Continuity of violence


SUN, 11 JUN 2000

Pristina, 6 June, 2000 - Two weeks before the anniversary of the arrival of NATO forces to Kosovo and establishment of the UN civilian mission headed by Bernard Kouchner, the degree of violence, primarily against members of the Serb community, has drastically increased. In various ways, eight people were killed and more than ten wounded. Perpetrators, mostly unknown persons, used the "most efficient" method of attack from automatic weapons - a moving car. Almost all official reports of international police begin with the following statement: "From a moving car an unknown person opened fire at...... or threw a hand grenade/explosive device". Until now only one person on suspicion of the attack in the village of Cernica near Gnjilane was arrested for the murder of three Serbs, one of whom was a four-year old child. Two other persons of Serb ethnic origin were seriously wounded in the incident. Lawyers of the suspect, ethnic Albanians, believe that the arrested must be given a psychiatric check-up to see whether he has psychological problems, whether he is mentally incompetent. Judging by this demand and the level of security in Kosovo, one might say that there are too many of such persons. Whether they can all be considered to be mentally deranged, it is very difficult to prove. Statistical data show that there is an almost identical percentage of killed Albanians and Serbs. The only difference is that in cases of murdered Serbs, motives are of ethnic nature. If Kosovo Albanians could have claimed in the course of the past decade that they have been maltreated, tortured, imprisoned and killed just because they were Albanians, nowadays, without much dilemma, the same can be claimed by Kosovo Serbs. They are killed just because they are Serb. There are more than enough such examples. Certain Kosovar analysts openly speak of organised and coordinated crime against members of minority communities - especially the Serbs. However, there is a larger number of those who tend to publicly claim that these are random attacks, that there are no centres that organise them, or that perpetrators are individuals or perhaps small groups.

One of such situations influenced the decision of the Serb National Council seated in Gracanica to freeze their participation in interim administrative agencies in Kosovo. Two months ago, more precisely on 2 April, despite sharp criticism of other members of their ethnic community both in Kosovo and of Milosevic's regime, the Serbs from Gracanica, headed by Bishop Artemije and Momcilo Trajkovic, decided to participate as observers in these institutions organised by the international community, but also set conditions that needed to be fulfilled for their participation to become regular. Two main conditions referred to improvement of security and the beginning of return of the Serbs who had left Kosovo. Since then to this day 20 Serbs have lost their lives, and 50 of them were more or less severely wounded.

After the decision about withdrawal was reached (last weekend) Gracanica which was until now the most peaceful region with a large concentration of the Serb population, has also become the target of attacks. Two hand grenades were thrown from moving cars. According to KFOR officials, five persons were wounded. The gathered crowd of about several hundred Serbs, some of whom were carrying side arms, clashed with Swedish members of KFOR who were trying to prevent them from blocking the traffic and overturning cars and physical assaults on ethnic Albanian drivers of passing-by cars. A few of them ended up in hospital. This is how every armed incident ends in regions inhabited by the Serbs: roads are blocked, cars are stopped, and there are physical showdowns.

One cannot but note that this increase of violence has come at the time of the first anniversary of KFOR's arrival, withdrawal of Serb soldiers, police and paramilitary forces, at the time when it is expected that the validity of Resolution 1244 will be prolonged. For some time already, international officials have been warning that violence might increase. Almost a month ago, when he was handing over his duty, at his last press conference, French commander for region North in Mitrovica declared that there were indications that violence in the north of Kosovo would increase and that this was expected because Resolution 1244 would be put on the agenda of UN Security Council once again. Oliver Ivanovic, president of the Radical faction of the Serb National Council in Mitrovica announced yesterday that all the roads in the north of Kosovo would be blocked until the session of Security Council takes place.

Before that, on the day of the visit of NATO Secretary General, George Robertson, an attack occurred in the village of Babin Most on the road leading to Mitrovica, when a 33-year old Serb was killed. Perhaps these warnings can be linked to the general disapproval of the presence of the international community among various local political both Albanian and Serb circles. Both ones and the others would like to have the Security Council Resolution amended. The Albanians have for some time already insisted on precise definition of the status of Kosovo. They wish the qualification that Kosovo is part of Yugoslavia be avoided in the Resolution. On the occasion of their withdrawal from the Serb National Council, Kosovo Serbs also revealed their demand. They are planning to send a special delegation to the seat of Security Council in order to seek guarantees for increased security and effective self-government in the regions where they are concentrated.

However, representatives of the international community, both the ones in Kosovo and the ones in New York and Washington, are repeating that changes of the Resolution are out of the question. It will remain as it used to be. Father Sava Janjic says that Security Council will "decide" whether the Serbs will return to the administration of Kosovo or not. In the meantime, Javier Solana, high EU official, announced his urgent visit to Kosovo in order to persuade Kosovo Serbs to change this unpopular role. "This decision is a defeat of the international community, but also of the Albanians", words of an unnamed official in the NATO seat in Brussels are quoted.

However, the understandable wrath because of increased violence against members of the Serb community unveiled another stand which greatly clarifies matters. One of the leading figures from Serbian opposition, Vladan Batic from the Christian Democratic Party of Serbia and one of the most ardent supporters of the faction of the Serb National Council which is in favour of their participation in UNMIK institutions stated that there should not be concealing any more and that it should be openly said that there was no differences in the stands of the authorities in Serbia and the opposition concerning integrity of Serbia and the position of Kosovo in it and the local Serbs. He believes that the Serbs can never be considered to be a minority on this territory nor that they can be deprived of the right to execute power because, he thinks, Kosovo is a part of Serbia. He declared this after the decision of the Serb National Council to freeze their current status in Kosovo executive and advisory bodies. On the other hand, leaders of Kosovo Albanians believe that it is necessary for Kosovo to become independent and that such a status would greatly help solving of numerous problems which refer to security, that of minority communities inclusive.

In the meantime, condemnation for the attacks against the Serbs are arriving from all sides: from the seat of NATO, EU, various western governments and representatives of UNMIK and from KFOR.. Bernard Kouchner and commander of peace forces Juan Ortuno characterised such attacks in which innocent civilians were killed as "cowardly". They appeal on all the communities to refrain from violence, but nevertheless address their criticism to Albanian leaders, who are accused that they just verbally advocate interruption of violence and relieving of tensions. They underline that they are the leaders of majority of the population, so their responsibility is bigger for that reason. But often in public appearances, they do not eliminate the possibility of Milosevic and his radical supporters continuing to affect stability of Kosovo.

However, the message of Mr. Robertson that NATO did not intervene in Kosovo in order to prevent one ethnic cleansing and allow another, and that the international community will not be patient for much longer, did not bring results. On the contrary, not a day passes without an attack with tragic consequences. Representatives of the Serb community for such a situation accuse Albanian leaders and the Protection Corps of Kosovo as one of the possible centres. They say that even if it was possible to speak about random incidents in the past, what is happening nowadays is organised terrorism of Albanian extremists. Leaders of Kosovo Albanians interpret withdrawal of representatives of the Serbs from the administration as their loyalty to Milosevic's regime, as continuation of the prewar policy of the Serb regime and even mention involvement of Serb secret services in the attacks. They also accuse representatives of UNMIK, international police and KFOR of not being capable to ensure a safe environment and thus causing circumstances in which both the Albanians and the Serbs suffer, but also members of minority communities. Kosovo Serbs also accuse KFOR and international police of having failed to offer them adequate protection, safe freedom of movement because perpetrators of violent acts have not been caught and punished. KFOR and international police indeed seem impotent in this situation. Pursuant Resolution 1244, they are the only ones who are in charge of securing peace and security, but there is also not even the minimum of cooperation of the citizens - witnesses of an assault against members of their own or other ethnic groups, and despite various measures they are taking, Kosovo public, both Albanian and Serb, is discontented. Kouchner says that extremists on both sides wish to minimise and devalue the results achieved so far by the international missions in Kosovo. In other words, Kouchner wishes to say that among members of both communities there are those who look upon UNMIK and KFOR with animosity. In any case, the only issue concerning which, in an odd way, both conflicting communities are “united” is the one about the main culprit for the utterly insecure situation in Kosovo. The Serbs would like to have Serb police and army back, and the Albanians think that problems would be solved if they regulated order through police and military institutions. Pessimists do not expect these stands to change in the foreseeable future. On the contrary, they even fear that such voices might channel the disposition of Kosovo citizens in a wrong direction, especially because none of the local political protagonists, primarily Albanian but Serb as well, do not even consider the possibility of facing their own responsibility for what is happening to the others.

That is why on the anniversary of entrance of international forces and establishment of UN mission in Kosovo, many analysts will have plenty of arguments for arriving at a paradoxical conclusion: that extremist political speech and options still prevail in Kosovo, that human rights are still violated, that certain ethnic communities live isolated in specific ghettoes, that crime motivated by political and ethnic reasons are a regular phenomenon. Déjà vu.

Original article