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Kosovo Report: August 24, 1999

24 August 1999, Number 28, Volume 1

RUSSIAN-ALBANIAN STANDOFF CONTINUES IN RAHOVEC. Hundreds of ethnic Albanians continued to block roads leading to Rahovec on 24 August, thus preventing Russian peacekeepers from entering that town. The roadblock includes a long line of trucks, busses, tractors, and other vehicles. Dutch peacekeepers are scheduled to begin mediations between Russian officers and the Albanian protesters later in the day, AP reported. The protesters reject the deployment of Russian soldiers, claiming that Russian mercenaries have committed atrocities in that area in March and April. The protesters also say that they fear Russian KFOR will protect Serbian paramilitaries who are allegedly hiding in the Serbian-dominated quarter of Rahovec.

JACKSON CONFIRMS UCK COMPLIANCE. KFOR commander General Sir Mike Jackson gave a press conference together with General Agim Ceku, who is the chief of the Kosova Liberation Army's (UCK) General Staff, in Prishtina on 23 August. Jackson confirmed that the UCK handed in all of its heavy weapons such as artillery, all long-barreled weapons such as Kalashnikov assault rifles, and 60 per cent of all automatic small arms by the end of 19 August. That day marked the end of the second phase of the UCK's demilitarization. Jackson stressed that the UCK must now concentrate on transforming itself into a non-military group. The UCK previously committed itself to complete its demilitarization by 19 September.

SERBIAN WAR CRIMES SUSPECTS TO BE TRIED IN PRIZREN. Three Serbs arrested on suspicion of war crimes by KFOR peacekeeping troops in Rahovec on 20 August will stand trial at a District Court in Prizren rather than in The Hague, Reuters reported. UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) spokeswoman Nadia Younes said, however, that "although this will be a domestic war crimes trial, the [tribunal] takes great interest in this case. [This is] because the events in [Rahovec] are related to the indictment of [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic." Tribunal officials told Reuters on 23 August that they support the arrest and trial of suspected war criminals in local courts so long as the judiciary is "mature and democratic enough" to ensure that individuals receive a fair trial.

THACI MEETS XHAFERI. Arben Xhaferi, head of the Albanian Democratic Party (PDSH), met the Kosovo Liberation Army's political leader Hashim Thaci in Skopje on 23 August. The PDSH is a coalition member in the Macedonian government. Xhaferi told RFE/RL that they agreed during the meeting that it is necessary to stabilize the situation in Mitrovica with the support of KFOR. He also said that they talked about the relationship between the provisional government of Kosovo and the various political parties there and about the prospect for new elections in Kosovo. Xhaferi stressed that so far the provisional government has had only limited possibilities to work in Kosovo, lacking an executive power. He expressed the hope that it will be involved in the UN civilian administration and that after free elections an executive power will take office.

ETHNIC ALBANIANS IN SERBIA REPORT ETHNIC CLEANSING. Riza Halimi, head of the Party of Democratic Action in Presheva, told RFE/RL that "the current situation in the three [ethnic Albanian majority] communities [of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac] is very difficult." He said that "the Yugoslav Army has a strong presence near the demilitarized zone bordering Kosovo and at the border to Macedonia." Halimi added that many Serbs who have been expelled from Kosovo are now pressuring ethnic Albanians in the three communities to hand over their homes to them. He said that the refugees offer to exchange their houses in Kosovo for those of the Albanians, but that they also use threats and violence.

Halimi reported cases of killings and beatings. He also said that many ethnic Albanian workers have been expelled from their workplaces recently and estimated that about 6,000 ethnic Albanians have left these communities. Most of them were from the area around Bujanovac, where Serbs looted and burned Albanian houses. He added that "there we face...complete ethnic cleansing." Halimi noted that besides the UNHCR, no other international organizations have taken notice of the fate of the developments in the three communities.

ROMA REFUGEES DROWN IN BOAT ACCIDENT. Montengrin authorities have found the bodies of 17 Roma refugees on the Montenegrin coast on 22 August. The refugees tried to reach Italy illegally by boat on 20 August. The boat, however, sank in international waters. A passing ship serving the Tivar-Bari line rescued 69 other refugees.

MAJKO WANTS ALBANIANS TO DONATE FOR KOSOVA-ALBANIAN HIGHWAY. Prime Minister Pandeli Majko called on the Albanian people on 23 August to donate money for a highway linking Durres with Prishtina. Majko said in Tirana that "the Albanian government has decided that the construction of a road linking Tirana with Prishtina is one of its strategic priorities. That road will serve both ethnic Albanian entities in the Balkans.... It will serve the faster movement of goods, people, capital, and culture." Majko called the plan "a gigantic challenge for our nation," but stressed that "together we...can achieve wonders for our joint future.... This will be the Albanians' road and we Albanians will built it... We shall ask for help from our international partners, but initially we should demonstrate that we are able to help ourselves."