Kosovars rally against violence
PRISTINA, Sep 10, 2000 -- (AFP) Thousands of people packed the center of Pristina Saturday for a rally against the political and ethnic violence that has wracked Kosovo since the end of its civil war.
A boisterous but largely good humored crowd heard the province's UN administrator, Bernard Kouchner, and the leaders of parties representing some non-Albanian minorities ask for tolerance and an end to ethnically motivated killing.
But calls for tolerance to be shown to Serbs were jeered and whistled by large sections of the crowd.
A march along the city's main boulevard led by Kouchner and the leaders of Kosovo's two largest political parties rapidly turned into a political event, as chanting supporters of the rival leaders attempted to drown out their opponents.
"My dear friends, you fought a war for a better Kosovo," Kouchner said, speaking in Albanian from a prepared script.
"The future of Kosovo is in your hands. Violence must cease. Don't kill the future of Kosovo."
Since the arrival of a NATO-led peacekeeping force in the province last June brought an end to the war between ethnic Albanian separatists and Yugoslavian troops, Kosovo's minority communities, in particular the Serbs, have regularly fallen victim to revenge attacks.
Hundreds of Serbs have been killed or injured and around 187,000 non-Albanians, 90 percent of them Serbs, have fled the province according to the latest figures from the UN High Commission for Refugees.
Leaders of Kosovo's Albanian and Serbian communities met in Airlie House, Virginia in July under US auspices to sign a joint declaration a against the violence, but Kouchner's call for Serbs still living in the province to be tolerated was badly received.
"Everyone in Kosovo is equal, Serbs and Albanians," he said, and was met by a chorus of booing. Later when he repeated a call for the communities to work together in Serbian as well as in Albanian he was whistled, but the end of his speech was warmly applauded.
Hashim Thaci, leader of the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), and Ibrahim Rugova, head of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), left the podium with Kouchner to lead a march down Mother Theresa, Pristina's principal thoroughfare.
A crowd estimated by police at the scene to be around 6,000 strong engulfed them, chanting rival political slogans, as bodyguards and UN police struggled to escort the party through the crowd.
At one point the bodyguard of one of the leaders was dragged to one side by UN police officers after he was seen apparently reaching for his gun, witnesses said.
The PDK, which sprang out of the political wing of the guerrilla Kosovo Liberation Army, and the LDK, which was the principal party in Kosovo's unrecognised pre-war parallel government, are bitter rivals, and tension between the two parties has been rising in the build up to October 28 municipal elections.
In recent months several LDK members have been injured, and one killed, in attacks which party members told AFP they believed were carried out by PDK supporters.
Kouchner said: "Violence has no place in an election campaign ... free and fair elections will be the start of the future of Kosovo. Let us contruct the future together."