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Kosovo Report: August 26, 1999

26 August 1999, Number 30, Volume 1

KOUCHNER RULES OUT 'CANTONIZATION' OF KOSOVA. UN Special Representative Bernard Kouchner told AFP after the third session of the Kosova Transitional Council in Prishtina on 25 August that he does not want a formal partition of Kosova along ethnic lines. Serbian leader Momcilo Trajkovic earlier proposed "cantonization" to protect the Serbian minority there (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 1999). All ethnic Albanian representatives rejected that proposal.

Trajkovic told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service after the meeting that Kouchner suggested "regrouping" Serbs under international protection: "The discussion focused on the possibility of creating security zones for the Kosovar Serbs including Prishtina, Mitrovica, some areas in the Sharr mountains, and Gjilan." After the meeting, Kouchner explained that "cantonization is not a good reminds us a lot of bad things." He pledged that he and Serbian representatives will present a new plan next week. The Kosova Liberation Army's Hashim Thaci, however, said the ethnic Albanian representatives consider the discussion closed.

Kouchner said in Prishtina on 25 August that the council meeting was "very difficult but constructive." He explained that the discussion focused on the creation of executive and governing bodies. He gave no details, however. Kosovar moderate leader Ibrahim Rugova told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service that "we have agreed to create executive bodies of the transitional council. This is most important, and they will begin to work soon." Thaci, however, said that the precise composition of those bodies is not yet clear: "We do not know how they will be composed because the issue is undefined and there is no judicial and legal basis on which to set up these bodies."

FAMILY OF 24 BURIED NEAR PEJA. Twenty-four members of the Ymeraj family were buried on 25 August in the presence of many citizens of Peja. The Ymeraj's are believed to have been killed by Serbian forces during the NATO bombing campaign. The bodies of the victims, who ranged in age from two to 80 years, were found in various graves located throughout an area of about one square kilometer around the village of Padalisht. International forensic experts exhumed the victims on 21 August and concluded that all of them had been shot. Some of the bodies had signs of mutilation.

TALBOTT REJECTS PARTITION OF KOSOVO. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott said during a presentation at the Aspen Institute on 25 August that the ideas of an independent Kosovo and of a partition of Bosnia would be major mistakes. He said that the U.S. does not support such ideas, as they play into the hands of nationalists and separatists in the region. Talbott added that the United States' common denominator in both Bosnia and Kosovo was not only to stop human slaughter, but also to stop the dismemberment of states.

HAVEL DENOUNCES VIOLENCE IN KOSOVO. Czech President Vaclav Havel, speaking in Novy Jicin on 25 August, harshly denounced the violence against Serbs and Roma in Kosovo, but said that "the exodus of Serbs is not part of state policy or that of an international organization, unlike the expulsion of Albanians, which was a part of state policy and was organized from the center." He added that KFOR units could not be blamed for this situation.

ALBANIAN POLICE FIND LARGE ARMS CACHE NEAR TROPOJA. Albanian special police forces on 24 August discovered an arms cache containing grenade launchers, heavy machine guns, mortars, and other weapons, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported. The cache was located in a tunnel near Pac in the Tropoja region. Police in the same region also confiscated two tanker trucks smuggling gasoline into Gjakova as well as several cars stolen in Albania and bound for Kosova. One of them was stolen from the OSCE in the Tropoja region earlier in the year. Earlier this summer, the OSCE closed its local office there after gunmen killed two of its local staff (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June 1999). A spokesman of the Public Order Ministry told an RFE/RL South Slavic Service correspondent that he cannot confirm the newspaper report. An OSCE spokeswoman in Tirana, however, said that OSCE officials will visit Tropoja to investigate the report.

DEATH TOLL RISES AFTER REFUGEE BOAT DISASTER. Officials from the Montenegrin Police said on 25 August in Podgorica that they have so far found 33 bodies of Roma from Kosovo. The bodies are thought to belong to victims, mostly women and children, from a ship disaster on 20 August (see "RFE/RL Kosovo Report" 24 August 1999). The boat was carrying more than 100 Romany refugees, who were trying to enter Italy illegally from Montenegro, when it sank in international waters. Another ship rescued 69 of them. Some 1,500 Roma arrived in Italy last week. They have fled Kosovo, fearing violence from ethnic Albanians.


By Jolyon Naegele

The Kosovar Albanians blocking the road from Prishtina and Malisheva to their town of Rahovec are adamant that they will not allow Russian KFOR troops in to patrol.

They hold signs in Albanian, broken German and English with a variety of pro-NATO, anti-Russian slogans. The slogans include: "NATO Yes, Russians No", "We don't like Russians", "Russians Killed Us", and "Russians Out of Rahovec".

The nearest Russian soldiers are a reconnaissance team in an armored personnel carrier further up the road, surveying the scene through binoculars. Beyond the first cluster of demonstrators, a variety of trucks, cars, busses and tractors as well as rocks and shredded tires block the road that winds down the mountain toward Rahovec. Numerous villagers have been spending the night at the roadblock to ensure that the Russian troops do not try to sneak in under the cover of darkness.

One resident, Ismail Bekeri, is seated on a blanket in the middle of the road with a combination ax/saw before him and a sign on his back reading: "We don't trust Russia" and "I hate Russia". As another truck maneuvers to join the road block, Bekeri explains why he and his neighbors do not want the Russians in Rahovec: "We do not like Russians because Russians left behind them many bad things, such as massacres, rapes, burnings, and we will never let them in Rahovec."

Bekeri says the Russians were mercenaries with Serb paramilitaries.

A local school teacher, Imer Hoxha, warns that the residents of Rahovec will take up arms if the Russian troops enter the town: "The citizens of Rahovec do not like Russians here because they have participated in a first and second war. If they came here, for sure a third war will start. The population won't just sit and watch them, they will ... revolt against them, and that will be very bad for us here in Rahovec. We were doing well with Dutch and German soldiers, so why do the Russians need to be here? Why do the Russians need to be here when we know they have participated in massacres in Rahovec? We have much evidence to prove that they have massacred people. So they do not need to come here. They can go to other parts of Kosovo, to the parts where there are no witnesses who can testify about their massacres. Here in Rahovec, instead of burying our dead today, we must sit here and wait for the Russians."

The claim that Russian mercenaries worked alongside Serb paramilitaries in Kosovo is made frequently by ethnic Albanians. Evidence is anecdotal -- no papers or Russian passports have been found. But at least one Russian commander in Kosovo, General Alexander Koshelnik, said recently that the possibility that at least some Russian mercenaries were involved in Kosovo can not be ruled out.

The Rahovec Albanians were joined today by over a dozen local Romany (Gypsy) residents. The Roma presence in the blockade is unusual because Romany-Albanian relations are very bad at present. During the past ten weeks, tens of thousands of Roma have fled to the relative safety of refugee camps in the province or to Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro or Italy. They fled following accusations by Kosovar Albanians that Roma had joined in the looting of Albanian homes during NATO air strikes, a charge they deny.

The nearest Russian military base belongs to the 11th tactical group, some 15 km to the east toward Prishtina in Malisheva. The Russians recently succeeded in deploying their forces in Malisheva, much to the anger of some local residents.

The deputy commander of the Russian KFOR base at Malisheva, Lt. Col. Nikolai Grechishnikov, says the dispute with the residents of Rahovec over Russian entry into the town will be resolved peacefully. In his words, "the Russian contingent's policy is that there will be no seizure, no shooting, no Blitzkrieg, no rash movement, but only negotiations to ensure normalcy."

German, Dutch and Russian KFOR commanders flew in to Rahovec today for talks with local officials and with representatives of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) in a bid to find a solution. No progress was reported and the talks are now set to resume tomorrow.

Malisheva, which like Rahovec is in the Llapush region, a traditional UCK bastion, is also a hotbed of anti-Russian feeling.

In Lt. Col. Grechishnikov's words, "some people here don't know how to behave". He says some Malisheva residents are committing what he terms "provocations" against Russian forces day and night. He declines to go into detail but does add that the provocations range from minor to serious. "There have been times", he says "when shooting by the Russian troops would have been in order."

But as Lt. Co. Grechishnikov puts it, "the most important thing is to talk even a thousand times, because you only shoot once".

Compiled by Fabian Schmidt