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Kosovo Report: August 27, 1999

27 August 1999, Number 31, Volume 1

NEGOTIATIONS CONTINUE IN RAHOVEC. Captain Mike Bos, who is a spokesman for the Dutch forces in Rahovec, told Reuters on 27 August that negotiations between Albanian protesters and KFOR there will continue later in the day. Bos said "we're not expecting some sort of breakthrough.... We're just keeping the talks going." The previous day local Serbs and Albanians participated in the talks. Meanwhile, ethnic Albanians continued their blockade of the city for the fifth day, preventing the deployment of Russian troops there (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 1999).

KFOR FINDS MASS GRAVE WITH SUSPECTED SERBIAN BODIES. KFOR soldiers discovered a mass grave in the village of Uglar near Gjilan containing 11 bodies presumed to be those of Serbs. The soldiers also found four more unburied bodies about 600 meters from that location, an RFE/RL South Slavic Service correspondent reported on 26 August. A KFOR official said that the victims were killed after the arrival of KFOR troops in Kosovo in June. Local Serbs identified three of the victims. A team of forensic experts working for the Hague-based war crimes tribunal has begun investigations. Yugoslav Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic issued a statement saying that KFOR "must thoroughly change their conduct and abandon patronage of the separatist and terrorist organization" by which he meant the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK)," AP reported. He also called for an urgent session of the UN Security Council to review the role of KFOR. The KFOR spokesman said that there was no evidence to suggest UCK involvement in the killings.

ALBANIAN MINISTER REJECTS 'UNIFICATION' OF EDUCATION. Education Minister Ethem Ruka told an RFE/RL correspondent in Tirana on 26 August that his government's initiative to improve cooperation with the Albanian-language schools and universities in Kosovo, Macedonia, and Montenegro must not be misunderstood as an attempt to impose Albania's education system on neighboring countries' Albanian-speaking populations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August 1999). He said that the intention is to create a framework in which the schools and universities will recognize the validity of each other's exams and diplomas. He stressed, however, that Albania does not want to create a "unified" education system for all Albanian-speakers in the Balkans. Ruka said the priority is to help ethnic Albanians in the neighboring countries with expertise in drawing up their own education programs. Ruka also said that the Albanian government wants to initiate projects that aim to raise "a new generation in Albania that has overcome chauvinism and nationalism and that is shaped by democratic ideals and a culture of peace."

TOUGH CHALLENGES FOR KOSOVO'S WOMEN by Alexandra Poolos The ethnic Albanian women of Kosovo have a unique set of challenges. Not only must they carry the loss of husbands, brothers, fathers, and sons as they return to the province. Many of them also carry the wounds of rape.

Martina Vandenberg of the Women's Rights Division of the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch says rape was used as a weapon against a large number of ethnic Albanian women in Kosovo: "We found really that there were two very common scenarios. The first was women being raped in their homes. Sometimes in front of their families. Sometimes dragged into another room. Sometimes killed after they were raped. The second scenario that we found was women being pulled out of line. So when the huge lines of deportees were heading towards Macedonia and Albania during the war, women would be pulled out of line and raped."

No one knows the number of women who have been raped in Kosovo, but human rights groups believe sexual violence was widespread. Human rights workers say the difficulty of determining the number is compounded by the fact that rape is rarely discussed among its victims, many of whom fear being shunned by their families. But activists like Vandenberg -- who spent time in Kosovo documenting rape testimonies -- say Kosovars' cultural reluctance to discuss rape has been overemphasized in press reports:

"Anywhere in the world, women are afraid to speak of rape, and rape is considered in every culture to be shameful. I think that if you walked up to a woman on the street in New York and asked if she had been raped, it would be unlikely that she would answer yes or no."

Vandenberg says Kosovar women did have difficulty talking about rape. But she says women who are treated with dignity and who receive psychological and medical support were able to tell their stories. Medica Kosovo is one of the front-runners of a handful of women's organizations attempting to do long-term work with victims of rape and other sexual violence in Kosovo. Magrit Spindeler, a Medica spokeswoman, says the recent media reports that Kosovar women face rejection if they admit to being raped are exaggerated: "It's too easy to make a religion or a certain culture responsible for that.... It's dependent on the individual, how the women react.... There are families where women can tell their husbands and the husbands try to cope with it. And they can cope with it in the end in a very hard work process that both go through. And we've experienced such good cases. And we've experienced other cases where the women couldn't cope ... and their husbands couldn't either, so they split up. Or we've experienced where the family was shocked at the beginning and then they decided 'she's a part of this family and we support her and she will always be a part of the family.'"

Medica has just opened the doors of a crisis center in Gjakova, a town in Kosovo's far West. Gisela Endel, the clinic's director, says it is one of the few non-governmental organizations now operating in the area. She says many women there face rebuilding life alone because many men from the area are missing: "Gjakova was one the most attacked places during the war.... There are 2,000 men missing, nobody knows where they are, are they dead or alive, are they in prison in Serbia? Another important fact about Gjakova is that there are 800 or 1,000 children without parents.... And women who are not used to deciding to take decisions or to be active in another way or as men have been, they have to have help."

So far no women in Gjakova have admitted to being raped. Instead they tell stories of friends, sisters, and neighbors. Endel says these are loosely veiled accounts of personal experiences that reflect the need the women have to talk out the trauma. She says the ones who don't talk at all, the ones who are silent and withdrawn, have the stories written in their eyes and in the slow and guarded way in which they move.

"The women say, 'better killed than raped'. But it is only one part of the story, it is a traditional meaning. But the other part of the heart must be very happy that their daughters are not killed -- this is clear. And it is also clear that the young women, or women who have been raped, are glad to be alive. They have to have a future and they can have a future."

Endel says that for now, Medica Kosovo will concentrate on providing housing, food, child-care supplies, and medical help to the women of Gjakova. She believes that by respecting their basic needs, Medica is building a reputation as a "safe place" where the women can seek psychological help later on when they are ready. According to her experience in Bosnia, it usually takes two or three months before a woman is ready to talk about sexual trauma.

Endel also says that, although there has been a lot of suffering in Kosovo and although a lot of challenges remain, there is also hope. She says that by and large the women of Kosovo survived the war and c-a-n begin their lives anew. But, as with all things in Kosovo, the healing of the wounds will take time.