Kosovars with no identity papers and passportsFehim REXHEPI
SAT, 15 JAN 2000
Pristina, 27 December, 1999 - Statistical evidence and issuing of identity papers to the citizens is becoming an acute technical and political problem of the people and UNMIK authorities in Kosovo. Almost in all parts of Kosovo UNMIK has come upon empty archives. Serbian authorities have taken the most of the documentation along with them, and a small part of it has been destroyed. A part of personal documentation of ethnic Albanians was destroyed by Serbian authorities when they were banished into Macedonia, and papers of those who were banished to Albania were massively taken away from them and destroyed. Ministry of justice of Serbia has recently made a list of documents of Kosovar municipalities and Serb towns where they are at the moment. These are the registers of births, marriages and deaths, and registers of citizenship of the people on the territory of Kosovo. In an official letter sent to registry offices of all Kosovar municipalities on 7 December, 1999, the Ministry explained the procedure of issuing identity papers for the citizens of Kosovo in Serb municipalities.
But only direct facing with this problem shows how hard it is to establish fundamental social order without the basic statistical data. Therefore, not a single analysis of trends in Kosovo can aspire to be serious and objective if it disregards the fact that there are no fundamental data here on many issues, including identity of a large number of inhabitants. Those not living in Kosovo or not facing directly difficulties of this kind do not seem to be able to observe the significance and totality of this problem. Without evidence it is impossible to issue any new personal papers, it is difficult to establish order in almost chaotic transportation, to fight against growing crime rate, to initiate and conduct court proceedings, to control massive illegal construction, usurpation of lots and land in general, to determine the actual situation in ownership relations, to issue documents for travelling abroad. Exact records of the population with permanent or temporary place of residence is also arising lately as an insurmountable obstacle for preparations and holding of democratic and free elections.
Since some time ago, UNMIK has taken upon itself to register births, deaths and marriages and issuing documents about it with the stamp of OUN. In the course of December personal motor vehicles were registered in Pristina without confirmation of ownership. About three thousand vehicles were registered. After three weeks the job was interrupted with a promise that it will be restarted in the second half of January in another six new registration centres which will be opened apart from Pristina in another three Kosovar municipalities.
Certain services of the international civil administration had promised that issuing of personal and other papers would begin back in the second half of October. These were unfounded promises, but UNMIK personnel were just arriving in Kosovo and they can be forgiven. Numerous negative phenomena and difficulties due to lack of fundamental statistical data are not the result of unmet promises but objective situation. In a recent interview for a foreign newspaper, to a question of the journalist why census has not been carried out so far or at least preparations for it have not been made, head administrator of Kosovo Bernard Kouchner answered with a question: and where are the promised 15 million marks? It is estimated that all the work connected with the census will approximately cost that much and that the whole job requires at least four months. Representatives of UNMIK do not give any details, but it is known that preparations for the census are well under way. It is also known that in the course of November and December 1999, a test census was made on a sample of about five per cent of the population which was supposed to include bout 10 thousand Kosovar citizens. The methodology is not known, nor how the data processing of the test census is proceeding. On various occasions, mostly in talks with foreign diplomats representatives of UNMIK mention the possibility that the all-inclusive census might begin in February. If customary delays are taken into account, it can be assumed that the complete census of the population and households might begin un spring. That should be the ultimate deadline if it is seriously meant to schedule elections for the beginning of next autumn or if precise determination of the number and place of residence of Kosovar citizens is set as a precondition for holding the elections. This will, of course, raise the question of citizens who do not live in Kosovo, and their status and rights in the elections.
In public, the delay of the beginning of issuing passports causes the greatest reactions. Along with numerous objections of ethnic Albanian public, certain Serb associations under auspices of international civil administration occasionally have issued Yugoslav passports to the citizens of Kosovo. In Serb enclaves inside Kosovo which are protected by KFOR, along with consolidation of their local organisation, local authorities were revived and they started issuing all the papers which used to be issued by municipal administration including passports. It should be mentioned that these authorities continued with all jobs carried out by former municipal and higher Serbian authorities. They are organising internal security, health, education, supply, distribution of pensions, with the help of KFOR, they distribute the press from Belgrade… The northern part of Mitrovica and the whole region of that part of Kosovo carried these jobs without interruption, like before arrival of KFOR. In fact, this part of Kosovo, regardless of the presence of KFOR troops, has remained under full jurisdiction of Serbia and in the name of Belgrade it operates as central Serbian authorities in Kosovo.
International civil administration is not exactly happy about the fact that Serbian authorities are continuing to issue passports, but its officials are declaring that they have not the right to prevent them. Daniela Rozgonova, spokeswoman of UNMIK answered to a question of a journalist that Kosovo was a part of Yugoslavia.
Unwillingly, but out of great need, a small number of Kosovo Albanians agreed to the risk and accepted this way of acquiring papers for travelling abroad. However, needs were great, but so was the pressure of the public on parallel Albanian authorities to do their best to find an overall solution. That is why the interim government of Kosovo of Hashim Thaci passed a decree on issuing its passports in the beginning of December. They were aware that these papers would not have any practical value for travelling abroad, but it was believed that it could be a form of pressure on UNMIK to hasten efforts on finding a solution.
Before this decree, as a potential solution for the problem, the possibility was considered that Albanian president Rexhep Maidani grant Albanian citizenship to all Kosovo Albanians. Aware that this would not be welcomed in the West, Meidani promised that he would raise this question in contacts with other statesmen, including president Bill Clinton. It seems that the question was indeed raised in the talks with the American president. Albanian sources from Tirana reported that Bill Clinton heartily interceded in behalf of solution of this issue in the United Nations.
Probably after the approval from New York, representatives of UNMIK and the administrator Bernard Kouchner himself started giving even firmer promises that a solution would be found in near future. However, they stressed that the papers in question would not be passports because such documents could be issued only by internationally recognised states, but travelling documents issued by UNMIK. People say that the form and contents of the document have already been determined and that efforts are being invested in order to ensure recognition of such papers by the European Union. The latest promise was that the first UNMIK travelling documents would be issued in February 2000.
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