. "We are afraid, of course we are afraid no matter how much we try not to be," said one young Albanian woman. "And I think what we are most afraid of is that this will be like Bosnia and that the outside world will not help."

Typed leaflets calling on Kosovo's Albanians to take up arms against the region's Serb minority have been circulating here during the past few weeks. They are signed by an organization nobody has heard of, and Albanians say they believe the leaflets are the work of the Serbian police. "They want to cause an incident that would justify a full-scale military intervention," says a leading Albanian figure.

The Albanians have adopted a policy of non-violent resistance. They have set up their own clinics, schools and even a university. But the conditions are appalling, and funds -- mostly from relatives and other sympathetic Albanians abroad -- are running out.

"We are at breaking point," said Adem Demaci, who heads the Human Rights Organization in Kosovo. His organization has recorded a litany of Serbian police brutality.

But no major "incidents" have yet been recorded from Arkan's Black Shirts. "Their job seems to be psychological warfare and military training. But since they have come, the police have stepped up their repression," said a human rights monitor.

She said random arrests are now frequent. Police are everywhere on Kosovo streets, checking cars and documents. They make continual raids on houses on the pretext of looking for weapons.

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