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Kosovo/a team

Monthly report # 15
(May 2000)

Balkan Peace Team in Kosovo/a:
Rruga Nėna Tereze 72-A/9 or Vidovdanska 72-A/9
Prishtina, Kosovo
Tel/Fax: ++381-38-42 706

BPT International Office:
Ringstr. 9a
D-32427 Minden, Germany
Tel: ++49-571-20776

If you wish to use or require clarification of any of the information included below, please contact Balkan Peace Team Kosovo/a at the above address. Please forward this report to anyone you think may be interested.


I. Work of the team
1. BPT Coordinating Committee Meeting
2. Observation of Kosovar Women's Meetings
3. Campagna Kossovo per la Non-violenza e la Riconciliazone
4. Dragash/s update

II. Kosovo/a political update
1. Returnees
2. PPDK General Assembly
3. Preshevo Valley
4. Civil registration
5. Assassination of Ekrem Rexha
6. Mass trial in Serbia

I. Work of the team

1. BPT Coordinating Committee Meeting

The quarterly meeting of the Balkan Peace Team's Coordinating Committee (CC) was held in Prishtina from 5 May through 7 May. The meeting provided an opportunity for team members to update CC members on the work in Kosovo/a and to plan future strategies.

A major decision was taken by the CC to cancel the "Stories of Survival" project. The decision followed a recommendation by the team that the project, as it was originally conceived, was no longer appropriate for the changing environment within Kosovo/a. The team had consulted with several local activists during the month of April to reassess the need of local communities to have their stories heard and recorded. These contacts suggested that local communities' willingness to revisit potentially traumatic experiences at this stage is limited. This was particularly true, they felt, when the request came from internationals, who as a group are widely perceived to have failed to deliver justice since their arrival to Kosovo/a. While the CC agreed to cancel the "Stories of Survival" project, there was general recognition of the importance of issues of collective memory in post-war Kosovo/a. The CC encouraged a new project addressing collective memory in the future.

2. Observation of Kosovar Women's Meetings

The team observed two meetings in May that proposed to engage local women in public dialogue on their future role in Kosovo/a. On 13 May, the Gender Task Force of the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and the Prizren office of the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) jointly sponsored a meeting on "Gender, Governance and Leadership in Kosovo." The Prizren event gathered approximately 150 participants, including both local and international men and women, from around Kosovo/a. Participants included representatives of local women's groups and organisations, women politicians, businesswomen, representatives of Municipal Boards and Councils, and members of the academic community.

Nina Lahoud of the Office of the Special Representative to the Secretary General (SRSG) gave the opening remarks, focusing on the initiatives undertaken by the SRSG, Dr. Bernard Kouchner, to address issues of gender perspective and balance and to increase the representation of women in Kosovo/a institutions. These remarks, delivered to an audience anxious for the opportunity to express their own views on the representation of women in Kosovo/a, were followed briefly by panel presentations from Ms. Elheme Hetemi, president of the "Progressive Women" organisation within the PPDK; Ms. Pakize Kiseri, Director of Education and member of the Administrative Board of Prizren; and Mr. Ross Reid, a representative of the National Democratic Institute. Both Ms. Hetemi and Ms. Kiseri pointed out some of the current obstacles challenging Kosovar women's involvement in positions of leadership. Ms. Kiseri identified the prevalence of gender discrimination and a lack of childcare and support services as major hurdles.

These panel presentations were followed by a brief "question and answer" session intended to involve the attendees in public discussion of issues of concern to them. However, time constraints severely limited this discussion and many local participants expressed dissatisfaction with the meeting's format, claiming it did not allow for a genuine exchange of views on the important issues being raised. As a result, a follow-up meeting was scheduled for 27 May.

On 27 May, the Office of the SRSG sponsored this second meeting, focusing on "Women in Elections and the Peace Process in Kosovo." At this meeting, UNMIK representatives called upon "distinguished" members of the Kosovo/a women's community to come forward and share their concerns. The need for a genuine, "democratic debate" was again a primary concern for the local women present. In fact, many of the well-known activists who were called upon to speak defied the agenda created by the SRSG's office; they made a point to turn their time over to the local women present who do not often have the opportunity to share their views in such a forum.

3. Training workshop in conflict transformation and reconciliation

From 26 May to 28, May team member Kajsa Svensson participated as a trainer in the first of three workshops for future local trainers in conflict transformation and reconciliation. The workshop was organised jointly by Campagna Kossovo per la Non-Violenza e la Riconciliazione and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Local OSCE employees and representatives of local organisations, including one Serb and one Turk, were participants in the workshop. Kajsa contributed her theatre skills to the skills of co-trainers Pat Patfoort and Professor Alberto L'Abate. Two more workshops will take place in June for this group of participants.

* Note: The Monthly Report for April reported erroneously that Kossovo per la Non-Violenza e la Riconciliazione was jointly organising this series of training workshops with the UN Mission in Kosovo. Please note that these workshops are being jointly conducted with the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), not with UNMIK.

4. Dragash/s Update

Members of the team attended the Dragash/s secondary school's 30th anniversary celebration on 11 and 12 May. The celebration had been greatly anticipated during March and April by the school administration. It held particular significance since the school, opened in 1969, actually marked its thirtieth year last spring during the war.

In an opening presentation, Feyzullah Trinjaku, the school's principal, proudly reminded attendees of the school's multiethnic character. (Gorani, who are Slavic Muslims, also attend the school) He pointed out the fact that the Dragash/s secondary school is the only school in Kosovo/a currently conducting classes in both the Albanian and Serbo-Croatian languages. However, most of the presentations and performances that followed were celebrations of Albanian culture and achievements in reopening the school after last year's war. In one of the very few performances by Goran students, a young Goran woman was loudly heckled and "booed" by the Albanian audience. Overall, the celebration made clear that the school is still struggling to accomplish the truly multiethnic and neutral environment the administration speaks of.

Throughout the month of May, the team continued with its course of English language classes for Goran and Albanian students in the secondary school and for a mixed group of teachers from the school. This first round of classes ended on 31 May with exams, evaluations, certificates, and a "graduation" party for all.

The team continued its efforts this month to have a space for the youth centre donated by the municipality of Dragash/s. As that proceeded, the language classes provided us with an opportunity to build trust within both communities as well as to develop individual relationships with students and teachers alike.

As part of our closing "ceremonies" with the two groups of students, the team discussed the concept behind the youth centre project. We explained that the centre will be developed with their input and guidance and that it will be a space that is open to both Goran and Albanian youth. It was difficult to assess what impact this information had upon the students, as no one registered a reaction.

As it happened, the team's final session with the Goran and Albanian students coincided with the last day of classes for those students who were graduating from the secondary school. The team's sessions with these students are separate. We meet with the Goran students first and shortly thereafter we have our session with the Albanian students. One could not help but notice very different perspectives among the graduating students in our classes, regarding their future prospects. In the Goran class, for example, there was a young man who said that he was happy he was graduating because it meant that he no longer had to do homework. However, he then stated that he was unhappy because he no longer had any freedom in post-war Kosovo/a. As a Goran, this young man can not attend the University of Prishtina because of issues of physical safety. This is a situation quite unlike that of his Albanian peers who, when they entered our classroom on their final day of classes, were dressed in their best clothing, had just attending a special dance held to celebrate their scholastic achievement, and discussed with eagerness their plans for university study. The Albanian graduates were, in a word, hopeful - a feeling that was not shared by their Goran counterparts.

II. Kosovo/a political update

1. Returnees

In a plan brokered by United Nations Mission in Kosovo this month, the three Kosovo/a Albanian political leaders on UNMIK's Joint Interim Administrative Council (Ibrahim Rugova, Hashim Thaci and Rexhep Qosja), agreed to a series of meetings with representatives of the territory's Roma, Ashkalija and Egyptian communities. These meetings will be held to begin the process of building trust between the groups, so that the return can be facilitated of an estimated 30,000 members of the Roma, Ashkalija and Egyptian communities to their homes.

What seems to be an important step forward in mending broken relations between these various minority groups and the Albanian majority has been taken. Leaders of the Roma, Ashkalija and Egyptian communities have recognised that some of the members of their respective groups had perpetrated crimes against humanity during last year's war. In return, Rugova, Thaci and Qosja rejected the notion that the entirety of these communities should be held collectively responsible for the crimes committed by a few. However, both Thaci and Qosja refused to participate in a planned visit to a Roma community in Ferizaj/Urosevac with the heads of UNMIK and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). They did this after they learned that Rugova would not be returning from a holiday abroad for the occasion. This then forced a postponement of the event.

The issue of Serb return is also a topic also being discussed in Kosovo/a. However, the idea of a large-scale return of Serbs to the province is a far more emotional issue than that of Roma return. A five million dollar reconstruction project due to be funded by the government of the United States will rebuild the razed Serb village of Osojane in western Kosovo/a. Dennis McNamara, the UNHCR special envoy to Kosovo/a, has warned that the time for Serb return to the territory is not yet ripe. He said that before any such return project gets underway, outreach to neighbouring Albanian villages must be conducted as a preparatory measure. At this time, however, no such plans are under discussion.

Another issue of concern in the territory is that of the anticipated forced return of thousands of Kosovo/a Albanians from western European countries this summer. Virtually all European countries, which had granted temporary protection to Albanians from the province during last year's conflict, are phasing out this special status. They are using both enticements and coercion to return these individuals to Kosovo/a. The number of Albanian returnees from western Europe, according to the UNHCR, is expected to reach 100.000. In fact, large-scale return has already begun. From Germany alone, for example, there were between three and five flights of Albanian returnees per week into Prishtina airport during May.

The UNHCR and UNMIK are calling for western European countries, which are hosting large numbers of Kosovo/a Albanians, to co-ordinate their return efforts so that the impact upon the social services and administrative structures of the province can be minimised. However, the numbers of returnees to some regions are already beginning to cause "secondary displacement." Albanians who have been temporarily residing in the homes of their compatriots living abroad are being displaced by these returnees, thereby straining both the limited local services and the operations of international humanitarian relief operations, which are in the process of cutting back

2. PPDK General Assembly

Kosovo/a's first post-war political party conference was held this month in Prishtina. The Democratic Progress Party of Kosovo or PPDK (is the political party formed last October by Hashim Thaci and other former members of the disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army. Several hundred members met for a weekend conference, during which a 61-member steering committee was elected. Also during the general assembly, the name of the PPDK was changed officially to the PDK - the Democratic Party of Kosovo. The apparent reason for the change in name was an internal dispute over whether the Albanian word being used to signify "progress" in the party's name, was actually a word of Albanian origins.

3. Preshevo Valley

Preshevo Valley lies inside Serbia proper along Kosovo/a's eastern boundary and is home to more than 70,000 Albanians. The Serbian police and the Liberation Army of Preshevo, Medvegje and Bujanoc (known by its Albanian acronym of UCPMB), are reported to have clashed repeatedly throughout the latter half of May. The UNHCR received reports that some 200 Serbian police had taken up positions in an Albanian village in the valley, resulting in the exodus of virtually the entire village population. Many of these individuals made their way into Kosovo/a and will be sheltered with host families in the Gjilan/Gnilane area.

4. Civil Registration

The civil registration process that began in April under the auspices of UNMIK and the OSCE continues. This process is being conducted in order to identify the resident population of Kosovo/a and to create a list of individuals eligible to participate in municipal elections in autumn 2000. All registration centres are operational and the OSCE is reported to be pleased with the turnout. Dome 300,000 Kosovars have been registered to date. The Serb population in the territory continues to boycott the civil registration process; only a few thousand of the 120,000 Serbs in residence in the territory have registered. Most minority communities, however, are now participating. For example, after what appeared to be an slow start, most of the residents in the Goran villages of Dragash/s municipality are reported to be registering themselves with the OSCE.

5. Assassination of Ekrem Rexha

On 9 May, Ekrem Rexha, a former commander in the UCK (Kosovo Liberation Army), was gunned down in front of his home in Prizren. Rexha, known as Commander Drini during his time with the UCK, was one of the first to shed his uniform and enter the Kosovo/a political scene when fighting ended last June. He was widely regarded to hold relatively "moderate" political views. While it is still unclear if his murder was politically motivated, power struggles within the Albanian community in Kosovo/a remain rife.

6. Mass trial in Serbia

In a mass trial on 22 May, a Serb court in Nis found 143 ethnic Albanians guilty of terrorism against the Serbian state. The defendants had been accused of participating in a Gjakova/Djakovica based unit of the UCK during the spring of 1999. The mass trial and conviction devastated many family members and loved ones of the indicted and resulted in large demonstrations across Kosovo/a - especially in Gjakova/Djakovica.

The judicial proceedings were monitored by both international and local organisations working in Kosovo/a and Belgrade, including the peace and human rights group, Grupa 484, in Belgrade. Amnesty International has called the proceedings "bluntly unfair," citing a failure to protect individual rights and, instead, applying collective guilt to the group of defendants.

Source: Balkan Peace Team

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