The Party of the Democratic Progress of Kosovo (PPDK), the political movement forming from the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK), re-elected Hashim Thaçi as its leader in a convention held over weekend. The party changed its name into the Democratic Party of Kosovo in a three-day meeting held with more than 400 delegates between 20 and 22 May. The ultimate goal of the program of the PDK remains the independence of Kosovo. The party, "the direct continuation of the UCK, under peace conditions," articulates the political will of all Kosovo citizens to strata that have "Kosovo's independence, democratisation of the political life, of the society and its general well being as its ideal."
In an effort to play down rumours on the enclavisation of the Kosovo territory, allegedly for the area in northern Mitrovica commune most populated by the Serb community, the PDK was "strongly committed to preserve Kosovo's territorial integrity and trusts the international factor for the protection of its borders." The PDK said it would strengthen relations with the Macedonian and Albanian political parties in their effort for the "institutionalisation of their national rights." At the same time, it expressed its support for the solution of the problem of the Albanian population in southern Serbia in Preshevë, Medvegjë and Bujanoc but "with political means." It added that establishing good relations with the motherland Albania would be a priority in their policy.
The PDK urged the international institutions headed by United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) to speed up their efforts in building democratic institutions and supported the idea of a pluralist society in Kosovo where there will prevail "law, freedom of the individual, free initiative, social justice and respect of human rights", adding that the PDK is "against racial discrimination and inter-ethnic hatred and is committed to harmony and integration of the Kosovar society."
Another issue of concern raised during the debate was how to foster international efforts for the release of the Albanian prisoners in Serbia saying "their release will affect the stabilisation of the Kosovo's situation and the increase of security in the region." The PDK members expressed their conviction for victory in the upcoming municipal elections expected next autumn. The PDK's vision is that of a "National Renaissance," its final statement said.
UNMIK head Bernard Kouchner welcomed the congress and felt very encouraged by the presence of so many other parties, which is a positive step toward democracy. "A political landscape with various parties is a condition, and the basis for democratisation," he said. Kouchner reminded the parties that a democratic climate would mean access to media for all political parties, open debate, and the absence of intimidation, as well as tolerance towards other communities and religious groups. Kouchner encouraged the parties to follow their words with deeds and to work to make Kosovo an inclusive society. He urged them to work hard to make this year's elections a success. "They are the first step in building Kosovar institutions," he said.
The sentencing to 1632 years' imprisonment of 143 Albanians in the Serbian town of Niš caused a general anger and reaction among the Kosovo population earlier this week. Many people considered the sentence in the same way as they do Kosovo's bombing by Serbia in 2000, comparing it to Serbia's bombing by NATO last year. All Albanians sentenced in Niš were from the town of Gjakove and from the same quarter. This is likely to hinder peaceful co-existance, despite recent international efforts.
A rally held in Gjakove was also attended by Hashim Thaci and UNMIK head Dr Bernard Kouchner, who promised they would increase their pressure on the United Nations for the solution of the problem. Kouchner denounced their sentencing as a "farce." The defendants had been tried en masse without being individually examined, and were sentenced to a total of 1632 years by the court in Niš. Kouchner told journalists that the Interim Administrative Council (IAC) agreed that it was "absolutely impossible to support this idea of collective guilt." Kouchner also outlined the steps that had been taken to secure the release of those detained in Serb prisons, but conceded "it was not enough." Nevertheless, some local citizens of Gjakove were convinced their men would be released with the help of financial mediation. They said some DEM one million would be collected and they would release them.
Albanian President Rexhep Meidani made a brief one-day visit to Priština, the first ever held by an Albanian president in Kosovo. He ostensibly came to participate at the opening of a book fair and visit Priština University where he had lectures for some four years at the end of 1970s, but he also held a meeting with UNMIK head Dr Bernard Kouchner and KFOR Commander General Juan Ortuno. Meidani's visit was preceded by that of the Albanian Parliamentary Foreign Affairs head Sabri Godo and his adviser Sabit Brokaj earlier this week.
In an interview to the Kosovo daily Koha Ditore, Meidani was optimistic about the current Kosovo situation but urged the international institutions to speed up their efforts in Kosovo's reconstruction. Meidani was also careful when speaking of the situation in Serbia, mentioning that the Serbian opposition was not clear in its goals. He said that the Serb opposition had yet to make any statement denouncing the ethnic cleansing of the Yugoslav president Slobodan Milošević against Albanians and express a moderate democratic stand on the "legitimate right for self-determination of this [Kosovo] population."
He also turned down allegations of a Greater Albania saying they are "loaned by Belgrade's misinformation machine". "We Albanians see our future at our integration in the joint European structure where borders turn into geographic symbols and not isolated, fed up or conquered by the destroying and ultra-nationalist Serb megalomania of a Greater Serbia." Albania is also to open an office in Priština, something that was achieved with great difficulties from Tirana because of the opposition to the idea from Russia and China.
Ramush Haradinaj, head of the newly-formed Alliance for Kosovo's Future, was stopped and later beaten by some Russian KFOR troops while he was going to the town of Decan. KFOR said Russian troops found two weapons in the car and the soldiers hit Haradinaj when he tried to take the weapons back. The incident sparked protest in the nearby town of Peje where Haradinaj has been a well-known personality since the war times when he was a brave commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) in the area. Haradinaj's party said the arrest of Haradinaj and the other three men accompanying him for allegedly "illegal possession of arms" was "without precedent and showed the big legal and institutional vacuum reigning in Kosovo." The incident also sparked an anti-Russian reaction from Albanians who consider them to be close to Belgrade's Milošević regime. "Russian soldiers in Kosovo do not represent peacekeeping troops. They are behaving and operating as enemy troops," a party statement said, creating panic among the international institutions and KFOR who rushed to publicly say Russian troops are part and parcel of the KFOR troops
Unconfirmed reports speak of a flare-up of the armed clashes between Albanians and Serb authorities in the southern Serbian area of Presheve, Bujanoc and Medvegje, Albanians call eastern Kosovo. They say that the police station in the village of Kocun sparked an angered reaction from the Serb troops that began a search up for the Albanian guerrilla units of the UCPMB (the Presheve, Medvegje, Bujanoc Liberation Army), one that tries to resemble the former KLA. KFOR spokesman Philip Anido declined to say if they had noticed any fighting beyond the Kosovo eastern border guarded by the US troops.
War invalids held a strike earlier this week asking they should enjoy more rights. They agreed to stop the strike following talks with UNMIK officials who promised to take their requests into account and try to resolve them, but "that would take some time." They also thanked the commitment from the PDK leader Hashim Thaci, in his efforts to assist them achieve their goals in post-war Kosovo. Dr Bernard Kouchner, head of the United Nations mission in Kosovo, met with representatives of war veterans and invalids to plan ways to improve their living conditions and access to medical care. Several immediate measures were suggested, including the waiver of hospital fees for veterans and their families and the possibility of free treatment at Kosovo's two rehabilitation centres. Kouchner said he would also seek resources to send the most severe invalid cases abroad for treatment. The group also discussed the demand for pensions, which the Kosovo Consolidated Budget currently has no funds to pay. It was agreed that a working group of Health and Social Security department co-heads and war veterans would be established to examine ways to ensure the full re-integration of all veterans into Kosovo society. They are all former Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) fighters.
On Monday evening, a 24-year-old Polish KFOR peacekeeper died accidentally while on duty. The tragedy occurred when a rifle was fired by mistake in the back of a troop truck as the soldier and his patrol were returning to their camp just south of Mitrovica following a mission.
In a rural area approximately 10km south of Urosevac, three Albanian children had been seriously injured by an unexploded ordnance device (UXO), US Military Police reported. Tragically, one child died of his injuries. Both surviving children were transported to the hospital in Urosevac. One child was suffering from a leg wound, and the other from a head wound. The child with the head wound was evacuated to the hospital in Priština for emergency treatment. Lieutenant-General Juan Ortuno, the Commander of KFOR Expressed his condolences to their families and added: "It is vital for parents and community leaders, as well as KFOR and the international community, to constantly warn children of the dangers of weapons and unfamiliar objects which they must not be tempted to play with, in order to prevent any further needless tragedy."
Serb prisoners in Mitrovica protesting over the delay in initiating their trial proceedings agreed to end their hunger strike after meeting with UNMIK head Dr Bernard Kouchner. Kouchner spent more than two hours yesterday with the 36 detainees and assured them that trials would begin at the end of this week. The first trials will be in the municipal courts, for those charged with less serious offences. The Mitrovica District Court trials will begin on 6 June.
Secretary General Kofi Annan has welcomed the result of the vote in the United States Senate last week to keep troops in Kosovo. "The international community still faces challenges in Kosovo, and the Secretary General welcomes the continued support by all nations for the [international peacekeeping] Kosovo Force and for the work of the UN mission there," his spokesman said. By a vote of 53 to 47, the US Senate rejected provisions of a military spending bill that would have cut off funds for US troops in Kosovo by 1 July 2001, forcing their withdrawal unless Congress authorised an extension. The US has well over 5,000 troops in the 37,000-strong international peacekeeping force in Kosovo.
A new programme to provide social assistance to the most vulnerable families in Kosovo will be launched in June, the United Nations mission said earlier this week. The programme is intended to provide assistance only to the most vulnerable families, those who have no means of support or resources to survive, explained Evelyn Arnold and Muhamet Gjocaj, deputy co-directors of the Department of Health and Social Welfare of the UNMIK. According to the department, the programme will be co-ordinated with the "phase-down" of humanitarian assistance in order to ensure that no families are left without the means to meet their basic needs. Strict criteria have been established for eligibility, and applicants will have to provide evidence of their lack of means.
Llazar Semini, 29 May 2000