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Balkan Report: May 9, 2000

9 May 2000, Volume 4, Number 34

Kosova's Man For All Seasons? Kosovars widely insist that they will accept nothing less than independence. They now have a golden opportunity to show how well they can manage their affairs by ending ethnically-motivated violence themselves. In theory, they have the organized body and proven leader to do that.

True peace still seems far removed from Kosova. Although ethnic Albanian leaders recently joined Serbian Orthodox Archbishop Artemije, Rada Trajkovic, and Father Sava in signing an appeal for peace to all people in Kosova, there will be no sudden end to the mutual hatred. Even from the broader, strategic point of view, peace is not a foregone conclusion. NATO's Supreme Commander Europe General Wesley Clark warned ethnic Albanians that any hopes of drawing NATO into a conflict in southwestern Serbia are futile. He also noted that Milosevic could provoke further incidents in Kosova to stabilize his own power in Belgrade. Speaking in Budapest last month, Clark said that NATO is aware of the fact that Milosevic has already fought four wars (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 April 2000).

The situation worsened last month when two violent incidents took place in central Prishtina. A grenade was fired at an apartment building in the night of 17 April. Two Albanians were injured, although the target of the blast may have been a Serbian family. Earlier, Besim Mala, a former commander of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), was shot dead not far from the grenade incident. Although violence is nothing unusual in Kosova, what is new is that it happened in central Prishtina right under the eyes of NATO. It is rare, too, that well-known personalities are targeted (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April 2000).

Is there any possibility that the Kosova Protection Corps (TMK), which largely consists of veterans of the disbanded UCK, is willing and able to stop political murder in Prishtina? Could the TMK act like a community police force to secure order and safety in the city, especially when NATO must reduce its forces in the long run? Agim Ceku, who is the former chief commander of the UCK, shed light on these and other questions in an interview with the Zagreb weekly "Globus" in its 24 March issue. (Surprisingly, the interview received almost no attention in the West.)

Ceku is a former Croatian general who became one of the key persons responsible for shaping the Kosova Liberation Army. This position devolved on him because of his rank and record in the Croatian military; the 40 year-old Ceku has, in fact, served in five armies or paramilitary units. He started his military career in the Yugoslav Army some two decades ago. In 1991, he joined the Croatian home guard (ZNG). This was the first special defense unit of the Croatian state to take up the fight against the military machine from Belgrade and the paramilitary troops of Serbs from the so-called Krajina region. Subsequently, Ceku joined the newly-formed Croatian Army (HV). He worked closely with leading generals and called them "great people and famous officers." The Croatian Army grew up out of almost nothing but developed into a regional power that was finally able to rout the Serbian forces in 1995. From this perspective, the HV was a model for the Albanians of Kosova.

Ceku, who was injured in the fight against Serbian forces, left Zagreb's army voluntarily in March 1999 to join the UCK. Today he is a general in the forces of TMK, which the UN regards as a civil defense organization on the French model but which the Kosovars see as the nucleus of a future army of an independent Kosova.

In his opinion, the conflict in Kosova was much more of a guerrilla war than the one in Croatia. In Croatia, real fronts existed, even when the Serbian forces were acting as guerilla fighters. But the same enemy had used the same tactics in both Croatia and Kosova. It consisted of killing, destroying, setting houses on fire, and expelling civilians.

The most important difference between Croatia and Kosova was that in Croatia the whole society served as an infrastructure for the army, Ceku argues. That was not the case in Kosova, where it was much harder to organize manpower and foster discipline. But the advantage for Kosova in comparison to Croatia was that the international community rallied to the Albanian cause much faster than it did to that of the Croats, Ceku concluded. Even if it is doubtful that the TMK could end the current violence in Kosova, Ceku's military experience is a valuable asset. Furthermore, he was a professional military man and not involved in any of the criminal scandals that blackened the reputation of Croatia�s Ministry of DefenSe in President Franjo Tudjman's later years.

Concerning the Serbs, Ceku mentioned that they are invited to work in TMK. Some Bosnian Muslims, Roma, and Turks are already participating in TMK units. But so far the Serbs remain highly skeptical, and articles have appeared in "Vesti" and other Serbian newspapers suggesting that Ceku was involved in atrocities against Serbs in Croatia.

But the root of the problem in Kosova--as in Croatia--is that the local Serbs are not willing to accept the idea that they can live peacefully as a minority in someone else's state. They thus are willing neither to cooperate with TMK nor to join it. As long as the Serb minority retains that attitude, it is uncertain that TMK could become a factor for the security of all inhabitants of Kosova. There is also a problem on the Albanian side. Only if the TMK can free itself from hard-line Albanian elements and develop on a professional basis can a start for the future be made. Ceku appears to possess the necessary qualifications to make that difference if he wants to. The next months will show if he really can deal with the key issues. (Christian Buric. The author is a freelance writer and copy editor based in Munich.

Italian Electricity Company To Help Albanian Management. The Italian public electricity company EnEl has won a tender to help its Albanian counterpart KESH in modernizing its administration and improving its accounting system, "Albanian Daily News" reported on 3 May. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) will pay about $2 million to EnEl for advising KESH over a period of 18 months to help reduce losses and combat widespread thefts of electricity. Furthermore, EnEl will assist the KESH management in drawing up development plans and in applying for funds of up to $140 million at the EBRD and World Bank to modernize the country's decrepit power grid.

Meanwhile, a theft in the southern city of Berat has shed light on the vast problems KESH has in protecting its power lines. On 28 April, a father and his son stole one kilometer of electric cable leading into the city, cutting off large parts of Berat from the power supply. Police arrested the two men. Theft of electric and telephone cables has been common in rural areas in recent years. Many farmers use the wires to build fences for their property or sell the copper contained in the cables for scrap. (Fabian Schmidt)

Albanian Blood Feuds Trigger Illiteracy. A survey presented by officials from the Ministry of Education in late April found that at least 112 boys throughout Albania shun school out of fear of blood feuds, "Albanian Daily News" reported on 3 May. The boys stay indoors lest they be killed outside by members of families feuding with their family.

Government inspectors conducted the survey at schools throughout the country. Ministry officials believe, however, that the actual number of children being kept at home due to blood feuds is higher.

All of the cases were reported in northern Albania. Surprisingly, many of them occurred in urban areas. There were 68 cases reported in the main northern city of Shkodra alone and another five cases in Lezha. But there were also numerous cases in mountainous and remote areas. In the region of Tropoja, bordering Kosova, 17 cases were reported. In another northern mountain area of Mirdita there were 16 cases, and in the Malesia e Madhe, bordering Montenegro, five.

About one-third of the children who have abandoned school because of blood feuds are in elementary school. The Kanun of Lek Dukagjini--the medieval common law usually applied in blood feuds--traditionally protected children under 16 years of age. The daily noted, however, that families involved in recent blood feuds have not strictly respected the rules of the Kanun. The paper added that in one incident in April, a 14-year-old boy killed an 11-year-old boy from the family that killed his father. It did not elaborate. (Fabian Schmidt)

Albanian Unemployment On The Rise. Officials from the Institute of Statistics told "Albanian Daily News" of 3 May that around 18.1 percent of the workforce--or 248,000 people--were registered as unemployed in January 2000. This is 10,000 more than the previous year.

The experts estimate that out of the 3.65 million Albanian citizens, about 600,000 people of working age have emigrated and are working abroad, while 765,051 are registered as students. Some 700,000 are living in rural areas, mostly earning their living in small scale private agriculture. Another 132,930 are working in the public administration or in other jobs financed through the state budget, while 78,070 are working in the remaining state-owned enterprises, and 207,254 in the private sector. But statistical data on the current population of Albania--and thus also on the level of unemployment--is unreliable. Therefore, the government is planning a complete registration of the population in combination with a census in the summer of 2001.

In an effort to boost employment, the government has pledged to give subsidies totaling $3.5 million to private companies in the course of the year 2000 to create new jobs. So far the National Employment Office has approved 45 projects that created 1,670 new jobs. The government plans, however, to create a total of 12,000 jobs through this program this year, and another 12,000 in 2001.

Meanwhile, the permanent representative of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to Albania, Volker Treichel, told "Gazeta Shqiptare" on 28 April that the IMF has decided to change the thrust of its programs for Albania. It will focus more on poverty reduction and education and devote fewer resources than in previous years to infrastructure and economic development. The IMF will thus launch a Poverty Reduction and Growth Program (PRG) and cut back on the Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility (ESAF) programs it has had over the last four years. The PRG program will focus on the most burning issues of education and health-care and have an overall value of $13 million.

Albania has shown moderate signs of economic recovery lately. Average annual incomes have increased from $800 per capita in 1998 to $1,200 in 1999. They are expected to reach as much as $1,400 in 2001. But the distribution of wealth remains unequal, triggering the IMF's decision to focus its support on the poorer parts of society. (Fabian Schmidt)

Quotations Of The Week. "Albanian mafia influence is not so powerful in Kosovo. People here have a habit of honoring contracts. This is not Albania before its [collapsed] pyramid scheme. Kosovars are used to trading, they have been out and about in the world more than Albanians. This economy is not primitive.... When you look around this economy, it's clear the per capita GNP is not of a Third World country, but rather a middle-income country.... The people haven't come back and sat on their asses and said, 'Oh, the international community is going to help us.' Their attitude is, while the international community is organizing itself, we'll go ahead and build a lot of things." -- UNMIK's Joly Dixon, to Reuters' Mark Heinrich in Prishtina on 2 May.

"Why am I blamed for every Albanian who wanders around with a rifle? UNMIK knows exactly who is corrupt, who is plundering and seizing houses and abusing our borders for every sort of smuggling. Why does UNMIK chief Bernard Kouchner not do anything about it?" -- Former UCK leader Hashim Thaci, quoted by AP on 3 May.