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Kosovo Report: July 20, 1999

20 July 1999, Number 10, Volume 1

KOUCHNER APPOINTS JUDGES, PROSECUTORS IN PRIZREN. UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) spokesman Kevin Kennedy said that Special Representative Bernard Kouchner visited Peja, Prizren, and Mitrovica on 18 and 19 July. He added that in Prizren, Kouchner appointed seven judges and prosecutors to investigate and judge the cases of people arrested by KFOR. So far, KFOR has arrested 198 people. The judges recommended the release of 95 of them, while the others will be kept under arrest. When asked about the criteria used for appointing the judges, some of whom also served under the most recent Serbian regime, Kennedy said that they were selected by a supervisory board which took both their professional experience as well as their personal background into consideration.

KFOR DISCOVERS SUSPECTED UCK PRISON. KFOR spokesman Louis Garneau announced in Prishtina on 19 July that Italian soldiers have arrested seven people in Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) uniforms who were illegally holding a man captive in a suspected prison. The man has been physically maltreated. Garneau said that if these men do indeed belong to the UCK, this would mark a violation of the military-technical agreement. The spokesman added that a KFOR official discussed the incident with UCK leaders. He did not elaborate.

EU TO OPEN OFFICES IN THESSALONIKI, PRISHTINA. EU Foreign Ministers agreed in Brussels on 19 July that the EU agency for reconstruction of the Balkans will have two offices: one in Prishtina and one in Thessaloniki. The foreign ministers denounced the ongoing looting and violence in Kosovo and called on Kosovar Serbs to return to the province.

Finnish Foreign Minister Tarja Halonen, who chaired the meeting, presented the foreign policy priorities of the Finnish EU presidency. Kosovo takes first place among these. She said that the EU must work to secure democracy and a sustainable peace in Kosovo. She also praised the previous German presidency for developing the Balkan Stability Pact. Halonen stressed, however, that such a project will require a great deal of money, patience, and time.

German deputy Foreign Minister Guenther Verheugen stressed that the EU must remain involved to make sure that Kosovo remains a multi-ethnic society. He stressed that democracy and respect for the rule of law are essential preconditions for this. Austrian Foreign Minister Wolfgang Schuessel said that the media will play an important role in the reconstruction of a civil society. He said that the case of Kosovo has shown that without a free media, it is impossible to build tolerance and democracy.

REFUGEE UPDATE. UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond said that over 11,000 tents have been distributed so far in Kosovo. He added that according to official statistics, 685,000 Albanian refugees -- who had been expelled by Serbian forces between March and June -- have now returned to Kosovo. He added that 87,000 remain in neighboring countries.

ROBERTSON ANNOUNCES PARTIAL TROOP WITHDRAWAL. British Defense Secretary George Robertson said in London on 19 July that Great Britain will withdraw 3,000 troops from Kosovo over the upcoming months. Robertson said that the withdrawal will take place between August and October of this year, parallel to the improvement of the situation in Kosovo and the arrival of other countries' troops.

SCHROEDER TO START BALKAN TOUR. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder will visit Macedonia and Kosovo at the end of this week to talk with local leaders and UN Special Representative Bernard Kouchner. Government officials announced in Bonn on 19 July that Schroeder will meet with Hashim Thaci, Ibrahim Rugova, and with Serbian political and spiritual leaders.

TWO U.S. SOLDIERS DIE IN TRAFFIC ACCIDENT. Major Mark J. Ballesteros, a spokesman for American headquarters in Kosovo, told journalists in Prishtina on 19 July that two U.S. soldiers died and three suffered minor injuries when their armored vehicle overturned. The accident happened late on 18 July about 16 kilometers northeast of Gjilane.

KFOR CONFIRMS DEATH OF FOUR IN KLINA. KFOR officials in Prishtina on 19 July have confirmed the deaths of four ethnic Albanians over the weekend near Klina. KFOR spokesman Louis Garneau called the killings "tragic" and added that there is still an unacceptably high level of violence in Kosovo. He added that only further deployment of police forces can solve that problem in the long run.

BELGRADE ANNOUNCES FORMATION OF NATIONAL ASSEMBLY FOR KOSOVO. Serbian media reported that by the end of the week a Serbian National Assembly of Kosovo will be formed. The assembly will be composed of representatives of the local Serbs, who are currently members of the Serbian and Yugoslav parliaments. The Serbian government issued a statement saying that this assembly will serve to "protect Serbian national interests in Kosovo."

SERBIAN RESERVISTS RESUME PROTESTS. Yugoslav Army reservists went out on the streets of Krusevac on 18 July for the third time, demanding back pay for serving in Kosovo. The reservists threatened to expand their protests also to other regions of Serbia. The coalition Alliance for Change announced on 19 July that they will hold protests every day to call for the resignation of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

MITROVICA REMAINS DIVIDED. An RFE/RL South Slavic Service correspondent reported from Mitrovica on 19 July that the city remains divided between Serbs and Albanians along the river Ibri. French soldiers still keep the main bridge across the river under their control. On 17 July, local Albanians held protests against the partitioning of the city, and French KFOR officials promised to ensure the return of Kosovar Albanians to the northern part of the city. They also pledged that armed Serbian civilians will be disarmed. That has not yet happened, however, and the Albanians who once lived in the northern part of the city still remain with their relatives in the southern districts.

An Albanian inhabitant told RFE/RL that French KFOR soldiers did not allow his family to return to the northern part of Mitrovica because they had no identity documents. Another Albanian, who tried to return, said that Serbs threw rocks at him when trying to cross the bridge. Serbs surrounded the RFE/RL journalist and several colleagues from other radio stations when they tried to cross into northern Mitrovica. Serbs threatened the journalists in poor English, telling them to return. This happened only few meters away from the French soldiers, who did not intervene.

A French KFOR soldier told RFE/RL that the situation is not as bad as it seems: "When we arrived here, the Albanians and Serbs were at war. And you can see that there is no shooting now. There are no deaths." He added that this is a great step forward. But he also said that such a situation could continue for months. Asked about the incident in which the Serbs insulted and threatened the journalists, the soldier said: "I can imagine that just one month ago you could not even have spoken to them. In my view this is big progress." Meanwhile, there are cases of Serbs crossing into southern Mitrovica, such as when they have to use the local hospital.

City Prefect Bajram Rexhepi said, however, that the situation in the city is very difficult, and accused ultra-nationalist Serbs of trying to partition the city. He stressed that the Albanians are willing to work closely with the international community to solve any problems, but added that no results had yet been achieved in this case. He said: "We may have to reach our goals by force. This may be reasonable."