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Kosovo/a team

Monthly report #13
(March 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. Personnel Changes
2. Dragash

II. Observations & impressions
1. Focus on Inter-group Relations in Dragash Municipality
2. Preshevo Valley
3. 24 March Commemoration of the Anniversary of the NATO Bombing
4. Bernard Kouchner's Meeting with the NGO Community

I. Work of the team

1. Personnel Changes

Alan Jones, who had served on the Belgrade and subsequently the Prishtina team, left after fifteen months of service with Balkan Peace Team. Alan served in one of the toughest stretches of BPT history, beginning his time in Belgrade a few months before the NATO-led bombings of Serbia. His dedication and hard work is much appreciated. His colleagues would like to thank him and let him know he will be greatly missed. Alan returned to his home in Wales in late March.

2. Dragash

Support of Local Organisation

BPT has established a relationship with Flaka, which is a recently founded women's organisation in Dragash municipality. While Flaka was originally an initiative by several Albanian women, Goran (Slavic Muslim) women have now begun to participate in the sewing activities offered by the organisation. The BPT team hopes to support and co-operate with the group's initiative in organising activities for young women. Recently, the team combined resources with the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to provide transportation for Flaka representatives to Prizren, where they visited the new OSCE-sponsored NGO Resource Centre. The team also supported Flaka in contacting the Dragash representative of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo/a (UNMIK) to request the use of a municipality building for expanded activities.

Community Outreach

The team began the outreach process for the Dragash Youth Centre project by visiting two villages in Gora, the southern region of Dragash municipality inhabited by the Goran community. Three BPT volunteers were accompanied by a Goran woman from Dragash town to Vranic/Vranista and Gllobocice/Globocica, where they met with heads of both villages. While team members drank coffee and spoke with village leaders, the young people gathered in the school. The team then had the opportunity to present the project plans to the community and hear the youth's impressions. Village representatives also gave presentations and welcomed BPT's initiative. In both villages, it was decided that the youth would choose representatives who would continue to meet with the team in order to discuss plans for the youth centre.

At the suggestion of the village head, two BPT members followed up their initial visit to Vranic/Vranista with a more casual meeting with the village youth. In the evening meeting, the young people expressed their preference that programs at the planned youth centre initially be offered separately for both ethnic groups. The primary concerns cited by the Vranic/Vranista youth were issues of transportation and security. Moreover, the youth reported that many from the village do not feel comfortable walking the streets of Dragash. Finally, the youth made suggestions regarding activities in which they would be interested: English classes, computer courses, sports, sewing and hairdressing.

Project Program Update

BPT met with the principals of the secondary and primary schools in Dragash to make arrangements for English language classes. Starting 17 April, classes will be held for three groups of students at the local primary school. The participants will include one group of Albanian youth, one of Goran youth, and one mixed group of teachers from the secondary school. The "pupils parliament," a committee of 40 Albanian and 10 Goran youth in the secondary school, selected the participants for the classes.

II. Observations & impressions

1. Focus on Inter-group Relations in Dragash Municipality

Goran Perceptions of Inter-group Relations

A clear picture of the status of ethnic relations within Dragash municipality is elusive. Many Goran from the surrounding villages openly express concerns about their security within their own villages, and especially about security when travelling to Dragash town. There are villagers from Gora who have not made the trip into Dragash town since the beginning of the NATO bombing in March of 1999. On those occasions when Goran villagers travel to Dragash town, most prefer to do so by means of a vehicle instead of walking. The villagers avoid travelling to Dragash altogether in the late afternoon and evening hours due to fears regarding personal security. However, the level of concern appears to vary significantly among the different villages of Gora. For instance, there are villages where all of the youth attend the municipality's only secondary school (located in Dragash town), while there are other Goran villages where none of the youth attend the school. Several factors are commonly cited for this lack of attendance, including both security and economic concerns (transportation by taxi from the villages to town is costly).

It is clear that the different villages of Gora perceive their security risks differently. While varying degrees of allegiance to the Belgrade regime are often cited as the cause of this variation in security perceptions, simple geographic distance from Dragash town also may be a contributing factor. That is, villages that have had less opportunity to visit Dragash and interact with its inhabitants are also the villages that appear to have the greatest security concerns.

Perceptions of ethnic relations and security concerns also appear to vary among the Goran inhabitants of Dragash town itself. The town has two distinct neighbourhoods where most Goran live and spend their time. Additionally, there are sections of Dragash town that the Goran avoid visiting. However, what might be viewed as limited mobility for the Goran inhabitants disappears on market day when Goran residents can be seen in all sections of the town. Also, merchants can be heard using both languages - that is, Albanian and "Bosnian" ("Bosnian" being the language that the Goran call their mother tongue).

Albanian Perceptions of Inter-group Relations

In Opolje, the northern region of the municipality inhabited only by Albanians, and in Dragash town, Albanians also express a wide range of perceptions regarding their relations with the Goran community. The school administration in Dragash town, which is primarily Albanian, opened both the primary and the secondary schools to Goran youth last autumn and it continues to verbalise its support for an ethnically mixed schooling system. However, while the secondary school principal, Fejzullah Trinjaku, communicates that he has registered 120 Goran students for classes, it is difficult to verify how many of these students actually attend the school. The Albanian school administration and some of the Albanian youth communicate that they do not perceive serious security risks for the Goran community and view inter-group relations as quite open.

At the same time, there has been great reluctance by the Albanian community of Opolje to take part in a new OSCE initiative to form a community committee that would work jointly with a Goran committee to address community issues. According to one member of the Albanian community involved in the formation of the committee, the Albanians have several preconditions that must be met before they agree to joint discussions. These preconditions suggest a desire for indictment and punishment of war criminals and also for further disarmament of the Goran community.

Members of the Kosovo Protection Corps (know by its Albanian initials TMK) - formed in late September of last year in order to integrate members of the former Kosovo Liberation Army - maintain a clear presence in the streets of Dragash town, although the only official TMK office in the municipality is located in the Opolje village of Zym/Zjum. Some members of both the Goran community and the Albanian community express concern about this presence.

Note: UNMIK currently defines Dragash municipality officially as Dragash town and Gora, the area south of Dragash town which is inhabited by Goran people. The area north of Dragash town, Opoje, is officially included in Prizren municipality. However, the separation of Gora and Opoje into two different administrative municipalities was carried out by the Serb regime in 1991. It is expected that the pre-1991 municipal boundaries, including both Gora and Opoje, will be adopted by UNMIK as the official boundaries in the near future. In actuality, Dragash town has continued to serve as the focal point for both Gora and Opoje. For this reason, this report includes both Gora and Opoje in its discussion of Dragash/s municipality.

2. Preshevo Valley

Since late February, the incidences of violence in the Preshevo Valley (the region within Serbia proper with an Albanian majority that shares a boundary with eastern Kosovo/a) have become a focal point of media and international attention. In response to local Albanian allegations of continued abuse by Serbian authorities, an armed militia surfaced and is known as the Liberation Army of Preshevo, Medvegje and Bujanoc or UCPMB by its Albanian initials (Preshevo, Medvegje and Bujanoc are the three mainly Albanian towns within the Preshevo Valley). The UCPMB's membership draws from eastern Kosovo/a and from among former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) combatants. This new armed movement is believed to be led by the sixty-year-old former poet Jhefket Hassani. UNMIK says the group's existence has been known since November, 1999 but other media sources say that the group formed after the killing of two Albanian men this winter in the Preshevo Valley village of Dobrosin.

Facing the prospect of another armed force, representatives from international agencies began talks to disband the UCPMB. In U.S.-sponsored negotiations, the group's leaders agreed to search for a political solution to the situation in southern Serbia. Hashim Thaci, the political leader of the former Kosovo Liberation Army and now president of the People's Democratic Party of Kosova (PPDK), helped broker the deals. The talks, however, seemed to have yielded little but empty promises as the Washington Post reported that the week following the negotiations, the Albanian rebels continued to train in and around Dobrosin village. In addition, the local Albanian newspaper Koha Ditore reported receiving a hand-delivered letter saying that the UCPMB had not ceased functioning and that the newspaper should retract a previously printed article stating otherwise. The newspaper responded to the letter by saying that the Albanian delegation at the negotiation talks should be responsible for clarifying the status of the UCPMB.

The recent violence in the Preshevo Valley raised concerns among the international agencies in Kosovo/a about the potential flight of Albanians from southern Serbia into the province. The Preshevo Valley is populated with an estimated 70,000 ethnic Albanians and since June, 1999, an estimated 6-7,000 people have registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Gjilan/Gnjilane, eastern Kosovo/a, as displaced persons from southern Serbia. Although the UNHCR initially believed that the numbers crossing the boundary between Serbia and Kosovo/a had increased in the early half of March, it now appears that the perceived increase was due to multiple boundary crossings. International workers at refugee centres in Gjilan/Gnjilane, for example, reported seeing the same faces rather than a new flood of displaced persons.

3. 24 March Commemoration of the Anniversary of the NATO Bombing

Ethnic Albanians in Kosovo/a greeted the one-year anniversary of the onset of the NATO bombing of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia with festivities and an atmosphere of celebration. In Prishtina, the youth crowded the cafes and streets. Young men and women hanging out of cars waving the double-headed Skanderbeg eagle flag (an Albanian national symbol) could be spotted all evening on the city's main thoroughfares. Also, Prishtina University's Technical Faculty hosted a dance party called "Dance Bomb" to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the bombing. Although KFOR had heightened security along Kosovo/a's borders and within the cities, it reported no incidence of ethnic violence during the evening. Furthermore, team members in Dragash reported a quiet evening. The community appeared to be unaware or uninterested in the significance of the date.

4. Bernard Kouchner's Meeting with the NGO Community

The Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG), Dr. Bernard Kouchner, held a meeting with the members of the international and local non-governmental organisation (NGO) community on 20 March. The presentation, which was made during the weekly NGO security briefing, was intended to allow the SRSG to update his colleagues on the status of the UN mission and to provide an opportunity for questions and answers. During his speech, Dr. Kouchner highlighted two main events resulting from his meetings with the members of the Security Council in mid-March. He said he had invited the 15 members of the Security Council to visit the region to get a first-hand look at the problems facing the UN civil administration in Kosovo/a. Some of the members agreed to the idea of a visit and are scheduled to arrive in late April. The second issue discussed by Dr. Kouchner was that of local elections. The SRSG reported that local elections would be held by the end of the year.

While Dr. Kouchner had initiated the meeting with the NGOs, his second meeting with the community as whole since September, 1999, the question and answer session created quite a bit of tension between the SRSG and the NGOs. For example, members of local NGOs were upset that Dr. Kouchner did not think to have his presentation translated into Albanian even though an interpreter was present. Also, during the question and answer session, representatives of local NGOs had to shout for translation.

Source: Balkan Peace Team

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