Hope on the Balkans Kosov@ Crisis 1999
Balkan Peace Team
Monthly report #12
Balkan Peace Team in Kosovo/a:
Rruga Nëna Tereze 72-A/9 or Vidovdanska 72-A/9
Tel/Fax: ++381-38-42 706
BPT International Office:
D-32427 Minden, Germany
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. Project Update
2. Volunteer Assessment
3. Co-ordinating Committee and General Assembly Meetings
II. Political update
1. Focus on Mitrovica
2. Chronology of Events in Mitrovica
3. Team Visits to Mitrovica
I. Work of the team
1. Project Update
BPT has been working toward building a relationship with the town of Dragash in southern Kosovo/a with both the Albanian and the Goranci / Gorani (Slavic Muslim) residents of the town. BPT hopes to establish a youth centre which could lend support to the fragile co-operation that exists between the two communities by providing a neutral space within which young people from both groups can meet and can begin to build relationships.
Team members made two visits to Dragash in February to re-assess the political climate in light of recent reports of increased ethnic tensions. Also, the team's visits were made to explore the possibilities of establishing a permanent presence in the town in order to develop a deeper understanding and awareness of local issues and to begin to establish ties within the Albanian and Goranci / Gorani communities in preparation for developing the proposed youth centre.
Since the team's last visit in November, reports from various international field workers in the region indicate a changing political climate. Although there have been recent reports of Goranci / Gorani leaving the Dragash region, the main food distribution - Catholic Relief Services - reports that it has not decreased its supplies to the region, suggesting there has not been a large population exodus.
In a recent incident that has shocked this small town, a Goranci / Gorani man was kidnapped and shot dead. According to representatives of the Kosovo Force (KFOR) and the United Nations Civilian Police, the murder appears to have been ethnically motivated. As a consequence, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) issued a travel restriction for its staff working in the area. Other agencies, however, are treating this as an over-reaction.
During the team's first February visit, a meeting was held with the principal of the secondary school to discuss possible co-operation and use of the school's premises for the development of the preliminary stages of the youth centre project. The principal continues to show enthusiasm regarding BPT's presence in the town. Additionally, he mentioned that co-operative efforts have been taking place in the school. For example, although Albanian and Goranci / Gorani teachers in the school had exhibited a mutual mistrust of each other upon returning to work in the same school building(beginning in 1990, the Albanian staff at the school were sacked by the Serbian authorities while the Goranci / Gorani teachers retained their positions), the two groups of teachers are now sharing the same staff room and are drinking coffee together.
The team met informally with the Albanian teachers who requested that BPT offer English language classes to them as well as to their students. The principal promised to arrange a similar meeting between BPT and the Goranci / Gorani teachers during a future team visit.
The team made a second visit to Dragash the following week to secure a place of residence. The OSCE in Dragash reiterated its support of BPT's activities and offered its continued assistance. The team also visited the KFOR office to alert them to BPT's presence in the town. Upon describing the co-operative projects BPT has been planning, the KFOR commander stated that he had been approached by town residents to offer similar programs especially English language lessons. Due to KFOR's specific security role, the commander said that his forces were unable to provide such services, but he was glad that an organisation would be taking on the role.
2. BPT Volunteer Assessment (7-11 February)
One member of the team served as a resource person for the BPT volunteer assessment held in Amersfoort, the Netherlands. Following the assessment, four people were pooled as prospective volunteers who will join a team as places become available.
3. BPT Coordinating Committee and General Assembly Meetings (11-13 February)
Following the volunteer assessment was one of BPT's quarterly meetings of its Coordinating Committee, as well as a session of its General Assembly. The team representative gave a report of the work of the team in Kosovo/a and of its future plans which include the youth centre project in Dragash and the project to record individual stories of survival during the war of 1999 (Albanian and English language publications of which BPT hopes to have ready for distribution by the end of the year.
II. Political update
1. Focus on Mitrovica
The month of February has been dominated by the violence in the city of Mitrovica. In an effort to provide perspective on the series of events that have transpired -- events that continue to have violent repercussions throughout the territory a chronology of the month's events in this bitterly divided city follows below.
Since KFOR troops entered Kosovo/a in June of last year, Mitrovica has become a town divided. The Ibar River serves to physically separate the 10,000 Serb population in the north from the 50,000 Albanian population on the south side. There are approximately 2000 Albanians living on the north side and 30-50 Serbs living on the south side. At various times since the entry of KFOR forces in June of last year, the tensions between the two groups have led to violent confrontations. The main bridge connecting the two communities has become a flashpoint and has been the scene of almost daily incidents of varying degrees of violence.
2. Chronology of Events in Mitrovica
2 February: A rocket-launched grenade attack on a bus line that is used by the UNHCR to transport Serbs from the isolated village of Banja to Mitrovica kills two and injures many other passengers. KFOR says that this has the characteristics of a 'professional' attack.
3 February: At least 15 Serbs are wounded after a grenade attack on a Serb cafe in the north of Mitrovica. Later that evening Serb gangs began to break into the homes and flats of Albanians in the north of Mitrovica, forcing them to leave.
7 February: Local Serb leaders hold a rally in the north of Mitrovica to protest an "epidemic of Albanian violence against Serbs" and call for the formation of a Serb protection force and for the return of the Yugoslav army to the territory.
8 February: The Serb National Council of Kosovo and Metohija (SNC) issues a communiqué from its information centre in the Serb enclave of Gracanica in which it "expresses once again its sincere regrets for all the innocent victims which were killed or wounded in armed conflicts in Kosovo during the previous week." The Council's statement continues by highlighting the plight of the Serb enclave areas within the territory, citing increased levels of violence against members of the Serb community of Kosovo as well as an increase in attacks against Serbian properties and Serbian cultural monuments and heritage sites. Furthermore, the SNC states that "there are extremist groups on both sides which are intent to . . . obstruct establishing peaceful co-existence between national communities in the province."
9 February: KFOR reports that another seemingly "professional" rocket attack has occurred against a non-KFOR escorted bus transporting Serbs in Lipjan, a town to the south of Prishtina. Also on 9 February, some 25,000-30,000 people participate in a demonstration in the city of Prizren calling for the immediate return of those Albanians forced from their homes in the north of Mitrovica. A similar rally, held in the western town of Peja, is attended by some 3,000 people.
12 February: KFOR reports that perhaps as many as 200 members of the Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC) and/or former combatants with the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) have taken up residence in unoccupied Albanian flats in the north of Mitrovica.
13 February: Violence again erupts in Mitrovica, beginning with a morning grenade attack on a group of Albanians that resulted in one death and several injuries. Witnesses to this attack claim to have heard a Serbian man at the scene report via hand-held radio that "the action is over." Later in the day, two French KFOR soldiers are hit by sniper fire. Intense gunfire is exchanged throughout the day between KFOR troops and snipers located on both sides of the city. KFOR soldiers shoot and kill an Albanian man who they claim is a sniper but who Kosovo/a Albanians say is an unarmed civilian. The United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and KFOR issue a joint statement urging Kosovars to not "let the extremists on either side succeed in ruining this, your one great chance for peace."
14 February: An overturned ambulance on the road from Prishtina to Mitrovica is found to be transporting 13 rocket launchers, one grenade launcher, four hand grenades, 182 rifle grenades and 4,320 rounds of ammunition.
17 February: Three protests against the killing and displacement of Albanians in Mitrovica take place: 5,000 gather in Prishtina, 3,000 in Ferizaj/Urosevac, 800 in Dragash. The protest in Dragash is attended only by the Albanian community. According to reports from field officers for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the protest included a denunciation of the recent ethnically motivated murder of a local Goranci / Gorani man.
20 February: A major KFOR weapons-search operation is undertaken with the participation of some 2,000 troops. Exhaustive house-to-house searches are conducted, the number of vehicle checkpoints and helicopter patrols are increased and a night time curfew is imposed. KFOR troops come under attack by Serbs angered over the invasiveness of the searches. Special targets for Serb anger are the 200 KFOR troops from the United States who had been sent to the north of the city to assist in providing additional security.
21 February: Some 50,000 people from Prishtina and the Drenica region march on Mitrovica to protest what organisers call the perpetration of Serb violence against Albanians. In Prishtina, people begin to gather in the city centre at dawn for the 40 kilometre walk to Mitrovica. By 9:00 am, the streets of Prishtina are empty and most shops and kiosks are closed and have signs posted in their windows reading "at the protest march." UNHCR reports that by late afternoon, some 40,000 protesters had gathered to the south of the city centre in Mitrovica and 6,500 to the west. 5,000 had made their way past the KFOR cordon that had been established to prevent the entrance of the marchers into the city and were congregating on the south side of the main bridge over the Ibar River. On the north side of the bridge, according to UNHCR, a few thousand Serbs had gathered. KFOR uses teargas to prevent Albanian protesters from storming the north side of the city. By nightfall, forty buses and a couple thousand cars can be seen parked on the road leading into Mitrovica from Prishtina.
22 February: The Interim Administrative Council or IAC (the body established by UNMIK in which Hashim Thaci, Ibrahim Rugova and Rexhep Qosja leaders of Kosovo/a's three main Albanian political parties along with an as yet unnamed Serb representative, share with UNMIK the administrative responsibilities of the territory) issues a press release stressing the need for a political solution to the situation in Mitrovica. Arguing that the transformation of Mitrovica into a "United City" is imperative for creating stability in the territory, the IAC, as a collective body, states that "we have to prevent any further expulsions on either side of the city, protect the property of those displaced, facilitate freedom of movement in both directions, and enable the safe return of all those who have fled their homes in Mitrovica, including Serbs from the south." The Kosovo Transitional Council (KTC) the highest level advisory body to UNMIK issues a statement similar in content to that of the IAC. The KTC's statement, however, urges the leaders of the Kosovo Serb community to join the IAC because "the political solution of the Mitrovica issue can only be achieved through a joint effort of the representatives of the international community in Kosovo and of political forces from Kosovo."
25 February: Oliver Ivanovic, the leader of the Serb National Council in Mitrovica, organises a protest rally in the north of the city to inform "the local and international public about the torture and violence against the Serbs since UNMIK chief Bernard Kouchner introduced special measures for the stabilisation of Mitrovica."
Mitrovica is not the only flashpoint for violence in the region. As many Balkan observers have been arguing of late, an escalation of tensions or the outbreak of large-scale violence in either Montenegro or the Preshevo Valley (called "Eastern Kosova" by some Albanian factions within Kosovo/a since much of this region within Serbia proper contains an Albanian majority) most certainly will have a destabilising effect within Kosovo/a. For example, according to Blerim Shala, editor of the Kosovo/a paper Zeri, "there is a triangle of instability within the Balkans" -- Montenegro, Mitrovica and the Preshevo Valley -and events in one corner of this triangle will have implications for the other two.
As this report is being prepared, there continues to be aggression in Mitrovica, gun battles are occurring in the Preshevo Valley between Serbian police forces and the newly declared Liberation Army of Preshevo, Medvegje and Bujanoc (Preshevo, Medvegje and Bujanoc being the three mainly Albanian towns within Serbia proper that together constitute the Preshevo Valley), and there is much discussion of the increasing potential for violence to erupt in Montenegro. It remains to be seen how the repercussions of these events will be felt throughout Kosovo/a.
3. Team Visits to Mitrovica
The team has been following the unfolding crisis closely and has visited the city twice during the month.
Visit on 11 February:
BPT visited Mitrovica and met with the director of the city's library in order to get a sense of the current situation after the previous week's violence. The director stated that prior to the recent violence in the north, efforts had been made to reach out to the Serbian community, including invitations to participate in cultural activities sponsored by the library. Although the director believes that cross-community efforts are impossible at this time due to the consequences of the violence of the previous week, he continues to call for moderation -- even though his statements have resulted in threats to his personal welfare and in the "suggestion" that he leave the territory since there "is no place for people like him" in Kosovo/a. The team also met with NGO Mitrovica: The Association for Unity and Diversity Against Cleavage and Partition. The representatives with whom the team met with state that their efforts to incorporate minority communities into the social and cultural life of Mitrovica are now impossible due to the events of the previous week. This conclusion echoes that drawn by the UNHCR's most recent assessment on the situation of minority communities: "As recent events in the city (of Mitrovica) have shown, achievements can be quickly undone and fragile stability pushed to the brink."
Visit on 12 February:
BPT paid a second visit to Mitrovica, this time to meet with the acting president of the Bosniak party in the city who draws attention to the fact that, during the recent outbreak of violence, many of the Bosniaks who live on the north side of the city in a neighbourhood that is also home to most of the Albanians who have remained in the north came under attack and fled to the south. Many of these Bosniaks, like their Albanian neighbours, were forcibly evicted from their flats during the height of the violence in February and have had their possessions looted and their properties destroyed. The Bosniaks of Kosovo/a who are a Slavic Muslim community are now in a precarious situation in Mitrovica. As non-Albanian speaking Slavs, they are not welcomed by many in the Albanian dominated south side of the city -- and now they have been pushed from their homes by Serbian factions on the north side of the city.
Source: Balkan Peace Team
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