Hope on the Balkans Kosov@ Crisis
Demob opportunities in Kosovo
A week after KFOR and the UN certified the final dismantling of the KLA, the international community is intensifying efforts to ensure that ex-KLA fighters and other former combatants can find jobs in 'civvy street'.
By Laura Rozen in Pristina
Safed Gashi, 36, ran a car repair shop with his brother in the village of Dobri Dol, which was destroyed during the war, along with his house. Now he is unemployed and his family of six lives in a tent in their front yard in front of the remains of their burnt-out home.
A year ago, Gashi joined the Kosovo Liberation Army, and served as a driver for the local KLA commander. Last week, he visited the offices of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) seeking advice on how to get a new job.
A week after KFOR and the UN certified the final dismantling of the KLA, the international community is intensifying efforts to ensure that former combatants such as Gashi are able to find work in civilian life, as a way of safeguarding Kosovo's demilitarisation.
The IOM has been tasked with placing former KLA rebels in civilian jobs. Beginning mid-August, the IOM has visited the KLA's 49 former assembly areas, and registered more than 13,000 former combatants for what it calls its reintegration programme.
"We would go into the assembly areas and tell them, 'We understand that some of you may be going into the police and civil administration. But some of you won't have those opportunities. What we are doing is setting up a programme for you,'" said Michael Barton, an IOM spokesman in Kosovo.
In the week since the KLA officially disbanded, 2,775 former combatants have visited the organisation's seven regional offices, 1,391 interviews have been held, and 64 former rebels have been found civilian jobs.
Far from viewing the reintegration programme as favouring former KLA fighters in job-scarce Kosovo, the IOM says the programme has a multiplying effect in promoting stability. The IOM estimates that the 13,000 former combatants registered support a total of 100,000 dependents--all of which benefit from the former KLA soldiers' new employment in the civilian sector.
Former rebels have four options. The IOM will help place them in jobs that already exist, such as in a factory, subsidising a former soldier's salary, if the management agrees to train him for a particular job. The IOM is also able to provide seed money for former rebels to create their own employment, such as to buy new equipment for their farm, or to set up a small business.
For those who want to continue their education, the Austria-based World University Service has provided 300 scholarships for study at the University of Pristina. The IOM will further subsidise ex-combatant students by providing living and housing stipends, as well as materials for studies, such as computers, textbooks, desks and chairs.
Finally, the IOM is taking applications from former rebels who want to join the newly formed Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC). Headed by former KLA military commander General Agim Ceku, the KPC will employ 2,000 active duty and 3,000 reserve uniformed members to provide search and rescue, rapid reaction, fire fighting, and other non-military national guard-type services in the province.
While critics of the KPC say it allows the KLA to exist in another guise, Barton says IOM's statistics indicate that many former KLA are not interested in joining the Corps.
"There's a lot of talk about the Kosovo Protection Corps, but really it is just one of quite a few reintegration options," Barton said. "It looks like a 50-50 split, with about half the people interested in applying for the KPC, and others applying for other types of opportunities."
Basic minimum qualifications for applying for the KPC are to be between 18 and 55 years old, physically fit, and have completed at least the third year of secondary school. While the IOM is in charge of the initial application process for the Corps, a team of KPC transitional managers, including Ceku, representatives of KFOR and the UN, make the final recruitment decisions.
So where have ex-rebels found work? The IOM has placed 64 former rebels in the past week, including two, trained as chemists, at a pharmaceutical factory in Gjilane. Final negotiations are underway for 43 more to be trained as technicians to work at Kosovo's electricity company.
Some former farmers have accepted seed money from the IOM to work to restore their farms. Barton says the organisation is also in the process of training some ex-KLA to work as traffic wardens in car-clogged Kosovo, as well as to place some former combatants in various de-mining programmes in the province.
Despite international efforts to redirect former rebels toward the civilian sector, former KLA still linger proprietarily around certain buildings in downtown Pristina exuding a sense of running the place, just beneath the radar screen of the international community. Some aspects of being part of the KLA, it seems, are immune from internationally monitored demilitarisation efforts.
Still, it is clear that the vast majority of former KLA soldiers, like Safed Gashi, have little use for political intrigue, and would just like to be able to find a job, provide for their families and rebuild destroyed homes before winter.
Gashi told the IOM, while his first choice is to join the KPC, he would also be willing to drive a taxi. Alternatively, he says, he would reopen his destroyed car repair shop "in a heartbeat", and employ ten to fifteen people in his village, if he could just get a compression lifter.
Laura Rozen has been reporting from the Balkans for English-language media since 1996.
© Institute of War &Peace Reporting
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