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Balkan Report: August 24, 1999

24 August 1999, Volume 3, Number 33

Future Conflicts Waiting To Happen? Retired Croatian commander Anton Tus feels that the Balkan region needs a serious arms control program. The former general wrote recently in a Zagreb daily that each state should be allowed to have only enough weapons to deter aggression, not to outweigh the total forces of several of its neighbors. (Serbia is currently allowed enough weaponry to balance the forces of Bosnia and Croatia combined.)

Tus added that Serbia's borders with Croatia and Macedonia have not yet been completely defined. A host of other security issues remains unclarified between Belgrade and those two neighbors as well, providing a potential for future conflicts. He warned that Zagreb's relations with Ljubljana could also prove troublesome at some future date.

As if to reinforce Tus' point that potential conflicts lurk throughout the region, the Muslim-led town council of Janja, which is now in the Republika Srpska, has filed a formal complaint with the Bosnian state boundary commission, the Sarajevo daily "Dnevni avaz" reported on 17 August. The council charged that the course of the Drina River has changed since World War II, thereby leaving in Serbia 10 sq km of Bosnian land. The council stressed that this is "purely Muslim territory." The Drina has traditionally formed much of the boundary between Bosnia and Serbia. (Patrick Moore)

"The Sounds Of Shame." (The prominent ethnic Albanian politician and journalist Veton Surroi wrote the following article in the Prishtina daily "Koha Ditore" of 18 August. The commentary is probably the toughest one yet written by a leading Kosovar Albanian against the current wave of anti-Serbian violence in the province.)

An elderly woman, who drowns in her bathtub after being beaten up; a two year-old child who is injured while its mother gets killed by a bullet; two teenagers killed by mortars; a woman who does not want to give her name because she fears that the same people who tried to rape her before will come back to her doorstep.

These are the Serbs of the last four weeks. To those we have to add the many more who are in hiding, closed up in their homes, fearing for their lives in an atmosphere where every noise seems as a threat, where every car that stops outside may belong to those people who have come to take their lives. We have to add the married couple, who have been pensioners for a long time, who remain without food, because they are afraid to go out to the market and do not know how to communicate in Albanian. We have to add those who remain without food because their Albanian neighbors are too afraid to buy them something, fearing that otherwise others will ask: "Why do they feed these Serbs?"

I know how the Serbs feel during the last four weeks, because I and almost another two million Albanians have been in such a situation. Not to speak of the Roma who are additionally exposed to open racism. I know their feelings. Every car that stopped before my door was a potential danger, every sound at the door was the sure sign of death, and I could expect little or no help from my Serbian neighbors. In the news I heard about the special rights that the Serbian government gave to its forces to kill whomever they please, even elderly people and children.

I have to say that I feel ashamed to hear that for the first time in the history of Kosova, now the Kosovar Albanians are committing monstrous atrocities. I cannot stop myself from saying that it should deeply concern our people that for the first time our moral code of untouchability of women, children, and elderly has been broken.

I know that everybody will try to bring forward--as a kind of reflex reaction--that we have gone through a barbaric war in which Serbs were responsible for the most barbaric crimes, in which the intensity of the violence has left an urge for revenge among a part of the Albanian people.

But there is no reason for that. We have seen how the Serbs who collaborated with the Serbian regime have left. They are the ones who took part in the violence against the Albanians. Later we saw how those who remained lived in fear of revenge from returning Albanians who discovered the graves of their families.

But now, two months after the arrival of NATO troops, the issue is no longer one of emotional reactions. What we have to deal with is one or more organized systems of violence, which are viciously directed toward the Serbs. And we also have to deal with a system of thinking that lurks behind the violence and assumes that every Serb must be punished for what happened in Kosova.

That system of thinking is called fascism. It is precisely the system of thinking against which the people of Kosova revolted in their own ten-year conflict with [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic. In the last phase of the conflict, the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) was created to fight against that system of thinking and to show that the Albanian people of Kosova is ready to take up arms against it.

The collective threat against the Serbian victims of today--whose lives are marked by danger and fear--cannot only be the shame of a small part of our people. We have to share the shame collectively. It will reflect back on all of us, who only a few months ago filled the international television screens with our suffering. That shame will also fall on the Albanian victims of Kosova--children, women, and the elderly--who were killed simply because they were Albanians.

The other peoples--Europeans and Americans--cannot blame us for not preserving a multi-ethnic Kosova. That is because Kosova was as multi-ethnic before the war as Slovenia is--and nobody would have noted that Slovenia is particularly multi-ethnic. But they will blame us for having moved so easily from the position of being the victims of the biggest persecutor of the end of this century into a position where we have allowed the persecution of others in Kosova--as fascism returns in a different form.

And they will be right. Those who think that all the violence will end when the Serbs have left are fooling themselves. Again the violence will turn against the Albanians, but this time it will be at the hands of other Albanians. Is that what we fought for?

(On 21 August, Surroi told RFE/RL's Albanian-language broadcasters: "I think that we have a historical opportunity--which is the only opportunity that we have had so far--to create a state, and first and foremost a state that is democratic in nature. The future of Kosova will depend not so much on how high we raise our voices for independence or for our ideals and ambitions. It will depend rather on with how much energy and creativity we work for the creation of truly democratic institutions.") (Translated by Fabian Schmidt)

Russia Says West 'Appeases Separatists.' The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 17 August urging the international community not to "turn a blind eye to terrorism, separatism, and ethnic cleansing" in Kosova, Reuters reported. The statement argued that unspecified "Western countries" are conducting an "appeasement policy towards Albanian separatism." It added that "the situation...demands energetic and responsible actions to correct it."

The statement also called for an accelerated deployment of UN police and the quick disarmament of the UCK. Finally, it urged the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia to investigate crimes committed against Serbs in Kosova. The ministry issued the statement one day after unidentified attackers fired mortars into a Serbian village near Gjilan, killing two teenagers and injuring five other people (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 August 1999). (Fabian Schmidt)

Kosovars Keep Russians Out Of Rahovec. A crowd of ethnic Albanians on 23 August prevented Russian peacekeepers from entering Rahovec by blocking the road. "What's the problem here?" asked Colonel Andrei Serdukov, deputy commander of the Russian peacekeepers in Kosova. "Russians are the problem," replied one of the ethnic Albanians, Reuters reported.

AP quoted an elderly Kosovar as saying: "Russians cannot come to our city because they are criminals. From the first day of the war, they took part together with [Serbian] paramilitaries in the crimes. ...Today, it is the people's will and Albanian tradition that the enemy should be kept away as much as possible."

A few days earlier, a 75 year-old Kosovar in Babajlik echoed similar feelings to a Reuters correspondent: During World War II, "first the Italians were here, then the Germans. The Russians came at the end. They were the worst. Now all of them are back as KFOR troops. The Italians are good. The Germans are OK. We hate the Russians. They're communists and they support the Serbs. We don't want them around here at all, really. The Albanians' time has now come." (Patrick Moore)

Food Aid Needed For Serbian Refugees. A spokeswoman for the UN's World Food Program said in Geneva on 17 August that some 770,000 people in Serbia and Montenegro need food aid. She noted that most of them are Serbian refugees from Croatia, Bosnia, or Kosova.

For years, Milosevic's propaganda incited the Serbs of those three places to hate and fight their neighbors. Milosevic then left those Serbs in the lurch once the wars were lost. (Patrick Moore)

Torture Chamber Found In Prishtina's Grand Hotel. The Prishtina daily "Rilindja" reported on 17 August that the staff of the Grand Hotel have discovered two prison cells and a torture chamber in an underground building belonging to the hotel. The daily added that the employees found women's clothes and lists containing the names of students, an RFE/RL South Slavic Service correspondent reported. International war crimes investigators have begun to look into the matter.

During the recent conflict, journalists reported that Serbian paramilitaries used the Grand Hotel as their command center. Many foreign journalists stayed at the hotel, which also housed the regime's Media Center. In recent years especially, the hotel was not known for its high standards of cleanliness or service. (Fabian Schmidt)

WHO Warns Of Disease In Kosova. Officials from the World Health Organization (WHO) said in Geneva on 18 August that Kosova faces possible epidemics of major diseases. To avert this, they urged that public health systems be promptly restored and a vaccination program launched, Reuters reported. The agency added that an unspecified number of cases of polio, hepatitis, and hemorrhagic fever have been reported in the province in recent days. Many children born since 1997 have not been vaccinated against polio.

Meanwhile, the UN's Bernard Kouchner told medical workers at Prishtina's main hospital that his UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) will pay their salaries, AP reported. On 22 August, he installed a UN administration in a hospital in northern Mitrovica and pledged to employ ethnic Albanian and Serbian medical workers there. Kouchner said that the hospital--located in the Serbian-dominated part of the city--is "a symbol in my eyes and it must be a symbol of the future [of Kosova]. ...It will be a place where everyone [will] work in tolerance, a symbol of life together."

Observers suggest that Kouchner--himself a doctor--sees hospitals as pilot projects for revived multi-ethnic enterprises and a multi-ethnic society as a whole. (Fabian Schmidt)

Cows For Kosova. Switzerland will send 2,000 milk cows to Kosova to help reestablish herds destroyed during the recent conflict, the government said in a statement on 20 August (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," No. 27, 1999). The cows will be given thorough veterinary testing and are part of the Swiss program of reconstruction aid, AP reported. The first 100 animals will be flown to Prishtina in September, with the rest following before winter sets in. (Patrick Moore)

A Future For Muslims In Serbia And Montenegro? The Belgrade daily "Danas" has been running a series of articles by Sefko Alomerovic on the bleak prospects for Yugoslavia's ethnic Muslim minority. He concludes that many more Muslims may continue to leave Kosova and Sandzak for Bosnia, Turkey, or further abroad. Others will be under heavy pressure to assimilate to either the Albanian, Montenegrin, or Serbian nationality. The last possibility he summed up in the headline: "When Omer Becomes Milan."

But the picture is complex, as always in the Balkans. The installment on 23 August noted that Albanians often regard Muslims in Kosova as part of the Serbian establishment. This is because Muslims generally held jobs at a time when Kosovars were out of work. Individual Muslims nonetheless tended to sympathize with the Albanians rather than with the Serbs. (Patrick Moore)

Montenegro Forced To Finance Own Customs Service. Miodrag Radusinovic, who heads the Montenegrin customs service, said in Podgorica on 18 August that his agency will henceforth receive its funding from the Montenegrin republican budget. He said that Yugoslav customs chief Mihalj Kertes, who is a close aide to Milosevic, recently informed him that Belgrade will no longer fund the customs service in Montenegro. Radusinovic called the move "illegal," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. (Patrick Moore)

Shootout At Macedonian-Albanian Border. Macedonian border guards shot and killed one Albanian and wounded two others seriously on 15 August, AP reported. According to Macedonian government officials, the Albanians belonged to a group of about 20 people who tried to enter Macedonia illegally and opened fire on the border guards. (Fabian Schmidt)

Swiss Pop Group Wows Tirana. More than 50,000 people packed Tirana's central Skanderbeg Square on 15 August for a concert of the Swiss pop band D.J. Bobo, dpa reported. Organizers said that the concert was a tribute to the hospitality of the Albanian people for taking in hundreds of thousands of refugees during the Kosova war. (Fabian Schmidt)

$1 Billion Reported 'Lost' In Bosnian Fraud. "The New York Times" of 17 August reported that U.S.-led anti-fraud investigators have found that Muslim, Serbian, and Croatian nationalist leaders have stolen up to $1 billion from public funds or international aid projects since the Dayton peace agreement was signed in 1995.

A more than 4,000-page report compiled for the office of the international community's high representative describes massive corruption. That study served as the basis for the "New York Times" article.

In one incident, a Bosnian bank "lost" $20 million belonging to 10 foreign embassies or aid agencies. In Tuzla, $200 million "disappeared" from the 1999 budget. Tuzla officials allegedly had the local schools painted four times in 1998 at several times the going rate even though international aid organizations also had them rebuilt and painted. The schools have no heating.

Few corrupt officials have ever been brought to justice, the article added. Observers note, however, that Bosnia requires massive investments and a vigorous expansion of the private sector to combat rampant unemployment and poverty.

The day after the article appeared, Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic called it "lies." He charged that the story constitutes an attempt to discredit his government and deter foreigners from investing in Bosnia, the Sarajevo daily "Oslobodjenje" reported. Izetbegovic issued a statement in which he rebutted several specific charges of fraud cited in the article, including the one about Tuzla.

In Washington, a State Department spokesman noted that "U.S. government assistance has not been misused or abused to the best of our knowledge."

VOA's Croatian Service reported that the embezzled funds amount to 20 percent of all public money in Bosnia. In Sarajevo, a spokeswoman for the office of the international community's high representative said that the "lost" money probably totals more than $1 billion. It came from tax and customs evasion, as well as from embezzlement of public funds.

Her new boss, Austria's Wolfgang Petritsch, said that he regards the fight against corruption as an ongoing process. He added that the appearance of the "New York Times" report "is only a good opportunity to re-double our efforts to tackle this issue."

But that was not to be the end of the matter. State Department spokesman James Rubin said in Washington on 19 August that the "New York Times" report exaggerated the extent of the problem. He added: "It's hard enough to get support in this country for foreign assistance as it is. To have a false and unjustified and unsubstantiated perception that a billion dollars in foreign aid money has been stolen by the Bosnians...harms that cause. ...We would like to see corrective measures taken that create the truth and not this false perception," Rubin noted.

"New York Times" Foreign Editor Andrew Rosenthal told Reuters on 19 August that his paper's story is largely correct. "We have reviewed all of [Rubin's'] complaints and found a couple of minor points on which we think we made factual errors, which we are going to correct in the paper tonight. The basic premise of the story is completely sound," the foreign editor noted. The previous day, the paper wrote that all of the "lost" $1 billion was international aid.

Meanwhile, Chris Hedges, who wrote the controversial article, also said that he stands by his story, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 20 August. He rejected charges by Izetbegovic that the article constitutes a "witch hunt against the Bosnian authorities." Hedges later observed that those who have hurt Bosnia are "the ones who stole the money," not those who blew the whistle.

But the Muslim leadership does not intend to limit its reaction to words alone. On 21 August, the Sarajevo daily "Dnevni avaz" reported that Bosnian Prime Minister Edhem Bicakcic will sue the "New York Times" for damages that its article allegedly caused to his country. The Sarajevo paper also wrote that Bakir Izetbegovic, son of Alija, will sue the "New York Times" over allegations that he owns a 15 percent stake in Air Bosna and controls housing in Sarajevo.

Meanwhile in Banja Luka, Republika Srpska Deputy Prime Minister Ostoja Kremenovic said on 19 August that "corruption does not exist" in the Bosnian Serb entity. He acknowledged, however, that there may be "isolated cases" in which individuals have used their public office for personal gain. (Patrick Moore)

Sacked Croatian Minister Blames Top Leaders. Zeljko Luzavec, whom President Franjo Tudjman recently fired as minister of transportation, maritime affairs, and communications, blamed several top officials for his demise (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August 1999). Luzavec singled out Ivic Pasalic--who is Tudjman's top advisor--as well as Deputy Prime Minister Ljerka Mintas-Hodak and Reconstruction Minister Jure Radic, "Novi List" reported on 18 August.

Luzavec charged that he was the victim of a "palace coup" aimed at covering up evidence of mismanagement of the bankrupt shipping company Croatia Line (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," No.32, 1999). Observers note that such public recriminations are relatively rare among the Croatian leadership. (Patrick Moore)

Unemployment Plagues Croatia. Tudjman went into the 1992 parliamentary and presidential elections with the slogan "From Victory to Prosperity." For many Croats who lack connections within the governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), that slogan continues ring hollow.

"Jutarnji list" recently cited the latest official statistics to show that some 318,000 Croatian citizens are currently unemployed. Of those who register, only one in five manages to find work, which is often on a short-term basis. Worst affected are people with the fewest skills or educational qualifications, but the number of unemployed professionals with higher education is also on the rise.

According to official statistics, unemployment rates are double those of 1990 and triple those of 1982. But Finance Minister Borislav Skegro argues that the communist-era statistics were padded, and that things are not as bad as they seem.

The League of Independent Trade Unions of Croatia, however, begs to differ. Its spokesmen said last week that even those who have jobs often cannot make ends meet. Some 63 percent of the employed population earns less than DM 740, which is the average monthly wage. Union officials also noted that a family of four requires DM 1,180 to live, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported.

In any event, opposition parties hope to make political capital out of the unemployment figures in time for the parliamentary elections slated for later this year. The Liberals are already promising to create 150,000 new jobs, while the Croatian People's Party says it can deliver 200,000.

It is not clear how they intend to make good on these pledges. But many voters may vote the HDZ out in order to end what they consider a kleptocracy. Many hope that a more open economy will be a more prosperous one. (Patrick Moore)

Quotations of the Week. "Someone has made a big mistake here." -- Izetbegovic, on the fraud story.

"The final decision gives hope for the people of Brcko. This community will become the most progressive, ethnically mixed and prosperous area in Bosnia." -- Ambassador Robert Farrand, on announcing that Brcko will remain permanently under the joint administration of the Republika Srpska and the Croat-Muslim federation, on 19 August.

"There is so much corruption here that even Wesley Clark, NATO's commander, learned the word 'baksheesh' at Durres." -- Albanian Prime Minister Pandeli Majko to port officials in Durres, as quoted by Reuters on 20 August.

"Albanians should read the same history because we are part of the same history. And now it is time for us Albanians in the Balkans to make history." -- Majko, calling for the "unification of education" in all Albanian-speaking areas of the Balkans. Quoted by Reuters on 17 August.

"There's no reason for an outsider to do what we can do for ourselves. Our people are hard-working and self-reliant. We can run our own affairs. We've proved that in the two months since the war ended." -- Gjakova Mayor Mazllom Kumnova, quoted by Reuters on 19 August.

"If our army and our police aren't here, we are dead. [KFOR are] all on the Albanian side. If they don't give us help, we are dead. [The Albanians] will burn down everything. All around here were Serbs. They moved and their houses were burned." -- Serbian woman mourner in Klokot after the killing of two teenagers. Quoted by AP on 17 August.

"There was abundant anecdotal evidence that ethnic harmony remains some way off in Mitrovica." -- Reuters' Kurt Schork, on 16 August.