by Yojana Sharma
(IPS) BERLIN --
continue to flow to the Kosovo
Liberation Army (KLA), often to buy arms, despite warnings by Germany's
credit agencies that Kosovo Albanians could be using accounts in Northern
Europe to launder the gains of heroin-trafficking gangs operating around
Unofficially, the German government tolerates fund-raising activities by the KLA, which draws in part the generosity of some 320,000 Kosovars in Germany to fund its guerilla war against Serbia.
Germany's Federal Credit Supervisory Agency has warned the Association of German Banks that they could be breaking the law by allowing several suspect Kosovo Albanian accounts to remain open.
vary widely on how much money is raised in Germany and sent south.
Germany's domestic intelligence organization, the Federal Office for the
Protection of the Constitution, recently estimated that some $850,000 per
month is sent from the country to support the KLA war effort.
Germany has the largest concentration of ethnic Albanians outside the Balkans and many are asked to contribute some three percent of their net wages to support the war. This percentage was first mentioned in a call for solidarity by Kosovar leader Bujar Bukoshi, who now lives in exile in Bonn.
As support for the Kosovo rebels grows among ethnic Albanians in Germany, many find donations a satisfying way to support the war effort.
Many would like to fight, but a large number are refugees in Germany and Austria. Travelling to the Balkans to take part in the fighting -- as many say they would like to do -- would jeopardize their asylum status.
However, precisely because many Kosovo Albanians are asylum seekers living on state welfare, analysts say the funds raised seem higher than what Kosovars in Germany could afford to be paying.
Police, banking organizations and anti-drug agencies suspect much of the money is sent to German, Swiss and Austrian accounts by clans who run the heroin trade in Southern Europe.
Germany's Federal Credit Supervisory Agency said clear evidence of laundering has emerged from investigations into Kosovar businesses and travel agencies in Northern Europe -- many of them front companies set up to launder criminal gains.
Kosovar humanitarian aid organizations say funds not only come from Kosovars in Western Europe but generous Germans and other Europeans as well, and this would account for the large sums.
Shaqir Gashi is a member of the Mother Theresa Association for Humanitarian Welfare with branches in a number of German cities which organize aid to refugees in the Balkans. His group is purely humanitarian with no links to fighting groups.
He said Germans were also extremely ready to make donation in cash and kind. "Without the Germans," he said recently, "we would never make it." But analysts in Berlin say that this cannot be true for the KLA.
Little if any of their funding comes from outside their own ethnic group.
The Federal Credit agency said funds are not only from dubious sources, but also that funds earmarked for humanitarian purposes are finding their way into other accounts and going towards "fulfilling the military needs of the KLA."
authorities have long been concerned about funds being used for
arms purchases by the KLA. German laws ban the export of weapons while German
and European Union regulations make the transfer of money for weapons
The German Bank regulatory authorities have also been particularly concerned about the Democratic Association of Albanians in Germany (DVAD) founded six years ago.
The Office for the Protection of the Constitution maintains the DVAD is a front organization for a guerilla-linked organization, the Peoples Movement of Kosovo.
In a media interview recently, DVAD chairman Ibrahim Kelmendi admitted there was no way to be "absolutely certain" that money raised in the country would not be used to buy weapons.
"We are not collecting money for weapons," Kelmendi was quoted as saying. "We are collecting funds for humanitarian aid. But it is possible that the money we have collected and sent has been used for weapons."
One fund in particular, "Homeland Seeks Help," based in the small German town of Siegburg near Bonn and operated by the DVAD, is suspected of using funds for arms purchases. That fund continues to take donations.
"It is certainly possible there will always be abuses," said Kelmendi.
According to banks, large sums are still being paid into the account of the DVAD, despite warnings by the Federal Credit Agency that money is being withdrawn in cash and carried to Switzerland for distribution to Kosovar groups including the KLA.
The German government has considered several times whether to ban the DVAD over the illicit use of funds raised in Germany. This week the government said only that German police continue to monitor the funds and would intervene "appropriately."
And even if the German authorities were to find a way to close down these accounts and prevent the DVAD from fund-raising, Kelmendi maintains Kosovars in Germany would "find other ways to help their families back home."
The KLA representative in Germany Sabri Kicmari admits that donations from Kosovars in Germany, Austria and Switzerland are an important source of funding for the KLA.
However, Kicmari will not divulge how much money has been collected by the KLA in western Europe or how it will be spent. "That is a matter for the officers," he said.
Kosovar students questioned in Berlin say they would support money going to the KLA for weapons. Although many had contributed small amounts to humanitarian organizations, they say if they had more money, they would not hesitate to donate to the KLA even if it went towards weapons purchases.
"How can we live under the Serbs?" said one student. "We must fight them and free Kosovo."
Kicmari himself said that Kosovars with steady jobs in Western Europe would do better to stay and "support our liberation struggle financially," rather than volunteering to fight.
May 3, 1999 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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