Former US diplomat backs Albanian nationalist in Kosovo elections

William Walker, who exposed a Serbian 'massace' in the 1990s, is supporting Albin Kurti's party which wants unity with Albania

A veteran US diplomat whose declaration of a "massacre" by Serb forces paved the way for the Nato bombing campaign in 1999 has surprised observers by campaigning in the Kosovo elections for a radical nationalist party led by a former student rebel.

William Walker, 75, who is revered as a hero in Kosovo for leading the international monitoring mission that reported the slaughter of 45 Kosovo Albanians in the village of Racak, has appeared on the campaign trail in support of the Self-Determination party.

The movement, which has been known for covering UN and EU buildings with graffiti and clashing with police during demonstrations, has growing support among Kosovo's young population.

Kosovans began voting today in the country's first general elections since it formally declared independence from Serbia almost three years ago. Diplomats are following developments closely, amid concern that a political stalemate could destabilise the fledgling state.

In a move Walker conceded would be perceived by former colleagues in the state department as "going rogue", he has endorsed Albin Kurti, a radical 35-year-old hostile to the "colonial" presence of the international community in Kosovo.

Kurti, whose party is expected to come third in the elections, has called for a moratorium on privatisation of national enterprises and the unification of Kosovo with Albania to the south. His rallies have proved popular, with supporters draping themselves in the red Albanian flag. Kurti's party has also had the most effective, Facebook-driven, internet presence, with a Facebook-driven campaign that has dwarfed those of its rivals. Kosovo has relatively high levels of internet availability for the Balkans, and one YouTube video of Kurti defying Serb captors when he was jailed after the war has been viewed more than 40,000 times since it was posted in May.

His appeal is reflected in the youthful appearance of his supporters; standing outside his office door yesterday were two teenage activists, both of them too young to vote.

Kurti reflects a growing disenchantment among all Kosovans with the economic and political stalemate in their country. But some observers see him as a threat to stability, pointing to the unruly protests he has organised, which have often resulted in his arrest.

Speaking at his party headquarters, funded by a multimillionaire Kosovan-American businessman, Kurti cautiously welcomed Walker's intervention. "In Kosovo, I believe he [Walker] is the most famous American, along with Bill Clinton and [ex-Nato commander] Wesley Clark," he said.

Walker's report into the brutal murder of unarmed civilians by Slobodan Milosovic's Serb forces galvanised international opinion against the dictator, eventually leading the way to military intervention to protect the ethnic-Albanian population.

In a speech at a mass rally for the Self-determination party in Pristina on the eve of polls, Walker accused Kosovo's government of the same abuse of power experienced under Serbian repression in the 1990s, adding that the international community was "complicit" in today's corruption. "In a word," he said, "many of the negative aspects of the Milosovic years are being repeated: leaders addicted to the same benefits of power, a willingness to do whatever is necessary to remain in office, continued access to illicit enrichment, a leadership without moral compass."

He later said that his move was "a little unusual" and conceded that he did not agree with all of Kurti's policies. But he said that, in a bid to maintain stability, the international community in Kosovo was "looking the other way" while prime minister Hashim Thaci's party profited from corruption.


Paul Lewis in Pristina

The GuardianTramp

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