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Balkan Report: November 16, 2001

16 November 2001, Volume 5, Number 76

KOSOVA'S BIG STEP TOWARD SELF-GOVERNMENT. Kosovars go to the polls on 17 November to choose the first democratically elected parliament in their history. Once home-rule structures are in place and functioning, the next step could be to resolve Kosova's status.

Voters are scheduled to elect a 120-member assembly in what Reuters has called "the most important event in the...province since NATO bombing ended Serb rule in 1999." The moderate Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) of Ibrahim Rugova is expected to win the most seats, followed by two parties that emerged from the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK): Hashim Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosova and Ramush Haradinaj's Alliance for the Future of Kosova.

The assembly will choose a president and a seven-member presidency of the legislature. The president will name a prime minister, who will have a nine-member cabinet. Its responsibilities are purely internal ones, and do not include defense or foreign affairs.

Some 20 parliamentary seats are reserved for minorities, including 10 for the Serbs, who make up perhaps 7 percent of the population. It is not clear how many of the Serbs will vote (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 November 2001). Belgrade has encouraged them to cast their ballots, and Serbia's governing coalition is fielding candidates. But many local Serbs have difficulty adjusting to the fact that they no longer control the province and plan to boycott the vote.

All parties of the 90 percent Albanian majority want independence for the UN-administered protectorate. Resolving the question of the province's status is not among the new government's prerogatives, however. Furthermore, in order to secure Belgrade's support for the elections, the UN civilian administration recently promised Belgrade that a change in Kosova's status is not in the offing. Under UN Security Council Resolution 1244 of 1999, Kosova formally remains part of Yugoslavia, even though no Kosovar party favors continued links with Belgrade.

The elections are, obviously, only a first step toward dealing with two interrelated, pressing problems. The first is cleaning up the mess of crime, corruption, and violence in Kosova. The Kosovars will need to demonstrate through their new institutions that they are indeed capable of managing their own affairs. They know that the international community is in no hurry to grant them independence lest the result be the emergence in Europe of a failed state that exports instability to its neighbors. The Albanians presumably also know that the only ones who can prove the skeptics wrong are the Kosovars themselves.

The second issue is the question of the province's status. On the one hand, no one in Washington or Brussels is eager to set up a Balkan Sierra Leone. On the other hand, the international community is wary of continuing the protectorate any longer than is absolutely necessary lest a Bosnian-style dependency syndrome set in. Furthermore, as German Professor Stefan Troebst and several other Western experts have argued, there can be no stability in the region until Kosova's status is clarified (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 February 2001).

That means, according to those experts, only one thing: independence. Until the principles of self-determination and majority rule are applied to Kosova, there is unlikely to be lasting peace in the region.

The precondition to that, of course, is that the Kosovars will need to show that they can put their house in order and keep it that way. Part of that involves addressing the legitimate concerns for the security and safety of Serbs and other minorities. The Albanians will need to control their own thugs and rowdies as well as respect broader European standards for minority rights. By the same token, the Serbs will have to accept that they can live as a minority in a state in which the overwhelming majority is not Serbian. (Patrick Moore)

TENSE DAYS IN MACEDONIA. Over the weekend of 10 and 11 November, the peace process in Macedonia suffered yet another setback. Ethnic Albanian rebels killed three policemen and held dozens of Macedonian civilians hostage. The sudden escalation of violence showed that the situation in Macedonia still remains highly volatile (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 November 2001).

The situation escalated quickly after hawkish Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski decided on 11 November to deploy special antiterror police forces to areas formerly held by rebels of the National Liberation Army (UCK). The police were supposed to guard several sites where mass graves of previously kidnapped ethnic Macedonians are allegedly located (see also "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 and 13 November 2001). The exhumation of the purported mass graves was scheduled to begin on 12 November.

Before the police forces left for the crisis region, representatives of the OSCE and NATO discussed the exhumation with leading politicians at a meeting in President Boris Trajkovski's office. The OSCE and NATO representatives alike opposed the deployment and warned that the security situation on the ground did not permit such a move.

What followed the deployment was a chain of events that could have led to a resumption of full-blown interethnic violence and armed clashes.

Close to a location between the villages of Neprosteno and Trebos northeast of Tetovo, the police arrested seven ethnic Albanians. The Albanians were suspected of mining a mass grave site in order to prevent domestic and international forensic experts from exhuming the bodies supposed to be buried there. While the arrests were being made, it came to light that the Albanians were heavily armed members of the so-called 112th brigade of the UCK.

Shortly after the arrests, a police convoy came under heavy fire in an ambush close to Trebos. Three policemen were killed in the ambush, and between three and five were wounded. Later, the shadowy Albanian National Army (AKSH) took responsibility for the ambush (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 November 2001).

At about the same time as the ambush, other armed guerrilla groups started to kidnap ethnic Macedonians from surrounding villages. By the end of the evening, they had managed to capture about 70 Macedonians. The aim behind the kidnapping was clear -- they wanted to exchange the hostages for the seven arrested UCK members.

Macedonian government officials -- including the president -- and representatives of the international community appealed to the guerrillas to free their hostages. NATO officials contacted the political leader of the UCK, Ali Ahmeti, but he said that he does not control all former UCK structures.

According to Skopje newspaper reports, parliament speaker Stojan Andov and Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski pressed for a military solution of the hostage crisis. At one point during the night, the president issued an ultimatum to the kidnappers: either the hostages go free by 8.00 a.m. on 12 November, or the UCK stronghold of Sipkovica will come under heavy artillery fire.

At 6.30 a.m., the rebels released their hostages. International troop units deployed as part of NATO's operation Amber Fox then took the hostages to the barracks at Erebinovo, where medical tests showed that they were in good health.

Immediately after the end of the hostage crisis, politicians looked for a scapegoat. The Interior Ministry issued a statement in which the president was said to be responsible for the police deployment. Trajkovski, for his part, denied that he gave the order. Elsewhere, Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski of the Social Democrats (SDSM), who is a bitter rival of the interior minister, said, "We will have to pay dearly for this kind of adventure."

Arben Xhaferi, the leader of the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH), condemned both the ambush and the kidnappings. But, as AP reported on 13 November, he also thinks that the legislators were in part responsible for the flare-up in the violence: "I believe that the delay in the political process gives an additional boost to such groups [as the extremist AKSH]."

Many Western observers -- like the veteran Balkan correspondent of the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," Bernhard Kueppers -- believe that Boskovski's decision to deploy his favorite police unit, the Lions, was a deliberate provocation. The unit has strong links to his political party, the nationalist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE).

With early parliamentary elections due on 27 January, Boskovski's party may have sought to gain political capital at the expense of the moderate Social Democrats by arresting the seven UCK members. Instead, the hard-liners will face tough questions not only from their political opponents, but also from the kidnapped persons and the dead policemen's relatives.

The incident did yield some positive results, however: the ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD) ended its opposition to some of the proposed constitutional changes. The party had refused to vote in favor of the new preamble and some of the amendments, which, in the party's view, contradict the 13 August Ohrid peace agreement.

As "Dnevnik" reported on 13 November, the PPD legislators changed their minds under international pressure. As a result, some two-thirds of the Albanian deputies seem poised to vote for the amendments, as the Macedonian nationalists demand as a necessary precondition for a vote on the package. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "It is ridiculous to look for Albanian terrorists in a Serb village." -- Major General Nikolai Kriventsov, commander of Russian KFOR troops. Quoted by ITAR-TASS on 14 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 November 2001).

"Until now everything [in the Macedonian peace process] has been a classic farce. A farce, which someone will have to be responsible for, a farce prepared by the international community. I think that with the killing of these security forces officers, of these sons of Macedonia, we must not [become despondent]. We have to prepare ourselves to either deal with this banditry once and for all or admit that we cannot handle it and then ask for help." -- Macedonian Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski, near Tetovo on 12 November. Quoted by RFE/RL.

"People feel so bad, they're hiding in the basements. If the police come, we have to defend ourselves. I would rather die than let the police come in." -- 55-year-old Albanian outside Trebos, Tetovo. Quoted in "The Guardian" on 13 November.

"Images of armed people blocking our cities are an ugly message sent out to the world. No individual group will be able to take to the streets to oust ministers as long as I'm the prime minister." -- Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, quoted by AP from Belgrade on 14 November. He was referring to attempts by the elite Red Berets of Milosevic's paramilitary police to force the resignation of Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13, 14, and 15 November 2001).

"Why aren't America or Israel being judged in The Hague? Why is The Hague court going after only the Croatian people, and maybe someone else in the Balkans?" -- Croatian theologian Adalbert Rebic, quoted in the "Own Goal" column of "Jutarnji list" on 9 November.