The United States secretly supported the ethnic Albanian extremists now behind insurgencies in Macedonia and southern Serbia.
The CIA encouraged former Kosovo Liberation Army fighters to launch a rebellion in southern Serbia in an effort to undermine the then Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, according to senior European officers who served with the international peace-keeping force in Kosovo (K-For), as well as leading Macedonian and US sources.
They accuse American forces with K-For of deliberately ignoring the massive smuggling of men and arms across Kosovo's borders.
The accusations were made in a series of interviews by The Observer . They emerge as America has been forced into a rapid U-turn over its support for Albanian extremists in Kosovo seeking a 'Greater Kosovo' that would include Albanian communities in Serbia and Macedonia.
In the past week ethnic Albanian guerrillas have intensified their campaign of attacks in the two areas, threatening a new war in the region which lastoh week put US troops in the firing line in the Balkans for the first time.
The accusations have led to tension in K-For between the European and US military missions. European officers are furious that the Ameri cans have allowed guerrilla armies in its sector to train, smuggle arms and launch attacks across two international borders. One European K-For battalion commander told The Observer yesterday: 'The CIA has been allowed to run riot in Kosovo with a private army designed to overthrow Slobodan Milosevic. Now he's gone the US State Department seems incapable of reining in its bastard army.'
He added: 'Most of last year, there was a growing frustration with US support for the radical Albanians. US policy was and still is out of step with the other Nato allies.'
The claim was backed by senior Macedonian officials in the capital, Skopje. 'What has been happening with the National Liberation Army [which has been responsible for a series of attacks on Macedonia's borders in recent weeks] and the UCPMB [its sister organisation in southern Serbia] is very similar to what happened when the KLA was launched in 1995-96,' said one. 'I will say only this: the US intelligence agencies have not been honest here.'
The claims were given extra credence from an unexpected source - Arben Xhafari, leader of Macedonia's main Albanian party who tried to prevent the crisis on the border igniting an ethnic civil war inside Macedonia itself.
A US State Department official blamed the last administration. There had now been 'a shift of emphasis'.