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Balkan Report: February 20, 2001

20 February 2001, Volume 5, Number 14

'LOW I.Q. WARFARE.' This is an expression that a well-known U.S. diplomat once mentioned to your editor in regard to the war of attack and counterattack between the Serbian forces and the Kosova Liberation Army in 1998. It seems equally relevant to the violence that armed ethnic Albanian groups have waged in Presevo and Kosova in recent months.

In a very short time, the ethnic Albanian fighters have managed to establish themselves in the eyes of the international community as troublemakers and even terrorists, as the recent attack on a bus carrying Serbian civilians in Podujeva showed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2001). Now it is not only the Belgrade government and its friends who use the term "terrorist," but even prominent Kosovars themselves (see below).

The ethnic Albanians of Presevo may well feel that they have grievances that need to be remedied sooner rather than later. But neither their fighters nor those individuals who blew up the bus seem to realize that such tactics will find no sympathy in today's Europe. And as someone recently remarked, it was a less-than-brilliant feat for some armed Albanians in Presevo to behave in such a way as to facilitate a rapprochement between NATO and KFOR on the one hand and Belgrade and its security forces on the other.

The armed attacks and acts of terror come at a time when a new leadership has taken office in Belgrade, one that is nationalistic and has yet to convincingly make the kind of fundamental break with the past that the Mesic-Racan team did in Croatia (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 and 13 February 2001). But the new leadership in Belgrade is saying many of the things about democracy and reform that the international community wants to hear, and has been received with red carpets and open checkbooks as a result.

If the people who are engaging in guerrilla warfare and open terrorism really care about promoting their cause, they might take a cue from a Belgrade that has learned the value of careful diplomacy and astute public relations over brute force and bullying. If they do not, they risk becoming political outcasts in a Europe that will become increasingly sympathetic to Belgrade and its agenda (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 and 22 December 2000). (Patrick Moore)

SURROI WANTS KOSOVAR COMMITMENT TO MULTI-ETHNIC SOCIETY. Kosovar publisher Veton Surroi wrote an editorial in "Koha Ditore" on 18 February, in which he suggested that the Kosovar political parties do not sufficiently promote a tolerant and multi-ethnic society. Surroi argued that the 16 February bomb attack on a bus, which killed seven and injured 43 Serbs, was aimed at halting the internationally sponsored refugee-return plan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2001).

He concluded that "the political message [of the attackers] was directed [not towards the victims but] towards the survivors. And this makes the difference between ordinary murder and terror." Surroi added that "the message [of the attackers] is very simple: Kosovar Serbs cannot be citizens of Kosova."

Surroi recalled that in the past, Belgrade tried to deny the Kosovar Serbs their specific local identity, claiming simply that Kosova is Serbia. Now, he added, "bombs on the bus help everybody who wants to argue for a partition of Serbs and Albanians. [The bombs] help [promote] the development of [ethnically-based] enclaves and those who want to see Mitrovica divided."

Another message of the attackers was directed towards the international community, according to Surroi. Not only did the attack show that KFOR is not capable of protecting minorities -- the bombing also demonstrated that nobody is safe, not even KFOR troops. Thus, he argued, "the bomb against the bus was also a bomb against NATO, the liberators of Kosova," he added.

Surroi concludes that the Kosovar Albanians must ask themselves if they want to jeopardize their relations with NATO and whether they want to implement the policies of [indicted war criminal Slobodan] Milosevic.

The Kosovar Albanian political parties, he added, do not seem to be aware that "Kosova is about to stumble into a new trap, [a process] to which the [Albanian] Kosovars are themselves contributing."

Meanwhile, the Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms also criticized that "the political parties in Kosova use the ritual of denouncing violence...for political marketing.... [But it] is not a sincere effort that will concretely contribute to the prevention of all kinds of violence." (Fabian Schmidt)

MORE EVIDENCE AGAINST ALBANIAN POLICE BOSS? A spokesman for Albania's Prosecutor-General Arben Rakipi said that investigators are looking into possible links between former senior police officer Sokol Kociu and organized criminals (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 February 2001).

Police arrested Kociu together with the suspected drug smugglers Frederiko Durda and Arben Berballa earlier this month, but released Kociu later. Durda and Berballa are believed to belong to an international drug-trafficking network. Police recently arrested a total of 21 suspected members of the network in five European countries -- including Albania -- as well as the U.S., Venezuela, and Columbia, "Albanian Daily News" reported on 14 February. Albanian police found about $1 million in cash, as well as several automatic weapons, in the homes of Durda and Berballa.

The spokesman said that Kociu assisted the two traffickers by helping them obtain visas in fake passports. Rakipi said recently in Rome that police had "kept Kociu in the dark" about their investigation of him.

Kociu had served as Vlora police chief for less than six months in 1998 and 1999 when a group of armed smugglers abducted him and took him to the island of Sazan. The smugglers freed Kociu only after police released six speedboats that they had previously impounded.

According to the spokesman, Durda and Berballa prepared to set up a center for processing cocaine and other drugs on the outskirts of Tirana. Durda became part of the international network after he fled Albania for the U.S. in 1997.

The network smuggled drugs from Latin America and unspecified European countries to Albania where the organizers planned the distribution, according to investigators.

Some of the drugs seized from this network were on a ship carrying six tons of heroin in a Venezuelan port, and another vessel loaded with two tons of cocaine. Two further shipments of drugs were seized in Miami and Spain. The ships flew Maltese flags and were owned by a Greek company. Altogether the trafficking network is believed to have smuggled about 40 tons of drugs from Venezuela into Europe. (Fabian Schmidt)

KLEIN SACKS TWO BOSNIAN SERB POLICE OFFICIALS. Jacques Klein, who is the UN's chief representative in Bosnia, has fired two police officials in Bratunac, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported on 18 February. He charged the two with not carrying out their duty to protect Muslim returnees to the area.

He added that arrest warrants were issued for two Serbs in Srebrenica in conjunction with recent arson attacks on Muslim returnees' homes. One man is under arrest but the other fled to Yugoslavia. In the latter man's house, UN police found equipment suitable for use in arson.

Klein argued that the recent attacks against returning refugees are directed by hard-liners from within the Srebrenica Serb community.

Klein noted that about 150 Serbian families would like to leave Srebrenica for their original homes in Sarajevo and elsewhere, but that they are being intimidated from doing so by hard-liners. Klein described many of the Srebrenica Serbs as the "flotsam" of the 1991-1995 conflict, adding that many were literally put on busses by Bosnian Serb authorities and brought to the formerly largely Muslim town. (Patrick Moore)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "With his blackthorn stick, formal bearing, and tough talk of 'zero tolerance', Christopher Albiston is a policeman's policeman. But the UN's new police chief in Kosovo, a 48-year-old veteran of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, may soon feel that the problems of Northern Ireland are simple compared with the devil's brew he has now taken on." -- "The Economist," 16 February 2001.

"It's possible for minorities to lead a normal life [in Kosova].... This will take patience, time and courage." -- KFOR commander General Carlo Cabigiosu, in Shterpce, on 15 February. From a KFOR press release.

"We will have talks with representatives of the ethnic Albanian community [in the Presevo Valley]. Albanians have elected their own representatives in municipal assemblies. All, even extremists, voted for them." -- Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic, in Vienna on 16 February.

"I think lessons have to be learned. I mean what happened in this dreadful bus bombing was a sophisticated and particularly vicious attack using a command-detonated bomb which was under a culvert [a water pipe under a road]. Now, we have not seen anything like that before, so we have got to review our own security, look at our own procedures to check that we are going to meet them." -- NATO spokesman Mark Laity, in Brussels on 19 February. Quoted by RFE/RL.

GORANI DISMISS YUGOSLAV-MACEDONIAN BORDER NEGOTIATIONS. According to "Koha Ditore" of 11 February, political representatives of and citizens from the Gorani population in Dragash, southwest Kosova, reject the idea that the Yugoslav-Macedonian border commission has the right to agree on changes to the Kosova-Macedonian border. On 15 February, however, Yugoslavia and Macedonia reached an agreement on their common border, including on parts that belong to Kosova, Reuters reported. The two sides intend to ratify the agreement on 23 February at a Balkan summit in Skopje.

The agreement provides for a special status for the Prohor Pcinjski monastery near Jablanica in Serbia and for the opening of a border checkpoint in the Gora region.

Yugoslav chief negotiator Radojko Bogojevic recalled in Skopje that the two sides had failed to settle the border issue ever since Macedonia became independent in 1992. He stressed: "We managed to close the only open question in relations between the two countries, and that will surely contribute to the stabilization of the region."

His Macedonian counterpart, Viktor Dimovski, argued that according to "UN Security Council Resolution 1244...Kosovo is still a part of Yugoslavia, so we can negotiate only with the Yugoslav authorities."

The Gorani cited in the Prishtina daily, however, argue that the border of Kosova is a Kosovar affair and not one for Macedonia and Serbia to discuss.

Much of the debate focuses on the identity of the Gorani, who are Slavic-speaking Muslims, with a distinct Balkan language close to Macedonian but with distinct influences from Turkish, Albanian, and Romanian.

After World War II, academics from Belgrade and Skopje tried to argue that the Gorani are either of Serbian or Macedonian origin. But according to the last census of 1990, out of the 12,000 people living in the Gora highlands, about 50 percent identified themselves as (Bosnian-type) Muslims, 30 percent as Serbs, and 20 percent as Albanians, "Koha Ditore" reported.

The World Macedonian Congress (WMC), an emigrant organization based in Skopje, and some Macedonian academics previously called on the Macedonian border commission to advocate including in Macedonia some 30 villages that are currently within Kosova. Among these, there are about 20 villages in which about 16,000 ethnic Macedonians live, according to the WMC.

Not all people living in the area are happy about the identity imposed on them by outsiders. Nijaz Idrizi, a 34-year-old villager from Krushe near the Albanian border, identifies himself as a "Bosnjak," (meaning a Slavic-speaking Muslim). Idrizi stressed that "there is no more Yugoslavia. I have no idea which state could [claim to] talk about any question concerning Kosova -- unless it is Kosova itself."

His brother Sadik is head of the Party of Democratic Action (PAD/SDA) in the community of Dragash. He added: "I do not consider myself a Muslim Macedonian or a Serb, Albanian, or anything else. But we do consider ourselves as Kosovars and accept Kosova as our state."

Harun Asllani, the deputy chairman of the Community Council of the Sharr [Planina mountains], represents the Civic Initiative of Gora. "Koha Ditore" noted that many Albanians consider his political ties as "pro-Yugoslav." Nonetheless, Asllani rules out any redrawing of Kosova's borders by Serbia and Macedonia: "There are many people who pretend to speak on behalf of us, but we are the Gorani and our country is Gora in Kosova. Everybody has to speak for himself.... The Macedonians and Serbs can talk about what they want, but we are Muslims and have been since the time of the Turks." He explicitly ruled out the possibility of border changes: "I don't think that there is anybody among our citizens who would like to join Macedonia."

Among the main Kosovar political parties, the Macedonian-Serbian negotiations did not attract much attention. Naim Jerliu, who is the deputy chairman of the Democratic League of Kosova (LDK), stressed that "the territorial integrity of Kosova must not be threatened, and nobody has the right to discuss such a question in the first place. This is certainly nothing that the Serbian and Macedonian authorities can discuss. Only Kosova and its institutions are responsible for Kosova."

Fatmir Limaj, a senior official from the Democratic Party of Kosova, agreed: "This is not a question at all, and we do not want to discuss it. [The Serbs and Macedonians] have no mandate for such things."

Ramush Haradinaj, who leads the Alliance for the Future of Kosova, added: "[The borders of Kosova] are our borders, it is our question and we are the only ones to decide about the future of our country."

The UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) has not taken a clear position on the question of who is entitled to conduct such negotiations. UNMIK spokeswoman Susan Manuel said at a press conference on 9 February that UNMIK can only follow what is happening, but has to wait for instructions from UN headquarters in New York. UNMIK has already asked UN headquarters to call on the Macedonian and Yugoslav ambassadors to clarify the state of affairs and what UNMIK's role will be. (Fabian Schmidt)