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Balkan Report: December 5, 2000

5 December 2000, Volume 4, Number 85

NATO Chiefs Warn UCPMB. NATO Secretary General Lord George Robertson and the alliance's Supreme Allied Commander Europe, U.S. General Joseph Ralston, visited Kosova last Thursday to reinforce NATO's commitment to Kosova. RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele reports from Prishtina that the NATO leaders' visit was also intended to reiterate that KFOR will do everything it can to stop the recent violence between ethnic Albanian extremists and Serbian police in the Presevo valley of neighboring southern Serbia. Here is his report:

NATO Secretary General Lord George Robertson on a visit to Kosova on 30 November denounced ethnic Albanian insurgents operating in the five-kilometer wide "ground safety zone" along southern Serbia's boundary with Kosova: "We condemn unreservedly violence taking place in an area which was designed last year to be a buffer zone between Serbia proper and Kosovo and was designed for the defense of the people and the troops inside Kosovo."

Robertson described the insurgent Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac, or UCPMB, as "a handful of extremists who are trying to seek an over-action." But he said they will not get far.

Robertson confirmed that he has been exchanging correspondence with Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica. He said he shares Kostunica's worries and concerns about the recent upsurge in violence in the Presevo valley. "The fact that the president of Yugoslavia writes to the Secretary General of NATO on a matter of common concern--an outbreak of violence in southern Serbia and the Presevo Valley--is an indication of the fact that these problems in the future will be dealt with in a radically different way [than they were in the past]."

Robertson said Yugoslavia has stopped demanding access for its forces to the ground safety zone, as he put it, because KFOR is taking action on the Kosova side of the boundary and because the insurgents are coming under pressure from Serbian forces. He said NATO will not agree to any changes to existing agreements that bar Yugoslav armed forces and heavy weaponry from the zone. Local Serbian police, however, are permitted to patrol the zone.

Robertson said KFOR commander Italian General Carlo Cabigiosu has come up with a program to help resolve the situation: "We have already improved our surveillance operations in the area, intensified patrolling of the security presence. We've increased [KFOR's] working level contacts with the Serbian local police as well as encouraging local contacts between the Serbs and the Presevo Valley Albanians to discuss their problems. But the leadership here in Kosovo, as I have just told them, has also a role to play in restraining extremists in the area."

The projected program includes a public information campaign to highlight the criminal aspects of the UCPMB and the politically damaging effects of the insurgents' activities, which Robertson said damage everyone's interests in Kosova: "With the wind of change blowing in Serbia, the international community will not easily understand and certainly won't accept the actions of those extremists. The men of violence have had their day in Kosovo and now they can only harm the prospects for the people of Kosovo."

Robertson said the 28 October local elections in Kosova, in which moderates defeated radicals, show there is an "underlying huge desire for peace on the part of the majority of the people." But Robertson said a minority still exists that is prepared to use violence for revenge, power, or criminality.

Robertson's visit came just one day after a new round of clashes near Bujanovac in the Presevo Valley between the insurgent UCPMB and advancing Serbian Interior Ministry (MUP) forces.

Over the previous one to two weeks, KFOR had intercepted three consignments of weapons bound for the UCPMB insurgents. In the most recent seizure, Norwegian KFOR troops in the central Kosova region of Drenica stopped and searched a truck. They found a rocket-propelled grenade, 1,000 rounds of ammunition, 20 mortar rounds, 20 anti-personnel mines, and what KFOR terms "a quantity of UCPMB uniforms."

The top two Kosovar Albanian politicians, Ibrahim Rugova and Hashim Thaci, were attending a symposium in Greece late last week and were unavailable to comment in person on Robertson's policy of cooperating with Belgrade to stem the violence in southern Serbia.

But Naim Jerliu, a vice president of the largest Kosovar Albanian political party--Rugova's Democratic League of Kosova, or LDK--told RFE/RL in Pristine that the only solution to the dispute over the Presevo valley is for all the problems in the region, and we of course stand for a political solution for the problem of the Presevo Valley."

Jerliu also said the Belgrade regime should recognize the rights of the Albanians in southern Serbia. (Jolyon Naegele)

Serbian Justice Minister Says Milosevic Must Go To Hague. Sead Spahovic, who is one of three interim Serbian justice ministers, said in Belgrade on 30 November that "the Hague[-based war crimes tribunal] is the only court with enough resources and competence to put [former Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic on trial."

Spahovic stressed that "no president--not even Kostunica--has the right to decide [the issue]. This is a matter for the judiciary, the law, and the state prosecutor.... [Yugoslavia lacks] independent judges, prosecutors, and well as even the technical means to protect witnesses. To put Milosevic on trial here would simply be an impossible undertaking," AP reported (see "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 23 and 30 November 2000).

In a clear break with Kostunica's views, Spahovic stressed that "as a nation, we have to make it [explicitly] clear once and for all that the Hague court is no anti-Serb monster. It is a legitimate and legal court that must be respected by all countries." Spahovic also said that Milosevic must be tried for war crimes, and that it is not morally acceptable to try him on a lesser charge simply in order to get him behind bars (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 2000). (Patrick Moore)

Cacak Mayor Regrets 'Incomplete Revolution.' The October protests in Belgrade that led to the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic brought to the capital thousands of demonstrators from around the country. A disproportionate number were from a region in central Serbia known as Sumadija. Their leader was the stocky mayor of the region's central town of Cacak, a traditional anti-Belgrade bastion. RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele visited Cacak last week and spoke with mayor Velimir Ilic about his frustration with what he regards as Serbia's incomplete revolution and his own political ambitions. Here is his report:

Cacak is a bustling market town known for its fruit--and also for being a traditional bastion of opposition to Belgrade.

Shortly after the Second World War, Yugoslav communist leader Josip Broz Tito paid a 27-minute visit to a factory on the outskirts of town, but never visited the city center. Milosevic visited Cacak only once--10 years ago--but was pelted with tomatoes and eggs and never returned.

Cacak historian Spomenka Aleksic says the people of Cacak have a tradition of impatience as well as of thinking and working according to their own views. As a result, she says, communism never took root in the region. "Neither in the past nor now could we tolerate dictatorship. We fought against the [Ottoman] Turks, later against other occupiers--first Austria-Hungary, then against [Nazi] Germany, and today we have been fighting against the dictatorship of Slobodan Milosevic."

Aleksic says recent democratic trends in Serbia began in Cacak: "Cacak has been an opposition town for four years. Milosevic's dictatorship did not take root here and local government worked democratically. [But this meant] all of the federal and [Serbian] republic institutions of power tried to suppress Cacak, and its democracy, much more than in other towns."

After the Milosevic regime tried to falsify the results of federal presidential elections in September, Cacak residents refused to accept defeat. They proceeded to block roads and hold nightly protests to demand that the regime concede.

But the regime held on and finally, on 5 October, hundreds of thousands of people from across Serbia marched on Belgrade. Thousands of these were from Cacak, all led by mayor Velimir Ilic.

Ilic, a stocky man and the owner of a shoe factory, commands popular appeal among ordinary people. In conversation, he expounds views that might provoke derision elsewhere but in Serbia are widespread and popular. He is a monarchist and would like to see the establishment of a parliamentary monarchy modeled after that of Sweden.

He is also the leader of the two-year-old opposition party, New Serbia. And in October, he saw the opportunity to bring his democratic dreams for Serbia to fruition. He played an important role in the October protests, bringing a bulldozer along to help clear police barricades. The bulldozer was used by demonstrators to storm the main building of Radio-Television Serbia (RTS) in central Belgrade. It has since become a symbol for the events of 5 October as a whole.

Eight weeks later, however, Ilic regrets that the overthrow of the Milosevic regime was not what he calls sufficiently thorough: "Personally, I am dissatisfied because after the successful operation on 5 October, in which all of us from Cacak marched, Slobodan Milosevic was not arrested. He must be brought to justice. Without the arrest of Slobodan Milosevic, there can be no democratization of Serbia. His [recent attempt to] return to political life completely destabilizes Serbia."

Ilic said many of the elements of the demonstration were planned in advance, including Milosevic's overthrow as well as the storming of parliament and Serbian television. But he said there was no agreement among opposition leaders to arrest Milosevic.

Milosevic remains politically active. On 25 November, he won nearly unanimous re-election as head of the Socialist Party of Serbia at a closed party congress in Belgrade. Serbia's parliamentary elections on 23 December are expected to provide a good gauge of Milosevic's remaining support.

Ilic said that he expects Milosevic's democratic successor, Vojislav Kostunica, to leave his current post of Yugoslav federal president to become Serbian republican president. But Ilic said if Kostunica does not want the job, Ilic would be willing to take it himself.

This is not an unrealistic possibility. Public opinion polls indicate Ilic is Serbia's fourth-most-popular politician behind Kostunica and two reformist economists [Mladjan Dinkic and Miroljub Labus of G-17], and is well ahead of the leading candidate for Serbian prime minister, Zoran Djindjic.

Ilic told RFE/RL that his popularity rating makes him an ideal candidate for the Serbian presidency: "If the federal state is not dissolved, if Kostunica does not run as a candidate for president of Serbia, if Montenegro does not become a problem, [and] if Kostunica...remains as head of Yugoslavia, then I will certainly run for president of Serbia and I certainly will win. There is no one who could beat me, provided that Kostunica is not a candidate."

An Ilic presidency would not likely lead to any accommodation on the part of Serbia with ethnic Albanians in the province of Kosova, however. Ilic said he is frustrated with the failure of the international community to find a solution to Kosova's status and with the difficulty of reaching accommodation with the Kosovar Albanians, whom he speaks of with undisguised derision. He said: "Quite simply, Serbia has to clarify what it wants. You see that life with the Albanians doesn't function. Serbia doesn't have any more time to waste with the Albanians. Serbia has to deal with its own issues. We in Serbia need to have a really good state--economically good and democratic--and we should forget about the Albanians. That's my vision. I don't want to hear any more about Albanians. Living with the Albanians always led Serbia to war."

Ilic accused the international community of failing to resolve anything by establishing a protectorate in Kosova and points to continuing violence in southern Serbia's Presevo Valley. But in an echo of the Milosevic regime, Ilic said a survey should be made to determine who the ethnic Albanians living in Kosova today really are--namely who has migrated in from Albania who has native roots in Kosova.

Asked how his views on Kosova differ from those of Milosevic, or Vojislav Seselj's Radical Party, or Djindjic's Democratic Party, Ilic said: "All Serbs are united and all parties see eye-to-eye on this." (Jolyon Naegele)

Reactions To Albanian Riots. Andi Bushati, who is a political commentator from Tirana, wrote in the Prishtina daily "Koha Ditore" of 3 December that the Albanian government sent a strong warning to the Democratic Party (PD) by detaining its leader Sali Berisha for two hours on 28 November. Police detained the former president after rioting PD supporters attacked public buildings in the capital. The protesters threw Molotov-cocktails at public buildings, accusing the government of manipulating local elections in October. (Technical experts and observers said at the time, however, that the elections were the best and most transparent in Albania's history).

Referring to the recent refusals by Berisha to cooperate with investigators trying to clarify other incidents, Bushati said that the arrest "broke the myth that Berisha is invincible, that he can continue refusing to testify in court, or that he can bring down the government." He added that "it is clear that the short detention was aimed at intimidating Berisha" and showing him that "he has to respect the rule of law like any other citizen."

Neritan Ceka, who is chairman of the Parliamentary Commission on Public Order and the secret service, charged the PD with lacking "a clear vision" of a democratic political future. In an interview with "Koha Ditore" of 3 December, he said that the PD should distance itself from those of its supporters who rioted.

Ceka added: "At the moment when the elections are certified and have received the blessing of the OSCE...this game will be over. It would be better for the PD to be ready to participate in the government and to give a signal that it is a party of tolerance, dialogue, and political competition through the institutions--rather than in the streets."

Ceka stressed that "violent behavior is always a sign of desperation, and it will neither change a party for the better nor improve its image. On the contrary, it will discredit it." But he acknowledged that "the most recent protests have been smaller [than before], which indicates that PD voters do not support the methods of the [party leadership]. There are enough serious people in the PD who are very concerned about the fate of democracy in Albania."

Ceka's center-right Democratic Alliance Party (PAD) is a junior partner in the Socialist-led coalition. The PAD has repeatedly challenged the Socialists over policy issues, but so far the coalition has held together. Asked about the future of the coalition, Ceka said that conflicts within the government are commonplace:

"That's because we are part of a left-wing coalition, even though we are of liberal orientation. It is not always easy for us to cooperate normally and to feel at home in the social-democratic family."

He added that the reason why the PAD has participated in the coalition since 1997 was "the need for the country [to have a] government and stability. We will continue to do so as long as it is necessary [for the sake of] stability. Albania needs a continuity of government--including our participation in it as...a watchdog."

Ceka stressed that the presence of the smaller parties in the government has forced the Socialists to be less arbitrary and more transparent in their actions. He added that the smaller parties have also "helped to correct some faults in the system and to reduce corruption. We also have made more efficient the administration of some urgent projects, such as the construction of roads." (Fabian Schmidt)

Quotations Of The Week. "We appreciate the support China gave to Yugoslavia at the time when it was bombed and isolated."--Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic, to his Chinese counterpart Tang Jiaxuan in Belgrade on 2 December. Quoted by AP.

"We would really like to know how it was possible that more than 1,000 ethnic Albanian guerrillas, armed with heavy weaponry, crossed through the American-controlled sector of Kosovo."--Statement by Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia, quoted by AP on 30 November.

"The Albanian government shares the concern of its international partners about the danger of new sources of war.... The episodes of violence compromise the position and interests of Kosova and the Albanian civilian population in the area.... The Albanian government hopes that the new Belgrade leaders will respect the relevant agreements and renounce the mistaken policies their predecessor has applied in these areas."--Albanian government statement. Quoted by Reuters on 30 November.

"There was a genocidal war in Kosova to expel or destroy the Albanian population. That war was lost. And even if Serbia elects Mother Theresa as its president, the Kosovars won't accept Serbia as their state."--Kosovar journalist and politician Veton Surroi. Quoted by AP in Athens on 1 December.