Thirst for power vies with communal hate as Kosovo's deadly sin

Bank official's murder fuels fears over power vacuum in the province

Jonathan Steele

Monday February 14, 2000

The middle-aged Albanian was lying on the pavement outside the bank he ran in the main street, bleeding heavily from his gunshot wounds.

From their headquarters little more than 100 yards away, American peacekeepers raced to help. The man was taken by helicopter to the military hospital in Camp Bondsteel, the huge American base in this south-eastern corner of Kosovo, but died on the way.

Though his killer or killers quickly disappeared, Danush Januzi's circumstances suggest he was not a victim of Serb anger, but of something which moderate Kosovan Albanians fear is the new danger facing the territory. A struggle for power and money is pitting Albanian leaders against each other in the vacuum left by Serb officials when they withdrew last summer.

"Mr Januzi had been the manager of the bank long before the international community arrived in Kosovo," said Gilles Dubuc, the foreign official who was appointed as Vitina's mayor by the United Nations mission in Kosovo.

"The local political party replaced him, but he stayed in his job and when I got here in early November I was confronted with two individuals fighting over it. I decided to give Mr Januzi his old job back. I told the other man not to show up any more but promised to find him a job somewhere else. Whether there's any connection with the killing, I don't know," Mr Dubuc said. Asked which party the other man belonged to, he said: "The PPDK."

The problem facing Mr Dubuc when he took up his duties several months after the Serbs' withdrawal has been repeated in scores of town halls across Kosovo. The PPDK, the Kosovo democratic progressive party, is the new incarnation of the Kosovo liberation army, whose guerrilla forces fought for independence against the Serbs.

The KLA was required to disarm in September, three months after the agreement which ended Nato's bombing campaign in the province. But long before the deadline expired, it used its power and wartime popularity to appoint local mayors and other officials in towns and villages with an Albanian majority after the Serb withdrawal.

One aim was to provide much-needed services, but the KLA also wanted to present the United Nations, which has a mandate to run Kosovo, with a fait accompli when international officials arrived.

Some new UN administrators accepted the KLA appointees as advisers, though they lost the official mayoral title. Others found replacements. Mr Dubuc chose a compromise. He dismissed Daut Shemali, a KLA man who became a local hero after spending two years as a political prisoner under the Serbs, but allowed him to stay temporarily in the office he occupied. In the meantime, Mr Dubuc started negotiations with other parties in Vitina to share out town hall departments.

The position of bank manager was a much-coveted post, since its responsibilities included handling the wages of teachers and all other local employees. But if jealousy over this access to power and cash was one possible motive for Januzi's death, there was another.

"Everyone who collaborated with the Serbs ought to be killed. Presumably that's why he died," snapped Bedre Peposhi, a history teacher, as he stood outside the town hall after Januzi's murder this week.

Vitina's population of Serbs has halved since Serb forces abandoned Kosovo to K-For, the international peacekeeping force, in June. Serb teenagers go to secondary school in the Serb enclave of Vrbovac, five miles away.

As Serb children yesterday piled into a bus with armoured American Humvee vehicles acting as escorts for the journey home, Aca Nikolic, the headteacher, recalled Januzi: "He stayed in Kosovo throughout the war. He was the best Albanian in Vitina. I knew him because we got our salaries from the Yugoslav state bank he managed."

Veton Surroi, the publisher of Kosovo's best-known newspaper, Koha Ditore, sparked controversy last year when he condemned the revenge killing of Serb civilians by Albanians.

If public opinion did not move to stop such murders and prevent the growth of a climate of impunity, the next targets of Albanian killers would be other Albanians, he warned. Januzi's death this week seemed to bear out those forebodings.

The former banking official's white Mercedes was parked close to the bloodstains on the pavement where he was shot. Its special four-digit licence plate showed that he had been employed in a high position by the Serbian state. But whether he died because of envy, competition for power, or revenge, may never be known.

Original article