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Kosovo: Djindjic Investigation Having Minimal Impact

  • Jolyon Naegele

The investigation into the 12 March assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic has seen the questioning of more than 8,000 suspects and the arrest of some 2,000 amid revelations concerning other political murders. While perhaps putting Serbia on the road toward political stability, the investigation has had minimal impact so far on Kosovo. RFE/RL looks at the impact on the province, which is jointly administered by local authorities and the UN.

Prague, 11 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The wide-ranging Serbian investigation into the 12 March assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic has yet to make public any connection to unsolved political murders in Kosovo.

What investigators and politicians have told the media so far has focused almost entirely on Serbian-Montenegrin domestic issues. Nevertheless, it can be expected -- provided there is sufficient political will in Belgrade -- that the investigation could shed light on criminal links and political violence in Kosovo, as well as Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Investigators may decide to look into the activities in Kosovo and southern Serbia's Presevo Valley of the Red Berets paramilitary unit. The unit was disbanded shortly after Djindjic's assassination after it was found that its leadership had been behind the shooting and that its deputy commander had been the sniper who killed the Serbian prime minister.

However, it is likely to take prodding by prosecutors from the Hague war crimes tribunal before investigators shift from their current focus on organized crime and its link to people in senior positions in the police and military.

There are numerous cases of unsolved political murders of moderate Albanians across Kosovo in the last four years. The killings of officials close to Kosovo's President Ibrahim Rugova may well prove to be the work of veteran Albanian insurgents frustrated with postwar developments and unfulfilled expectations.

However, attacks on certain former Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) commanders and on Albanian civilians, particularly in the first year after the withdrawal of Serbian forces from the province in June 1999, could have connections with some of the suspects in Belgrade's current investigation.

A spokesman for UN police in Kosovo, Barry Fletcher, told RFE/RL that organized crime in Kosovo is part of a regional network of organized crime throughout Southeastern Europe. "Albanian organized crime cooperates perfectly well with Serbian organized crime," he said.

There has been some speculation in the news media that Serbian suspects have fled to Kosovo. Fletcher said such reports are plausible since the boundary between Kosovo and Serbia is not an international border and offers hundreds of ways to cross back and forth. "In terms of criminals fleeing into Kosovo in order to escape the Serbian authorities -- it's possible." However, Fletcher said there is no evidence that any criminals from Serbia are currently hiding in Kosovo to avoid the latest crackdown.

Djindjic's death initially relieved some of the pressure that he had been exerted on Kosovo earlier this year. Nevertheless, Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic, whose main responsibility is Kosovo and southern Serbia, but whose comments on Kosovo were rarely taken with the same degree of seriousness as those of Djindjic, is once again waving the Kosovo card. He has threatened yet another war in the event that Kosovo declares independence. Similarly, Djindjic's successor, Zoran Zivkovic, has rejected any suggestions that Serbia would accept independence for Kosovo.

The issue is actually moot since in the event of such a declaration, the head of the UN mission would repeal it immediately and could respond by dissolving parliament. The international community has repeatedly stated that only the UN Security Council can determine Kosovo's future status. Regardless of what Covic, Zivkovic, or Kosovar Albanian leaders say, any such decision is unlikely to happen for at least two years.

Covic and Kosovo Serb leaders are also concerned about the UN mission's ongoing transfer of authority to Kosovo's institutions, which are almost all controlled by Kosovar Albanians. They perceive this as some sort of back entrance to de facto independence. It is not, since key areas such as external policy remain in the domain of the UN mission and will not be transferred.

Nevertheless, Kosovo Serb leaders allege this transfer is causing a radicalization of relations. But this posturing is little more than a threat to limit contacts by boycotting Serbian participation in Kosovo's interim institutions.

The head of the Democratic Party of Kosovo, Hashim Thaci, met with UN mission chief Michael Steiner today to discuss Thaci's proposal for declaring a moratorium on solving Kosovo's final status, a move backed by the international community and made in an apparent effort to diffuse renewed Serbian concern about the potential loss of Kosovo.

Kosovar Albanians are eager for independence but unlikely to achieve it in the foreseeable future. One year ago, Steiner established a program of "standards before status" -- a series of benchmarks that have to be achieved before the status issue can be addressed.

The chances of Kosovo returning to some sort of common state with Serbia and Montenegro are slim. Djindjic conceded this in private. Covic and Zivkovic must know this as well.

But leading members of the ruling DOS coalition in Belgrade have yet to inform Serbian voters that Serbia will not regain de facto control over Kosovo. That's because of the high political costs for anyone who would sign away what Serbs traditionally call the "cradle of Serbian civilization," even if Serbs constitute barely 10 percent of Kosovo's population of nearly 2 million.