Bus bomb kills returning Serb families
The deaths of seven Serbs in a bomb attack on a bus on Saturday inside the Kosovo border with Serbia marks the worst single escalation of violence against a minority since the end of the NATO bombing in 1999. The Serbs were returning to their villages to visit graves on the Orthodox Day of the Dead, when the departed are commemorated. The deaths, and more than forty injuries, were caused by a large explosive device left in a culvert under the road near the border town of Podujevo. The explosion was triggered by wire. KFOR troops were accompanying the convoy of buses, which had left from Niš, and a separate KFOR unit had been searching the road for bombs and booby traps. They were distracted by a group of men they saw on a hill above the convoy route, and went to arrest them. It was as the KFOR troops were returning to restart the security checks that the convoy passed. The lead KFOR vehicles were allowed to pass before the device was detonated under a bus containing men, women and children.
Condemned by Kosovar leaders
The head of the civilian administration, UNMIK,Hans Haekkerup denounced the attack saying it was aimed at the whole Kosovo people and it would damage Kosovo's image in the world. Senior Albanian political leaders also denounced the attack, calling it a "terrorist attack". They expressed their condolences to the families of the victims. They said it was aimed at undermining Kosovo's stability, and would have a negative effect on the legitimate search for political negotiation towards an independent Kosovo. Ibrahim Rugova of the Democratic League of Kosovo, Fatmir Limaj of the Democratic Party of Kosovo and Ramush Haradinaj of the Alliance for Kosovo's Future were interviewed on the RTK television news, and all appealed to the people to assist the investigation.
The opinion of mainstream political leaders is that there is a well-armed faction trying to take over control, playing on the frustration among Albanians that the West is too eager to agree with Serbian President Vojislav Koštunica that Kosovo should remain a part of Yugoslavia, with a renewed autonomous status. The fighting in southern Serbia, attacks on police in Macedonia, and the lastest murders and kidnappings inside Kosovo are aimed at destabilising the region, driving out Western peacekeepers and leaving the field open for a new, armed struggle for independence.
Not the only outrage
Earlier in the week, there were other violent incidents. A Kosovo Serb, 46, a bus driver, was killed on Wednesday and two wounded when a KFOR escorted convoy was fired upon by an unknown sniper near Grlica village. Some 40 people had been on the bus which was traveling from the northern town of Podujevo to Brezovica, near Strpce, near the Macedonian border. The attack took place at about 4 p.m. The Serbs were on a weekly shopping trip to Serbia. NATO said five ethnic Albanians were arrested in connection with the attack
Shortly after the incident several hundred Serbs gathered in Strpce in front of the police station. Peacekeepers fired shots in the air but the violence continued. The crowd gained entry to the station building and caused heavy damage. Four police vehicles were destroyed and four other were heavily damaged. Several UNMIK police officers sustained minor injuries. UNMIK spokeswoman Susan Manuel said all U.N. personnel had been evacuated safely from their positions in Strpce. The demonstrators had rung church bells to call others to join them, creating a large and unmanageable crowd.
In separate incident in Klokot, not far from Strpce, a Serbian man was shot at by an unknown gunman while tending cattle in a field. In northern Kosovo, three Serbs were wounded when their tractor hit a land mine near the village of Suvo Grlo.
Valley fighting unrelenting
Fighting between Serb forces and ethnic Albanian fighters of the Liberation Army of Preševo, Medvedja and Bujanovac (UCPMB) continued during the week, adding to the concerns of the international community. The Belgrade government requested that NATO narrow the Buffer Security Zone of five kilometers around the Kosovo border, in order to allow Serb troops to patrol the region more effectively and deal with the rebellion. NATO said it had considered the idea, but declined. It considered the change to be premature. The buffer zone was part of the Military Technical Ageement reached between NATO and the Serb Army in Kumanovo in 1999.
Meanwhile unofficial contacts between representatives of the authorities and members of the Albanian extremist armed formations in southern Serbia were said to have taken place but no details about the nature of these contacts were revealed. Last week Belgrade proposed that ethnic Albanians should be given a greater role in political life and offered financial aid for the region. But the plan stops short of granting the region autonomy. The UCPMB wants the Presevo Valley to be linked to Kosovo. On Monday, Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica took a harder line on the plan. He ruled out talks with armed ethnic Albanian extremists. He also played down the role mapped out for the international community in the plan.
Elections 'some time this year'
Briefing the U.N. Security Council on the next phase of the UN Interim Administration in Kosovo (UNMIK), Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno said that while there had been progress in the establishment of the Municipal Assemblies following last October's municipal elections, it would take eight months to prepare for province-wide elections. Before holding such elections UNMIK should work on a legal framework for provisional self-government; an effective law enforcement and judicial system; regular dialogue with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia; and resolution of legal property issues.
Guéhenno said that the establishment of an UNMIK Belgrade Office had been agreed in principle and that negotiations continued on detainees and missing persons from Kosovo.
Hans Haekkerup, Kosova's Chief Administrator, said this week that the election of the Assembly, the legal framework and the establishment of an interim government are very important steps toward resolving the problem of Kosovo. "I hope it will be fast, although I'm not sure how fast because it does not depend on me only, but also on the people who are dealing with the issue." Heakkerup said. "If an agreement can be achieved easily, then it will go quickly. If there are many differences between the Albanians and the Serbs of Kosovo, between parties here, then it could take some time. However, I will make the utmost efforts to bring them together."
The Danish diplomat confirmed that the elections would be held during the year 2001, though "at the right time".
- A Swiss laboratory has found only minute traces of plutonium in NATO depleted uranium (DU) weapons used by NATO-led forces in the Balkans, Swiss radio reported on Wednesday. "It is already clear that only extremely small-if any-traces of plutonium were found in the shells and shell fragments that were checked, and these in no way pose a potential health risk, according to scientists," the radio reported.
- Flora Brovina, a Kosovo Albanian human rights activist released from Serb prison after the fall of the former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic last October, was honoured with an annual prize by the American Association for the Science Advance based in Washington "for her work in Kosovo before and during NATO bombing". Brovina will receive other human rights prizes like the "Barbara Goldsmith" award for 2000, "Jonathan Mann Award" for 2000 from Doctors of the World and the Global Health Council. In March 8, 2001, she will receive the "Millenium for Peace" prize of UNIFEM and International Alert.
Llazar Semini, 19 February 2001
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