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A Civil Alternative: An Evaluation of the IOM KPC Program


By
Anna Di Lellio
July, 2005



The main feature of the demilitarization, demobilization and reintegration of thousands of Kosovo Liberation Army's (KLA) combatants is the Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC), a civil defense organization officially constituted in January 2000 with no role in any task involved in the maintenance of law and order. The selection, recruitment and training of the KPC were entrusted to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) by the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and Kosovo NATO forces (KFOR).

Although the IOM KPC program was developed in a unique context, it provides useful suggestions for other reintegration cases.

In the first place, it confirms the importance of some general features of successful reintegration: namely, the flexibility of program's design and implementation, the focus on professionalism and engagement, and the development of local ownership.

Most importantly, it shows how by establishing a direct link between training, capacity building, and employment, a reintegration program could be successful even in the context of great political uncertainty and instability. Necessary ingredients of this success are a centralized organization of the program and the local leadership's strong support.

In particular, the IOM KPC program is a showcase for the unique experiment of linking the reintegration of demobilized combatants to the creation of a socially useful organization such as a civil emergency agency. This experiment could serve as a model for any post-conflict society with great needs for structural reconstruction and confidence building.

What is the KPC?

At the end of the NATO bombing campaign, the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 established Kosovo as an international protectorate, and demanded the demilitarization of the KLA, the guerrilla group which had fought against the Milosevic regime forces. KFOR and the KLA signed the Undertaking on Demilitarization and Demobilization of the U€K, calling for the demilitarization of all Kosovo Albanians. The terms of this agreement stipulated also that an "Army of Kosovo on the lines of the US National Guard" would be formed "in due course." The KLA was then given three months to demilitarize.

In September 1999, the Commander of KFOR signed a Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC) Statement of Principles (accepted by the former Chief of Staff of the KLA, Lt. Gen. Agim €eku), and established the KPC in order to absorb a significant portion of the KLA leadership and ranks into an emergency service agency. That same day, on 20 Sept. 99, the KPC was established with UNMIK Regulation 1999/8. It was agreed that the KPC would consist of 5052 members, 3052 active members and 2000 reserves, 10% of them minorities.

The IOM Program

The IOM established an Information, Counseling and Referral Service (ICRS) to register all demobilized KLA--some 25,723 former combatants--by November 1999. Of the 20,271 who applied for a position in the KPC, 13,739 chose to undergo a KPC Recruitment Battery Test. The final selection was made by KFOR together with the KPC. The KPC was formally constituted on 21 Jan 2000.

The IOM had a multi-pronged approach to the development of the KPC. It established the School of Civil Protection, a long-term "Train the Trainers" program with classes on a variety of subjects, from civil protection training to management. It is a permanent institution within TRADOC, which provides the KPC with a Simulation Center, Computer and English Language Labs, Training Aids Support and Publication and Distribution Centers. Beyond formal training, the IOM also implemented an advisory program, embedding international experts at every level of the KPC structure; planned and executed deployments abroad to work and compete with civilian emergency agencies; and supported the KPC with both funds and expertise in humanitarian projects five years after its establishment, the KPC has developed a sizable track record of interventions in civil emergencies and a positive public image as a professional civil protection organization.

There are still problems for the organization. It lacks equipment and infrastructure. Its record on minority recruitment is still far from being satisfactory. While led by a respected former officer of the Yugoslavian Army, Lt Gen €eku, the KPC leadership overall lags behind the required capacities to manage about 3,000 members with varying degrees of skills. Overall, however, the IOM KPC Program managed to achieve its objective despite several impeding factors. Two issues, beyond the IOM team's responsibility, have certainly represented serious problems for the development of the KPC and are the cause of organizational shortcomings detailed above:

  1. Uneven coordination and planning, due to the erratic control role exercised by UNMIK, which by law has authority for the KPC; the equally inconsistent commitment of KFOR, mandated with the supervision of the KPC; the exclusion of provincial institutions from any oversight of the KPC; the absence of a coordinated policy for civil emergencies; and the lack of an integrated strategy encompassing economic development, justice and reconciliation at the provincial level.
  2. Lack of funding, that led to the closing down of the IOM program by October 2004. The program had been fully funded by the US Government, and desperately needed further donations for infrastructure and equipment that were never forthcoming.

However, measured against key issues in reintegration programs, the IOM KPC Program is quite successful in its implementation:

Local ownership

IOM has worked in close contact with the ex-combatants at all levels in the KPC and has involved them in the program, by providing in-house training and advice as well as by "training the trainers."

Flexibility

The design of the program showed from the start a high degree of flexibility, with its articulation in different phases and its multiple components of training, humanitarian assistance, out-of-country deployments, institution building, and international cooperation. In addition, the IOM team had the ability to understand when things were not working in the right way, and the flexibility to change the program accordingly. The most notable example: when it became clear that training was not enough to develop specific skills, embedded IOM advisors supplied the necessary support to the organization's weak management.

Quality of Training

The training provided by IOM and the education delivered in the School of Civil Protection, tailored to a civilian organization, has moved the KPC closer to European standards than civil protection ever was in former Yugoslavia and made it a model for the region. Instructors from the College of Civil Defense in Ankara recently visited the KPC to observe and learn vehicle extrication techniques.

IOM Staff

IOM staff is highly trained and with experience in the region. About half of the team worked in Kosovo for the past four years and joined the program at an early stage, with a core group that started at the very beginning. This staff has ensured continuity in the context of a fast changing environment, exemplified by the quick turn over at KFOR, the only other organization that in the initial phase was at least partially engaged in training the KPC.

Coordination

The synergy with the IOM Information, Counseling and Referral Service (ICRS) has been as important in the initial crucial phase, with no delays in developing the registration and demobilization of thousands of KLA fighters, completed in five months. Later on, IOM has continued to operate in consultation with UNMIK and KFOR and collaborated with the CoE EUR- OPA Major Hazards Agreement Committee in designing the School of Civil Protection's classes, thereby ensuring high standards of training.

Reconciliation

IOM has tried to combine reintegration and reconciliation through works of reconstruction in minority communities. This program has made some significant, albeit limited inroads, in communities where the image of the KPC is extraordinarily negative for the following reasons: because of its roots in the Albanian insurgency; for its ideological portrayal by the Serb media before and after the fall of Milosevic; and for the pressure from the Serb political leadership to stop cooperating with Kosovo institutions.

Measuring Impact

In order to measure the IOM program's overall success at reintegration realistically, we must account for its impact on the goals of the demobilization of the KLA, and thus consider broader factors. The KPC was established as an emergency service agency, but its aspiration to become an army was kept alive during the tense negotiation on demilitarization and demobilization between NATO leaders and the Commanders of the KLA. It was formalized in the agreement. However, it had to remain an aspiration for former combatants committed to create an independent Kosovo, until Kosovo continued ceased? to be an international protectorate with its security entrusted to NATO troops.

This ambiguity surrounding the establishment of the KPC is reflected in the form it took, including the name of the organization, which plays on the two meanings of the Albanian word mbrojtje (protection and defense), or the use of military ranks and insignia similar to the KLA's. It was, at the time, an acceptable compromise, which made it possible for the KLA leadership to persuade most of the rank and file to buy into the process of demilitarization, a goal achieved after an intense internal debate, not a result to be taken for granted.

For the international community, the goals of the agreement were:
  • avoid the possibility that the guerrillas could turn into a "Kosovo Taliban" force, potentially dangerous for their former allies;
  • offset short-term security threats;
  • provide longer-term reintegration into civilian life through the creation of a civil emergency agency.

While the first two were clear from the start, the third was transformed by the terms and the implementation of the agreement and became a medium-term "truce" until the Kosovo's political status was defined. During this "truce," competing interpretations of the compromise reached were consolidated into item #3.

There are critics who consider this compromise insufficiently linked to serious political considerations, and in utter disregard of international laws. For Serb authorities, the KLA is and will always be an illegitimate challenger of Serbia's sovereignty over Kosovo, and thus they equate it with terrorism and crime. Among these critics, the denial of any KLA strategic role during the NATO campaign renders any KLA role in post-conflict inappropriate.

There is also the opposite criticism, reflecting a widespread opinion among the Kosovo Albanian public that judges the KLA's demilitarization negatively. Indifferently from their political orientation, participants in focus groups across Kosovo say that the establishment of the KPC represented "a betrayal," and "a humiliation." They perceive the KPC as an imposition and, at best, a temporary solution,- because the destiny of the KLA is to become the army of Kosovo.

This is not the place to enter into a detailed discussion of such contradictory views. It is enough to say that informed sources and interviews with the protagonists of that history provide convincing evidence confirming NATO's view of the KLA as an ally in 1999, and the KLA view of itself as such.

To conclude, evaluating the impact of the IOM program against the objectives of KLA demobilization and reintegration into civilian life through the establishment of the KPC has to take into account broader factors, such as the Kosovo conflict dynamics.

First Objective: avoid the possibility of a "Kosovo Taliban" Force

The KLA could have represented a threat to the international presence in Kosovo, whose arrival had coincided with the establishment of a UN-led administration, and thus fallen much short of the goal of Kosovo independence.

The ICRS IOM program started with a very inclusive registration process and immediately engaged anyone who claimed to be a former fighter, both the core group and the more peripheral members. By involving the KLA in a process of demobilization that widely recognized the role of insurgents, IOM avoided the creation of marginal and disgruntled groups.

The timing was also important. When the decision to demilitarize the KLA was taken in the immediate aftermath of the war, Kosovo domestic security situation was very tense. People identified as wearing the KLA uniform committed a series of violent and criminal acts. Human rights reports, which have gathered records of such violence, also admit that there is no evidence attributing those acts to an orchestrated strategy by the KLA. KLA leadership, for its part, has always denied any involvement, and the main responsibility for lack of security in post-conflict Kosovo rests with KFOR. However, the same reports point to the fact that the law enforcement authorities established by the KLA in the summer of 1999, if not engaged in collective revenge, were at best unwilling to protect minorities from reprisal, as well as being incapable of ensuring the safety of Albanians from political and extra-judicial justice.

In this context, the quick completion of KLA demobilization mattered. Thousands of weapons were disposed of and this helped improve the internal security' situation. That large caches of arms were subsequently discovered is less a test of demilitarization failure than a reflection of more serious phenomena, the strong sense of insecurity even under the protection of NATO, that were confirmed later by the lack of success of amnesty campaigns.

It also mattered that the IOM KPC program immediately engaged the KPC senior managers and focused them on how to structure a civil protection organization. Shortly afterwards, all members of the KPC were involved in training courses as well as reconstruction works. The quick development of a public information campaign ensured that Kosovo society would be informed about the civilian functions of the KPC and start identifying former combatants with their new roles.

Second Objective: offset short-term security threats

Whether the establishment of the KPC reduced the short-term threats to internal security or to cross borders guerrilla activity is another question and remains a matter of contention. Some studies report an astonishingly extensive connection between members of the KPC and ethnic Albanian fighters in Macedonia and Southern Serbia as clear evidence of demobilization's failure, although the figures mentioned are based on pure speculation. There is either no reference to any source, or reports are based on sources that are parties to the conflict, and therefore in need of independent confirmation. The only certain account of the number of KPC members who remained mobilized as guerrillas in nearby countries, is the number of those who have been clearly identified and duly dismissed from the organization.

A counter question is how many more former KLA fighters would have become involved other ethnic Albanian insurgencies without the existence of the KPC, given the highly volatile political context of the post-conflict situation. Independent recommendations on regional security made at the time emphasize that the mere existence of a structured organization such as the KPC would help to keep a large number of potential insurgents under control.

The evidence supports this idea. During 2001, a closer KFOR involvement in training increased the capacity building as well the supervision of the KPC, curbing absenteeism and potential security lapses. Most importantly, the multi-layered IOM program, based on training, management advise and deployment abroad, kept a large number of KPC occupied. A closer look at the growth of training activities, including the establishment of the School of Civil Protection, but also at the number of humanitarian projects in which the KPC took the lead, gives a clear sense of the development of the KPC. It was a development that also enhanced the image of the organization among the public, and fulfilled the rank and file's aspiration to feel and look professional.

Thus, while the question above has no real answer, it does suggest the possibility that other factors, such as conflict's regional dynamics and NATO's security failure, allowed for unchecked movements to conflict areas by individuals other than KPC members. No further cross-border activity has been registered after the 2001 Lake Ohrid agreement, which provided a political solution to the Albanian insurgency in Macedonia. Similarly, the guerrilla fully demobilized in Southern Serbia when in the spring 2001 the Belgrade government implemented a plan to end discrimination against Albanians and NATO gradually let Serbian forces reoccupy the Demilitarized Zone.

Third Objective: Reintegration as Medium Term "Truce"

The KPC has never relinquished the idea of becoming the army of an independent Kosovo. A critical question is thus whether the fact that the KPC holds longer-term goals at odds with its officially-mandated mission can interfere with the success of the reintegration program. The answer is positive only if the objective of the program was clearly the longer-term reintegration into civilian life. As explained earlier, this objective has changed at least in part, and has become a medium-term "truce," in anticipation of Kosovo statehood. In this case, the relation between KPC members' aspiration to become an army and the success of the IOM reintegration program has become more complicated, and so the answer to the above question.

In interviews and informal conversation with KPC members, they all stress the fact that while working within the limit of the civil emergency mandate, they still see their future differently. The leadership, in particular, has never looked at the KPC merely as an avenue for employment in the civil sector, a sentiment based on political considerations but also a strong corporate culture. The central staff and mid-level leaders are fairly young groups, educated, with military experience, and early joiners of the KLA. Field members, although with less seniority in the KLA, were more often in the front line. Their shared memory of suffering and rebellion is psychologically very important. It gives special intensity to their relationships, and a great deal of pride, which allows them to withstand very difficult living conditions, especially the low salaries and the necessary dependence on family financial support in order to survive. Thus, in interesting ways, the KPC corporate culture is a contributing factor to the success of the program.

Because of the uncertainty surrounding the future, the development of a professional civil organization such as the KPC has greatly contributed to offset the frustration not just of the KPC members, but also of the Kosovo population at large.

The KPC aspiration to become a defense force is, in fact, consistent with a broader political context. Insights gained from public opinion surveys and in-depth interviews among Kosovo Albanians reveal that the transformation of the KPC into an army is a foregone conclusion and a strongly held dream. One could make much of the political wrangling among parties, whose rivalries date back to the emergence of the KLA and linger in the make-up of the KPC, but there is a general agreement on this also in the local leadership. The reason is that Kosovars, whose sense of security is very fragile no matter the ethnic affiliation, tend to rely on indigenous, rather than foreign structures of defense. The KPC is the "natural" embodiment of a local defense force for Kosovo Albanians, who, in focus groups, express deep trust in the organization and its Commander LG Agim €eku. This positive evaluation recognizes the KPC's professionalism, mentioned as a reason to be proud of the KPC as a matter of "national identity."

The role played by the IOM program in this regard has been crucial, because it has helped project the image of an organization engaged in "working hard for the people," a role fully acknowledged in focus groups. IOM has thus indirectly contributed to make the KPC a creative compromise between political aspirations and political realities in the medium term. The problem is how long this will last. The end of the medium term?

As there are competing interpretations on the establishment of the KPC, there are competing views on what the KPC is now, as well as on its future development. It is the contention of this report that the unsolved disagreement has come to represent a major obstacle to the success of reintegration. There is an opinion among the international community that the former KLA and its offshoot, the KPC, have interlocking links with illegal organizations and activities. In April 2003, a failed terrorist attack on a railway bridge in the northern part of Kosovo led to the death of the perpetrator, a KPC officer, and revived suspicions among the international community of an institutional KPC involvement in nationalist political violence.

We shouldn't underestimate the impact that these suspicions, turned into a collective condemnation of the KPC, have had on reintegration. They have certainly weakened international support, and donor funding, already lacking, has dried out. Also, by making the transformation of the KPC in a structure of "national defense" appear unacceptable, they might seriously undermine KPC members' resolve to perform their tasks, slowing down the development of the organization.

The KPC Commander LG Agim €eku strongly denies that the KPC is institutionally linked to extremism and crime. Public opinion among Kosovo Albanians also believes that KPC members engaged in terrorist activities are individual "bad apples," and should be recognized as such. To neglect this fundamental distinction, they say, would be tantamount to criminalizing the KPC. There is no hard evidence of an institutional connection between the KPC and any guerrilla group or criminal organization. However, the KPC have not been capable to make a compelling argument in their defense, by demonstrating that they still lag behind the rule of law's standards. For example, the KPC leadership has judged accusations of war crimes leveled against former KLA fighters and KPC members - most notable among them Daut Haradinaj, Seli Veseli, Rustem Mustafa - as unfair indictments. In order to guarantee real reintegration, strengthening education in the rule of law and human rights might be the necessary path to take. The IOM program, with its focus on building technical and organizational expertise, has underestimated the importance of such instructions.

It appears that the ambiguity of the KPC could now become the major obstacle for a fully successful reintegration. However, the verdict is still out. With the start of the debate on Kosovo status nearing in 2005, ideas about shaking the status quo, previously very abstract, have become a reality. A team of advisors from the UK Ministry of Defense is assisting UNMIK in planning the creation of a Kosovo Defense Force on the model of a Gendarmerie. It is not clear what the role of the KPC, if any, will be in this process. What is clear is the KPC aspiration to be a fundamental part of any future Defense Force.

Lessons to be Drawn from the IOM KPC Program

When evaluating the IOM KPC program, complicating factors such as the uncertain political status of Kosovo and the subsequent uncertainty surrounding the longer-term definition of the KPC cannot be overestimated. However, the design and the implementation of the program remain a showcase for a unique experiment: linking the reintegration of demobilized combatants to the creation of a civil emergency agency. This experiment could serve as a model for any post-conflict society where the needs for structural reconstruction and confidence building are great.

Additional Resources

Homepage of the Kosovo International Organization on Migration which includes the full book on KPC training in English, Albanian, and Serbian (forthcoming).

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