Thousands of Albanians gathered in Priština, the capital of Kosovo, on the evening of Tuesday 28 November to salute their black and red colored flag. Ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, who are seeking independence from the Yugoslav Federation, consider the day as their national day though they still formally belong to Yugoslavia.
"Today is a holy day. This is our flag now waving free in Kosovo too," was the sentiment of the marchers in the streets, where the Albanian national anthem and patriotic songs were heard. Despite a police ban, firecrackers were heard throughout the night. Several musical performances were held throughout the city.
88 years ago, in 1912, Albania declared independence from the Ottoman Emprie, and Ismail Qemali raised the national flag in the south-western Albanian port town of Vlore. The Albanian mission in Priština held a party on the eve of Flag Day day in celebration.
Kouchner to quit UN post in Kosovo
In a message on Monday 27 November, the head of the UN mission in Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner, told UN Secretary General Kofi Annan that he plans to leave his post in mid-December. His resignation will be effective from 15 December.
Kouchner had previously said that he would stay until a replacement was found.
Recently, Kouchner has argued strenuously in the face of international opposition that the Kosovan municipal elections, held in October, should be followed by elections to a provincial government next spring.
Speculation about a successor has been rife for months. The former British Liberal Democrat leader, Paddy Ashdown, was seen as a strong possibility, but UN aides say that his candidature is opposed by the United States and that he is out of the running. Another candidate could be former Norwegian foreign minister Knut VollebĂ¦k.
Conflict flares, Albanians flee
The United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, says ethnic Albanians have continued to flee southern Serbia and cross into Kosovo, fearing a military offensive by Serbian forces. Several thousand have crossed over the border in the past days.
Some 3500 refugees have left the Preševo valley—the site of heavy fighting last week between Serbian police and ethnic Albanian rebels seeking to unite the region with Kosovo. The NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo (KFOR), which is patrolling the border area, says the two sides have now agreed on an indefinite ceasefire.
KFOR is in contact with the Yugoslav authorities and the Albanian militants in Dobrosin, in the ground security zone of the Preševo valley. There is ongoing dialogue between the KFOR and Yugoslav officials, conducted within the context of the Joint Information Council.
The Yugoslav Army increased its presence in southern Serbia near the Kosovan border following confrontations last weekend. Yugoslav President Vojislav Koštunica called on NATO to stop Albanian guerrillas from crossing the Kosovan border into the valley.
Guerrillas say they have been trying to protect ethnic Albanians in the Preševo valley. Despite the truce, the rebel army of UÇPMB (Liberation Army of Preševo, Medveđe and Bujanovac) raised the Albanian flag in southern Serbia yesterday and said its goal was to "reclaim" the valley.
Belgrade was not pushing to have its forces enter into the five-kilometer-wide (3.7-mile) demilitarized zone between the provinces of Kosovo and Serbia—the buffer zone agreed on in the Kumanovo agreement between NATO and Belgrade in June 1999.
The Preševo valley, like Kosovo, has a predominantly ethnic Albanian population. Its western edge falls in the buffer zone, but it also extends into areas under full Yugoslav control.
In January, the self-proclaimed UÇPMB declared an independence struggle, basing itself in the Ground Safety Zone (GSZ), which both NATO troops based in Kosovo and the Yugoslav army are forbidden to enter.
Koštunica visited the area on Monday calling for a peaceful solution to the problem and said that Serbs would honor the agreement that specifies the code of conduct in these zones.
OSCE hails Kosovo progress
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said in a press release after its last meeting that the consolidation of stability and prosperity in Kosovo on the basis of substantial autonomy, respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, pending final settlement in accordance with UNSCR 1244, remains a major challenge for the international community.
Some progress has been made in building a democratic society. The OSCE Mission in Kosovo, as an essential part of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), has made a crucial and effective contribution with its work in organizing the recent local elections. The mission has helped the inhabitants of Kosovo take an important step towards local representation and has enabled the majority of Kosovars to demonstrate political responsibility, inter alia, through the OSCE's support for moderation as the way ahead.
The challenge remains: to create an environment where members of the Serbian community, other minorities and all those who fled during the war, can return home in safety and where all citizens are able to enjoy their full rights, including participation in political life.
Llazar Semini, 1 December 2000
Llazar Semini is the Kosova Project Manager for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting.
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