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Balkan Report: March 31, 2000

31 March 2000, Volume 4, Number 23

Kosova, One Year On: Whose Responsibility? Youthful Kosovar drivers with no apparent sense of shared responsibility or knowledge of the rules of the road contributed to a day of gridlock earlier this month that serves as a metaphor for the condition of Kosova today.

The occasion was the commemoration of a massacre of some 50 ethnic Albanians two years ago at Prekaz in central Kosova's Drenica region, an event that proved to be a turning point after nearly a decade of Serbian repression of Kosova's Albanian majority. The massacre marked the end of passive resistance and the transformation of the Kosova Liberation Army, or UCK, from a shadowy terrorist group into an organized force.

On the second anniversary of the massacre, Kosovars by the tens of thousands tried to reach a commemorative rally at Prekaz sponsored by members of the now disbanded UCK. But a complete breakdown of driver discipline--and the inability of UN civilian police and KFOR peacekeepers to regulate traffic--ensured that the overwhelming majority of would-be participants never made it to their destination.

Kosovar Albanian society today is beginning to resemble the anarchic state of neighboring Albania in recent years. Its usual exterior signs are a late-model German luxury car of questionable origin for many families and a construction boom that knows few zoning laws or building regulations. More important, organized crime is clearly gaining ground. That is thanks in large part to the absence of courts and police, which, in turn, is the result of the international community's failure to heed UN calls for more civilian police and judges.

Prishtina intellectuals tell visitors that they should not yet hold Kosovars to the usual standards of a stable society. They say Kosovars are still in an early stage of postwar recovery,

Sociologist Fadil Maloku puts much of the blame for the province's situation today on Slobodan Milosevic's repeal of Kosova's autonomous status 10 years ago and the Yugoslav leader's subsequent repression of ethnic Albanians. That decade of suffering, Maloku says, held back the development of Kosovar Albanian society by barring any public form of collective expression. Now, he says, despite continuing economic hardships and pervasive crime, Kosovar Albanians are reveling in their liberty.

Maloku argues that "for the past eight months, our society has suffered electricity shortages. But the crime rate is decreasing. I don't want to justify the crime, prostitution, and corruption. The Prekaz [commemoration] was an expression of our shedding a decade of collective frustrations."

Maloku also says that, while individual ethnic Albanians are very resourceful, collectively they lack coordination. He emphasizes that one year is a very short period of time for the complete resumption of self-discipline in any society in the wake of war and mass trauma.

In addition to the province's high unemployment rate and erratic supplies of electricity and drinking water, ethnic violence remains a key problem. Some ethnic Albanians say that the UN's chief civil administrator in Kosova, France's Bernard Kouchner, must share some of the blame. International relations professor Enver Hasani is one of them.

He argues that "the problem [in the ethnically troubled northern town of] Mitrovica is a problem that has been created a result of the inaction of the KFOR troops, the French part of the KFOR troops [who are responsible for Mitrovica's security], and partly the civilian mission of Mr. Kouchner. And it's a problem that has been dragging on for a long time and may have serious consequences for the rest of Kosova and the overall political relations between the international community and the Kosova Albanian leadership. Events in Mitrovica are very closely connected with those in Bujanovac, Medvedja, and Presevo [in Serbia proper, near Kosova, where ethnic Albanians say they are being persecuted]."

Hasani says the international community should use the presence of the UN and KFOR in Kosova to fight crime as well as to resist Milosevic's continuing aggression. He says growing organized crime is filling a void created by the absence of law courts and police: "You see, these people who have been living without law and order for nine months. In fact, [it's been] the law of the jungle since '89. Because it was a repressive system, [without] law and order, they could do whatever--kill, rob you--and now you have this situation."

Hasani, like many Kosovar intellectuals, complains that the international community's frequent proclamations of good intentions are not enough. He says that organized crime cannot be fought by mere public condemnation, but only through a fully functioning judicial and police system. (Jolyon Naegle)

The War That Will Be? A beat-up old station wagon, filled with loaves of bread, races down the muddy road from the boundary with Kosova into the south Serbian village of Dobrosin. The vehicle disappears into the farmyard headquarters of an ethnic-Albanian insurgent group. The group calls itself the Liberation Army of Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja, the UCPMB, which models itself--not only in name but also in uniform and tactics--after the Kosova Liberation Army, the UCK (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 March 2000).

A posse of four UCPMB military police emerge from the farmyard, sporting black uniforms inherited from the now disbanded UCK but with new UCPMB patches. They apologize to a couple of reporters, saying they are under strict orders not to grant interviews. Then they disappear, and a few minutes later three UCPMB soldiers walk past, dressed in green fatigues, one with an old AK-47 machine gun, the second with a high-powered Yugoslav Army sniper gun, the third with a bandoleer slung across his chest. Whether the trio was a genuine patrol or was just being paraded for the benefit of two reporters is unclear.

Before the UCPMB ceased talking to reporters, its representatives said earlier this month that they hope to draw NATO into a conflict with Yugoslavia in southern Serbia and expel Serbian forces from the three Albanian-inhabited districts. NATO and the United States reject such a scenario. KFOR has responded by cracking down on gun-running between Kosova and the UCPMB, culminating in the searches of at least five Kosova border villages recently.

At least 70 percent of Dobrosin's 1,200 residents, virtually all Albanian, have left the village for the relative safety of Kosova in the last nine months.

The village is inside a five-kilometer-wide demilitarized zone into which Serbian police but not soldiers are allowed. Remaining residents say the police have repeatedly mistreated them at a checkpoint at Lucani, five kilometers down the road.

Dobrosin looks much the way any Kosovar Albanian village looked two years ago--before fighting erupted between Serbian forces and the UCK. The mosque and minaret are intact, and there are no burned-out homes. And in marked contrast to Kosova, where the electricity is off as often as it is on, the Serbian electricity supply to Dobrosin still functions without interruption even though villagers have been unable to pay their electricity bills to the utility. A member of the village council says remaining residents are paying what they believe they owe the electric company into an escrow fund established by the council.

Some 300 meters away, up on the ridge that is the boundary with Serbia, U.S. KFOR tanks sit side by side, their cannons pointing into Serbia. A pair of KFOR helicopters patrol the hilly boundary, just skimming the treetops as they race down the valley.

A villager who asks that his name not be used says the proximity of the Americans, though somewhat reassuring, is no guarantee that the village is safe from Serbian harassment.

At present, the Albanian population of southern Serbia is estimated to number between 70,000 and 100,000. Presevo district is estimated to be 92 percent Albanian, Bujanovac 65 percent and Medvedja 35 percent.

Shefket Hasani, a grizzled UCK veteran in Dobrosin who claims to be a co-founder of the UCPMB, says the Serbs must not be allowed to expel the Albanians from the three southern districts: "I cannot permit these three districts to remain under Serbian slavery, because they are 100 percent Albanian."

Hasani says "fighting with rifles" is the only way to ensure an end to the constant harassment, beatings, confiscations, and killings. The Serbs killed two Albanian civilians aboard a tractor returning from a wood-cutting expedition on 26 January, just 600 meters from Dobrosin but out of sight of the U.S. base on the ridge. Hasani notes the UCPMB first emerged in uniform at the funeral of the two Saqipi brothers. "The headquarters of the UCPMB is here [in Dobrosin] and this is where we first began to fight. But there are also other regional headquarters in all the villages and they are organizing."

Hasani insists the UCPMB is well armed. He says that as the Serbs have blocked off the village, all supplies must come into Dobrosin from Kosova, where villagers go to shop or to attend school.

A member of the village council, Shefkiu Selami, says residents established the council after Serbian paramilitaries killed two inhabitants of Dobrosin last 15 October. He says the council contacted district authorities and asked that the paramilitaries be barred from the village. But the harassment continued.

Selami recalls that "in mid-December, a [Serbian] patrol ordered a group of 15 or 16 people returning to Dobrosin from shopping in Bujanovac to lie down in the road. The police walked all over them, stepping on their necks, and then a policeman put an automatic rifle in someone's ear. But at that moment the chairman of the Bujanovac district came and ordered the police to end the harassment."

At the second-largest U.S. KFOR base in Kosova, in Gjilan, spokesman First Lieutenant Scott Olson says KFOR estimates that some 30 UCPMB members are operating in the Dobrosin area. But he says it is unclear whether they are part of a larger organization.

In any event, Olson rules out a 100 percent guarantee that KFOR can halt all gun running to the UCPMB. "Absolutely not. The very porous, as I am sure you know. There are a lot of trails that are traveled by foot, by animal, by tractor. There are things like that that we don't have the resources to monitor. You know that is a tremendous stretch of property [and] that we don't have the resources to keep tabs on every one of those access points 100 percent of the time."

KFOR's commander, General Klaus Reinhardt, says the situation on the boundary between Kosova and southern Serbia is a threat to Kosova's peace and security and could develop into a regional security issue. He said KFOR is prepared to take all necessary action to ensure that Kosova is not used as a staging base for exporting violence into southern Serbia. (Jolyon Naegle)

Quotations Of The Week. "We've observed over the last six months how Milosevic has, step by step, tightened the noose around Mr. Djukanovic. We're watching this very closely. Mr. Milosevic should well understand what NATO's capabilities are." -- NATO's supreme commander in Europe, General Wesley Clark, in Lisbon on 29 March. Quoted by Reuters.

"The opposition gave Milosevic time to recover after the air strikes. I have the feeling they are doing it consciously, they are postponing the conflict with him because they are not ready for it, because they dealt with him for 10 years." -- Serbia's "Robin Hood," Bogoljub Arsenijevic "Maki," on Bosnian Serb television after his daring escape from Milosevic's police (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March 2000). Quoted by Reuters.

"Everyone knows that civilians were killed, but this is a farce." -- Sonia Drobac of "Glas Javnosti" in Belgrade on 29 March, referring to a "war crimes court" set up by the Milosevic regime to "investigate NATO war crimes." Quoted by Reuters. The "tribunal" was headed by a Russian and consisted of "mainly communist sympathizers" from Russia, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Poland, and Germany, Reuters reported.

"When they say the French Army is full of exasperation over me, not only do I refute this but I find it scandalous. I'm neither pro-Albanian nor pro-Serb.... I'm absolutely not anti-Serb." -- UNMIK's Bernard Kouchner, in Paris on 29 March. Quoted by AP.