Hope on the Balkans Kosov@ Crisis
Balkan Peace Team
Monthly Report #05 (Mid June-Mid July)
Balkan Peace Team in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
Hristo Smirnenski 11, 91000 Skopje, Macedonia
Tel. ++389-91-215 104 E-mail: email@example.com.
International BPT Office
Ringstr. 9a, D-32427 Minden, Germany
Tel: ++49-571-20776 E-mail: Balkan-Peace- Team@Bionic.Zerberus.De
If you wish to use or require clarification of any of the information included below, please contact Balkan Peace Team-FRY at the above address. Please forward this report to anyone you think may be interested.
II. Richardson Institute workshop
III. Budapest visit
IV. Situation in Macedonia for refugees
V. Trips to Prishtina
VI. Team update
This report is in a slightly different format than our usual monthly Reports, as we try to adjust to the ever-changing situation in the region. We spent the early part of June resting and recovering from the travels we had made since we left FRY on the 24th of March. But we were soon back at work, preparing to return to the region and setting up a temporary office in Skopje, Macedonia. One member of the team accompanied representatives of the Richardson Institute to Macedonia. Another travelled to Budapest, Hungary to meet with people working with Yugoslav refugees, CO's and military deserters there, before travelling on to Macedonia to join the rest of the team.
At the BPT Co-ordinating Committee meeting in Paris at the end of May, it had been decided that the team should base itself in Skopje until September. But with the end of the NATO bombing and the withdrawal of Serbian forces from Kosov@, the situation has drastically changed. The majority of the refugees have returned to Kosov@ from the camps and host families in Macedonia and Albania. This has led BPT to reassess the team's plans for the coming months. After two visits back to Prishtina, the team feels that BPT should return to Kosov@ on a permanent basis in early August.
II. Richardson Institute workshop -- 14-17 June
One member of the team travelled with two facilitators from the RI who were to hold a dialogue workshop with Kosov@ Serbs and Albanians. Because of the recent peace agreement, a mixed workshop was not able to happen. At first we were not certain why it didnĂt happen, but we eventually came to the conclusion that it was because of bad timing more than anything else. Many of the slated participants were working for OSCE or other NGOs and were quite busy when the bombing ended.
What did take place was a day-long meeting with three new people to the RI, an evening spent with people from Mens Sana (an RI local partner in Prishtina) on Wednesday in Tetovo, and a meeting on Thursday in Skopje with past participants. At the meetings, there was no consistency to how people felt about dialogue; many people expressed different opinions throughout the meetings. This says something about the time now, that it is very much a time of change and that the Albanians are more focused on return and reconstruction. The Serbs, however, see it very differently. The Serbs we spoke with very much wanted the dialogue workshops to keep happening and to happen sooner rather than later.
The facilitators took all this in, and returned to England to plan future directions with RI staff. We have heard they have plans for an additional trip to the region sometime in the near future, but nothing has been decided yet.
III. Budapest visit -- 16-23 June
Overview of the Situation in Hungary
On June 16, the official figure given for the number of people from FRY staying in Hungarian refugee camps was 2341. However, they have not been given refugee status by the Hungarian government, but have been given authorisation to stay for one year. The number of FRY citizens who have entered Hungary on tourist visas but have not applied for refugee status is difficult to determine. Estimates range from 20,000 up to 40,000 or even 80,000.
There were press reports that a contingent of Hungarian troops, 200 or 300 soldiers, could be sent to Kosov@ to take part in KFOR peacekeeping duties. There has also been a dispute between Hungary and Russia over Russian troop and supply movements through Hungarian airspace.
Hungary is concentrating on its potential role in the reconstruction of Yugoslavia. It hopes to play a key role in the reconstruction process and to benefit from it economically.
While in Budapest, we meet representatives of the American Friends Service Committee and Norwegian People's Aid. Both organisations see a need to continue offering their services to the Serbian refugees in Hungary and to activists travelling to and from Yugoslavia
Contacts from Belgrade
Yugoslav Child Rights Centre: The Child Rights Centre is now located in Budapest and is supported by Save the Children. The Centre is planning to develop a Balkan-wide children's rights organisation that would be based in Budapest. During the conflict, the Centre published a special edition of their monthly magazine that focused on how the war affected the children of the region.
Post Pessimists: We met with a member of the Post Pessimists group from Belgrade who is now working in Budapest for an international NGO. The Post Pessimists were about to have a workshop at Lake Balaton, Hungary, with participants from Serbia, Croatia and Kosov@.
Meetings were held with representatives from a number of peace and environmental groups in Budapest. Due to the changing circumstances some of the peace groups are reconsidering their future strategies. One group, Movement for Peace in the Balkans, was due to hold a meeting to discuss if they should disband the organisation or try and develop links in the surrounding countries. Other more established peace groups, such as Alba Kor, were re-focusing again on internal Hungarian issues.
We also met with Henrik Farkas of the Anti- Conscription League in Hungary. Henrik is keen for the League to have international support for its work. If anybody needs further information they can access the League's web page or e-mail Henrik on:
email: firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.c3.hu/~farkashe/hel
The environmental groups were concerned by the environmental effects of the bombing of Yugoslavia and its impact on surrounding countries, especially Hungary. One of the groups had received reports, apparently from an official source, that there had been a slight increase in radiation in parts of Southern Hungary due to the NATO bombing. But as the prevailing wind direction was from north to south, the increased atmospheric pollution will have little direct impact in Hungary.
Because the NATO planes had priority at higher altitudes, civil aircraft had to fly at a lower level and there was an increase in noise pollution. Another issue was that, due to an emergency, a military refuelling tanker had to drop its load of aviation fuel over the Hungarian countryside. The authorities are trying to convince people that this is not a problem because the fuel dispersed in the air before reaching the ground!
IV. Situation in Macedonia for refugees
Since the signing of the peace agreement in early June there has been a massive and speedy return of refugees to Kosov@, catching aid agencies by surprise. By the time that UNHCR had its first ˘organised return÷ of 400 people from Macedonia on June 29, 400,000 had already made their way back from Albania and Macedonia on their own. According to UN figures as of July 9th, there were only 12,400 refugees left in Macedonia. Overall, there are 127,600 refugees in Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro and Bosnia, 628,800 people having already returned to Kosov@.
Many of the international NGOs are scaling down their operations in Macedonia and moving into Kosov@.
The Macedonian border guards have been making it difficult for Kosov@ Albanians to enter into Macedonia. Many refugees have been trying to enter to bring their families back to Kosov@ or to travel on to somewhere else. One couple we spoke with were living in Switzerland at the time and needed to catch their plane in an hour. They were kept waiting at the border for over 4 hours, even though they had all their papers in order.
V. Trips to Prishtina
1. First Trip -- 26 June
On 26 June, BPT went to Prishtina for our first visit to Kosov@ since the end of the conflict. We travelled with activists from the Mother Theresa Society (MTS). MTS was taking two truckloads of food and supplies to Kosov@. On the way we passed Stenkovac I and Stenkovac II refugee camps, which are very close to the road going to Prishtina. We could see, especially in Stenkovac II, the signs of the huge exodus that was taking place from the camps.
When we got to the border we found a huge line, probably more than a mile long, of cars and trucks waiting to cross into Kosov@. Families in cars and taxis, piled into the backs of lorries or on foot were returning to Kosov@, carrying their belongings with them. At this point the UNHCR had yet to organise transport for people returning, though even if they had, it would have only been for a fraction of the refugees.
Coming towards us at the border were long lines of men coming in to Macedonia, some obviously having been on the road or in the open for a long time. They were thin and sunburned and poorly dressed. They were coming for their families who were in the camps or staying with host families. The Macedonian border guards were very slow in letting the people enter Macedonia even though they had all the necessary papers.
One of the first things that is noticeable as you cross the border and enter Kosov@ is an Albanian flag (The Skanderbeg Eagle; a black double headed eagle on a red background) flying above an old cement factory. Along the road to Prishtina were several more flags flying from schools and apartment buildings. This illustrates that to many Kosovars, Kosov@ is as good as independent, even though the peace agreement is very vague regarding this status. How the international community will resolve this is on many people's minds these days.
Along the route were large stretches of roadside taped off, warning of landmines. This area of Kosov@ saw relatively light damage compared with the area along the Albanian border. We saw several burnt houses, but the majority were in good condition. On the way we were greeted by lots of little boys standing by the highway who raised the "V" sign as we passed and were happily celebrating the NATO "victory" as their own. On several occasions both coming and returning, we saw the flames and smoke from large fires. We were told by our Albanian friends that these were probably Serb houses being burned by Albanians.
As we first entered Prishtina it seemed fairly normal. As we went further into the city, we came across military patrols and vehicles, the looted store fronts and the deserted cafes. We passed the main police station, which was bombed by Nato and is now being used by the UN for offices. As we talked to some of the people who had stayed in the city or recently returned, one comment we heard from an Albanian was "Maybe I will be able some day to forgive them, but I will never forget what they did."
On the trip back to the border, we were mostly silent, everyone lost in their own thoughts. We were stopped once at a crossroad where soldiers were searching cars for weapons. It reminded us of the checkpoints we had encountered before the NATO bombing on the way from Belgrade to Prishtina. Those check points had been controlled by Serbs, but the search was the same. During this first visitv things seemed quite tense in Prishtina and we were unsure how soon BPT would be able to return. Everyone in the convoy was anxious to be on the road by nightfall.
2. Second trip -- 2-4 July
On our second trip to, there was a marked decrease in tension and the city was coming back to life again. Several shops had opened up and the market was bustling with people. You could see many people cleaning out their storefronts or restocking their shops. Given this impressive change in just a week it made us think about relocating to Prishtina sooner rather than later. At that time over 84 NGOĂs had already set up shop in Prishtina. It was hard for us to believe that the peace agreement had only been signed a few weeks before.
Although the situation is improving, many people do not feel particularly safe, especially after dark. It was not uncommon to see one or two burning houses from our apartment building. They were most likely Serb or Roma houses set on fire in retribution. The Kosovars we spoke with seemed either to think the population was being very restrained in extracting revenge, or to feel terribly ashamed at how fellow Kosovars were behaving. We heard from some internationals that many Albanians from Northern Albania had come to Kosov@ to loot from both the Kosovars and the Serbs.
The night of July 2nd was marked with the noise of cheering people, honking horns and a tremendous amount of machine gun fire. The occasion was the anniversary of the day in 1990 when the Kosov@ parliament declared their status as a republic. The next morning we had heard from KFOR soldiers that two people were killed by stray bullets during the celebrations, but Albanian sources claimed the deaths were caused by British troops firing on a car of unarmed Albanians.
We were able to touch base with several local NGOs during our stay. Several other offices that we went to, however, were locked up with no sign of anyone around.
Humanitarian Law Centre: HLC reopened its office just opposite the old main police station in the centre. We met with one of the field workers who told us their main focus at the moment is on the Kosovar political prisoners. They told us that from January 1998 to March 1999, over 2,300 Kosovars had been arrested. They think that over 3,000 have been arrested since March, 1,000 of those coming from Djakovica/Gjakova alone. OSCE, UNHCR and ICRC are involved in negotiations with the Yugoslav government over this issue. ICRC has already negotiated with the Yugoslav government to release a few hundred prisoners and it was hoped that within the next few days, they would get a list of prisonersĂ names and where they were being held.
Centre for the protection of women and children: We met with Sevdije Ahmeti from the Centre who told us a harrowing tale of her three months in hiding in Prishtina. She told us of how her role as the report writer for the Centre made her a target of the Serbian Security Forces. She spent most of the past three months just a few steps in front of them. Most of the other staff from the Centre were still in Tetovo at the time, but were expected to return in early July. There were plans to reopen the Centre once everyone had returned.
Mother Theresa Society: We met with one of the Prishtina branch presidents of MTS who told us that their 44 branches and 640 sub-branches were working again, distributing humanitarian aid and offering medical assistance throughout Kosov@. The UNHCR has recognised MTS as a key NGO in meeting the humanitarian needs of the Kosovars because of their high level of organisation.
Mercy Corps Int. has received a grant for capacity building with MTS and will be spending the next several months working with them to help them to become more professional and to become more effective in fund-raising. They will also be installing and training people in the use of a computerised database at each of the branch offices.
MTS relies largely on volunteers and has over 7,300 throughout Kosov@. Since the peace agreement, many of the doctors and nurses who volunteered with MTS will be returning to their previous jobs but will continue to volunteer with MTS one day a week. MTS is hoping they will get funding in the near future to hire some of the doctors and nurses.
Flora Brovina: We stopped in at one of Flora's centres in Prishtina. Before the war, the Centre was used for women and children refugees from the Drenica region. During the war, Flora had been arrested and was still being held in Pozarevac prison in Serbia. We were interested in hearing if the people at the Centre had any more information. Unfortunately they did not. They told us that the Centre had been a place of refuge during the war and that at one time they had 100 people staying there. In the course of the last three month 5 babies were born there.
VI. Team update
Lyn Back completes her 12-month term with BPT in July. She travels from Skopje to Budapest on the 7th July, were she will spend a few days connecting with our contacts there before flying to the US for a well-earned rest. Lyn has been a valued member of the FRY team during these difficult times and we wish her the best for the future.
We look forward to being joined in early August by Robert Sautter, the new volunteer for the FRY team.