By Yojana Sharma
BERLIN, Apr 29 (IPS)
Funds continue to flow South 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 Europe.
Unofficially, the German government tolerates fund-raising activities by the KLA, which draws on the generosity of some 320,000 Kosovars in Germany.
Like NATO allies, the KLA is fighting against a common enemy, Serbia.
Estimates vary widely on how much money is raised in Germany and sent South. Germany's domestic intelligence organisation, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution recently estimated that some 850,000 dollars per month are 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 organisations 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 says 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.
The Federal Credit agency says 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».
[...] German laws ban the export of weapons while German and European Union regulations make the transfer of money for weapons illegal.
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 says vaguely.
Kosovar students questioned in Berlin say they would support money going to the KLA for weapons. Although many had contributed small amounts to humanitarian organisations 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?» says one student, «We must fight them and free Kosovo.»
Kicmari himself says that Kosovars with steady jobs in Western Europe would do better to stay and «support our liberation struggle financially,» rather than volunteering to fight.
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