Moving towards tense future
This week, Kosovo was overwhelmed by news of the visit of Albanian Prime Minister Ilir Meta, the first visit from an Albanian premier since before the First World War. Meta held an official two-day visit, meeting with United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) administrator Bernard Kouchner. Kouchner has resigned from the post but is awaiting the appointment of a successor.
The Albanian premier held his first talks with the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) leader Ibrahim Rugova. Earlier this year, Rugova refused to meet Albanian President Rexhep Meidani and Foreign Minister Paskal Milo. The meeting with Meta therefore marked a significant change in the political relations between the LDK leader and Albania's ruling Socialist Party. Rugova has now been invited to visit Albania.
Serb KTC member Rada Trajković did not agree with Meta's visit, mentioning the fact that Albania and Yugoslavia have still to restore the diplomatic relations that were cut during the Kosovo conflict last year. However, during his meetings Meta kept a low political profile, preferring to focus on the need to increase economic, cultural and educational ties between Tirana and Priština.
Kosovo still shaken by threats against LDK
Local LDK political leaders are still subject to threats of violence and murder. The killing of a senior LDK leader two weeks ago has urged UNMIK and KFOR forces to implement tighter controls and protection for Kosovan political leaders. United Nations police forces recently began to provide security services for the LDK party headquarters. Several LDK leaders already have bodyguards provided by UNMIK.
Relative calm in Preševo Valley
After the recent violent flare-up in the Preševo Valley, southern Serbia (or eastern Kosovo as Albanians like to consider it) there was relative calm this week. The ceasefire agreed between Albanian guerrillas of the UÇPMB (Liberation Army of the Preševo, Medveđa and Bujanovac) and the Belgrade authorities with mediation from the United States KFOR command, appears to be holding.
Hundreds of ethnic Albanian's who left the valley after the recent fighting are returning home after a decrease in tension in the area. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that approximately 600 ethnic Albanians who had fled southern Serbia have returned.
Since 20 November, nearly 5000 people have fled from southern Serbia to Kosovo amid fears of a possible Serbian military crackdown on Albanian rebels in the region. An estimated 4300 remain in Kosovo.
In its efforts to calm the situation, KFOR arrested eight ethnic Albanians suspected of insurgent activity with the UÇPMB. The men were arrested at a KFOR checkpoint on the Kosovo-Serbia border for possession of weapons and UÇPMB uniforms.
NATO has sent reinforcements to the tense southern Kosovo boundary. About 250 additional British soldiers are to patrol outside the buffer zone.
The UÇPMB is currently in a tense stand-off with Serbian police inside a five-kilometer-wide (three-mile) buffer zone between UN-administered Kosovo and the rest of Serbia. The buffer zone was established under an agreement reached last year between NATO and Yugoslavia at the end of the Kosovan conflict. The zone is off-limits to security forces from both sides, with the exception of lightly armed Serbian policemen.
European Union observers said on Saturday that the volatile Preševo Valley on the border of Kosovo was a very pressing concern to the 15-nation alliance. "Preševo Valley is the most important worry of the EU," Franck Placon, the chief of the EU monitoring mission, told reporters after talks with police, the army and local activists.
The Preševo Valley is one of the most important crossing points between southern Serbia and Kosovo, the Serbian province put under international control last year after NATO's bombing campaign to end repression of its ethnic Albanian majority.
Meanwhile, on Thursday KFOR and UNMIK police launched a search operation in northern Mitrovice in Kosovo. The area is populated by the Kosovan-Serb minority. A significant amount of weaponry was seized and three people were arrested. Consequently, crowds of irritated Serbians clashed with police burning a police car and damaging some others. Two UNMIK policemen were slightly injured. The situation urged the KFOR and UNMIK police to increase their already tight control on the area.
UN seeks millions in aid for refugees
On Wednesday the consolidated appeal for Kosovo was launched. This year agencies are appealing for approximately USD 120 million. The amount has droppend from USD 250 million pledged in the year 2000. The Kosovo appeal is part of the Southeastern Europe regional appeal and was launched in Brussels by Mr Sergio Vieira de Mello.
Most of the requested funds—which would not cover UN activities in Kosovo—were earmarked to assist the hundreds of thousands of refugees of the four Balkan wars in the 1990s as well as to aid large numbers of people subjected to poverty.
500 Kosovo refugees still in Albania
According to the Tirana UNHCR office, there are still 500 Kosovo Albanian refugees who have remained in Albania since the end of the Kosovan conflict. The only refugee camp left in Tirana is the Olympia camp—a group of trailers near the city's public swimming pool. Other refugees are spread throughout Durrës, Shkodra, Lezha, Kurbin, Kukës, Fier, Dibra, Mirdita and Kruja, many staying with host families. "They can not go home, because their house has been burned or they have no relatives," a UNHCR official said.
Course consolidates local government
The Institute for Civil Administration awarded diplomas to the 29 participants of the Medium-Term Training Programme for senior municipal staff. This was the third 20-day course run by the Institute in Kosovo, and was aimed at municipal staff from Pejë/Peć, Istog/Istok, Klinë/Klina and Deçan/Decani municipalities.
The Medium-Term Programme is an in-service training program for senior and mid-level municipal staff and provides a comprehensive introduction to the core competencies required of modern public managers. The integrated curriculum encompasses the fields of law, economics, public finance, human resource management and conflict resolution.
The wider objective of the Civil Administration Support Section within the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Mission in Kosovo Democratization Department is to strengthen local government structures in Kosovo.
Three Brits may face charges in Kosovo
Three British paratroopers may face charges after two ethnic Albanian revelers were shot and killed in Kosovo last year, the Ministry of Defense said Monday.
The soldiers, from the First Battalion of the Parachute Regiment, are alleged to have shot Fahri Bici, 20, and Avni Dudi, 24—believed to be members of the Kosovo Liberation Army—during celebrations on 3 July 1999 after NATO troops took control of the province.
The Ministry of Defense said preliminary investigations were being carried out to decide whether the three soldiers, who were part of NATO's KFOR peacekeeping force, would face formal charges and a possible court martial. The Ministry had initially said that the soldiers, who have not been publicly identified, had already been charged.
And in other news...
- The trial of Igor Simić, charged with genocide for his alleged role in the 1999 killing of 26 ethnic Albanians, opened on Tuesday at an UNMIK-run court in Mitrovice. Simić and several other Serbian men allegedly entered an apartment building on 14 April 1999 and gunned down 26 ethnic Albanian men. Simić pleaded not guilty to the charges.
- NATO defense ministers announced that there would be no rapid reduction of SFOR and KFOR peacekeeping forces. "We need an unchanged long-term military engagement in the Balkans," German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping said.
Llazar Semini, 8 December 2000
Llazar Semini is the Kosova Project Manager for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting.
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