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Kosovo Report: August 10, 1999

10 August 1999, Number 18, Volume 1

TENSE SITUATION IN MITROVICA. Representatives of the ethnic Serbian and Albanian communities of Mitrovica, meeting on 9 August under the mediation of the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and KFOR, failed to agree on ensuring freedom of movement. Ethnic Albanian Mayor Bajram Rexhepi told Reuters after the meeting: "Our plan was to return the population in 15 days [but the] Serbs said the deadline should be September 2000." A Serbian representative, however, said that "there is a good will in both sides. I don't know if we are going to sign an agreement, but both sides had some concrete suggestions."

Ethnic Albanians injured a French soldier in clashes on 9 August in Mitrovica. The clashes occurred as French troops kept the city's main bridge closed and installed a roadblock with barbed wire and armored vehicles. The bridge links the ethnic Albanian-dominated south of the city with the Serbian-dominated northern part. In an effort to relieve tensions, Mary-Pat Silveira, who is the UN's deputy chief representative for north Kosovo, addressed hundreds of protesters. She tried in vain to explain to the crowd that the international community is trying to solve the problem through negotiations. Later that day, local Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) commander Rahman Rama asked the people to end their protests.

Asked whether he believes that there will be an agreement, a KFOR spokesman in Mitrovica said: "All people of good spirit believe in and hope to reach such an agreement." But, the Albanians of Mitrovica are feeling frustrated because of the violence used by French soldiers against them during the last two days and, as they say, because of the presence of Serbian security forces in the northern part of the city. UN officials announced that they will not allow any more protest gatherings in Mitrovica. Meanwhile, French Defense Minister Alain Richard arrived in Kosovo on 10 August to visit Prishtina and Mitrovica.

THACI CRITICIZES KFOR. Hashim Thaci, who is the prime minister of the provisional government of Kosovo, held a press conference on 9 August in which he said that the situation in Mitrovica remains tense. Thaci said that the KFOR blockade of the bridge is in contradiction to UN Security Council resolution 1244 and the Rambouillet agreement. He added that: "according to all international agreements, the territory of Kosovo is indivisible and this is internationally guaranteed, but nonetheless, the partition of Mitrovica is a reality today. We can not accept such a reality and the Albanians have every right to cross the bridge over the Iber river to go back to their houses and apartments to reunite with their families."

Furthermore, Thaci said that there are still Serbian police and paramilitary forces in Mitrovica and that this is in contradiction to all international agreements. As a result of this there were confrontations in Mitrovica between people who tried to return to their homes and KFOR soldiers who behaved, as he said, in an "arrogant and undemocratic" way. Thaci said that he is making joint efforts with the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and KFOR to find a solution: "The citizens of Mitrovica have our full support and that of the democratic world for their return to their homes, and they will not allow a partition of the city."

Thaci also criticized UNMIK's plan to apply laws that were in force in Kosovo on 24 March 1999, when NATO began its bombing campaign. He said that such laws prevailed under a decade of repressive direct rule and added that "you cannot establish a democratic society with undemocratic laws." Thaci also said that another problematic question is that of property rights. He said that property must be returned to those to whom it belonged legally before the regime of Milosevic.

Thaci said further that an estimated 7,000 Albanians are still being held in Serb prisons and that the whereabouts of only 2,000 of them are known. About the others, he said there is no information as to where they are or what has happened to them. Asked whether there are armed people outside the control of the UCK, who are causing problems, Thaci responded: "There may be armed people in Kosovo, whom the UCK does not have under its control. We have raised concern about that from the beginning after the war. Sir Mike Jackson also does not have these people under control."

VIOLENCE CONTINUES IN KOSOVO. On 8 and 9 August, one person was killed and four injured in Kosovo. During the same period, KFOR arrested 59 people, according to spokesman Major Roland Lavoie. He said that those arrested were either suspected of involvement in violent acts or were found to be in possession of arms. Lavoie said that the number of KFOR troops in Kosovo is now around 38,000. He said that KFOR is determined to implement law and public order to make sure that the population can live securely and reconstruct their lives. KFOR Commander General Sir Mike Jackson met on 9 August with Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) Commander Agim Ceku. A KFOR spokesman said that the two men talked about the transformation and demilitarization of the UCK.

KOSOVAR LEGISLATOR WANTS PARLIAMENT TO MEET. Gjergj Dedaj, leader of the Liberal Party of Kosovo told RFE/RL that he demands the holding of a session of the shadow-state Parliament of Kosovo. Dedaj said that it was impossible to hold a parliamentary session in Kosovo during the war, due to fear of police intervention, but he argues that that situation is now over and the legislators should meet. He argues that shadow-state legislators have a mandate from the electorate and that it is difficult to understand why other institutions are involved in efforts to rebuild Kosovo and its institutions, while the Parliament remains idle. He stressed that the Parliament and shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova have a mandate to represent the electorate until the holding of new elections.

ITALIAN SOLDIERS TO BUILD AIRPORT. Italian KFOR technicians will build an airport near Peja. The airport will serve the delivery of military and humanitarian goods. Construction work will begin in mid-August and should finish before winter. The airport will mainly serve to give logistical support to the Italian KFOR contingent, while contributing to the local economy and reconstruction of that region, according to KFOR spokesman Roland Lavoie.

BELGRADE APPOINTS NEW KOSOVO REPRESENTATIVE. The federal government of Yugoslavia has appointed Stanimir Vukicevic as its representative for cooperation with the UN mission in Kosovo. The previous head of the committee, Nebojsa Vujovic, has been released from that position -- officially for health reasons.

BELGRADE OPPOSITION AGREES ON DEMONSTRATION. After meeting with Patriarch Pavle in Belgrade on 9 August, Serbian opposition leaders confirmed their participation in a protest demonstration on 19 August, which has been organized by the G-17 group of Serbian economists. During the two-hour meeting opposition leaders agreed that it is necessary to implement democratic changes in Serbia and establish a transitional government of experts, following a proposal by the G-17 titled Stability Pact for Serbia. This basic agreement, however, has not yet led to a joint formula for the composition of such a government, which will have to replace the regime of Slobodan Milosevic. One part of the opposition demanded that the current government be involved in the formation of the transitional government, while another part rejected any cooperation with the current regime.

The same day former Yugoslav Army Chief of Staff Momcilo Perisic announced that he has formed a new political movement called the Movement for a Democratic Serbia. He said that the main aims of his party include the removal of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic from power and democratic changes.