The Serb quarter in Prizren
Thousands of Serb homes were burned by the KLA Kosovo Albanian extremists after the war in NATO presence. More than 250.000 Serb refugees who had to flee the war ravaged province still do not have possibility to return to their homes, three years after.

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'The most dangerous place on Earth'
Secret guerrilla armies. Neighbours stoning schoolbuses. Two peoples living in terror and hatred: Three years later, war-ravaged Kosovo remains a powderkeg.

Scott Taylor
The Ottawa Citizen

Saturday, June 22, 2002

The text on the Web

On April 8 of this year, international police from the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) attempted to apprehend Slavoljub Jovic, a Serb suspected of ethnic hate crimes. From the outset, the arrest in the northern town of Mitrovica went awry. Believing him armed, UNMIK police used force to subdue Mr. Jovic, prompting a large crowd of Serbian onlookers to stone the 10 police officers.

As Mr. Jovic was dragged away and taken into custody, the outnumbered UNMIK force fired tear gas and summoned a riot squad. Meanwhile, the Serbs had mobilized their unofficial defence force, the Bridgewatchers. Within hours, a full-scale confrontation had developed and several Serbs were injured by rubber bullets. The clash escalated when the Bridgewatchers fired rocket-propelled grenades and small arms after the UN force attempted to rush the Serb barricade. The fusillade wounded five UNMIK policemen, and the security force finally withdrew.

Although an uneasy calm has since been restored, Kosovo's destiny remains hotly disputed. During NATO's entry into Kosovo in June 1999, fleeing Serb refugees and local residents declared a Serbian territory north of the Ibar River, which divides this small city. After the 1999 peace agreement came into effect, it was here that mobs of rock-throwing Serbian civilians prevented Kosovar Albanian refugees from returning. And in February 2000, Canadian and British troops barely managed to quell a riot during which Albanians tried to storm the Serbian enclave. Such clashes have become increasingly symbolic of the United Nations' failure to resolve the Kosovo crisis.

"Ironically, the international community, including Canada, is pumping millions of dollars into Kosovo, allegedly to help build a democratic, multi-ethnic and civil society. Yet the opposite has happened," says James Bissett, a Balkan analyst and Canada's former ambassador to Yugoslavia. "With the exception of several thousand Serbian citizens who live in NATO-protected enclaves, Kosovo remains essentially a lawless society, completely intolerant of ethnic minorities and one of the most dangerous places on Earth."

One of the most overlooked aspects of NATO's proclaimed "liberation" of Kosovo was the fact that the resolution of one humanitarian crisis simply created another. As the 800,000 Albanian refugees who had fled Kosovo when hostilities broke out swept back into their homeland on the heels of the NATO troops, more than 200,000 Serbs and other indigenous minorities fled to the north.

The majority of these refugees were Serbs who fled back into Yugoslavia under the control of then-president Slobodan Milosevic, and the Western media have been largely unaware of their plight. To this day, most are still at crowded collection centres throughout Serbia. A report in April 2002 by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) noted that, while "the vast majority of Albanians who fled during the Kosovo crisis have returned home and only few of them experienced individual protection problems," things were not so well resolved for minority groups. "Non-ethnic Albanian persons originally from Kosovo continue to face severe security threats which place their lives and fundamental freedoms at risk, and continue to compel some to leave the province," the report stated.

Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Djakovica
Since the arrival of KFOR and UN Mission after the war more than 100 Serb Orthodox holy sites were devastaded by Kosovo Albanian extremists. (an unindentified K/Albanian in front of the ruins of the Serb church)

In terms of rebuilding this war-ravaged province, the international community has made incredible progress. When the first British tanks rolled across the Kosovo border, thousands of smoke columns rose from the already devastated landscape. Many homes had been destroyed during the 1998 civil war between Albanian guerrillas and Yugoslav security forces. This destruction escalated drastically during NATO's 78-day bombing campaign and continued through the summer of 1999, when Albanian extremists re-entered areas of the province formerly controlled by the Serbs. The UNHCR estimates 120,000 houses have been rendered uninhabitable.

These shattered dwellings remain scattered throughout the countryside, but new houses and construction sites are now the predominant features of the region. "Unfortunately, the rapid reconstruction of private homes and shops gives a false impression of Kosovo's actual level of recovery," said a senior European Union official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "The international community has sunk between 15 billion and 18 billion Euros (about $27 billion) into Kosovo over the past three years and we haven't established a basic utility infrastructure -- without which we cannot even contemplate initiating the industrialization necessary to create a sustainable economy."

Power outages and water shutoffs are still a part of daily life and foreign aid constitutes the major source of revenue. In addition to direct humanitarian donations, Kosovo residents have become heavily dependent on employment created by the presence of the nearly 40,000 NATO troops -- translation and service jobs as well as spin-off employment. "We have created a completely false economy in Kosovo," said the EU official. "This was clearly shown by the economic downturn which occurred here after Sept. 11, when the foreign aid worker community suddenly plunged from 40,000 to 15,000 as everyone here rushed off to Afghanistan." Few of those aid workers returned, leaving a gaping hole in Kosovo's fragile new economy.

The housing program also illustrates the vast discrepancy between the allocation of funds to Albanian Kosovars and other ethnic minorities. Throughout the Albanian sectors "monster" homes -- many larger than 7,000 square feet -- are being built. Along the main roads are dozens of new hotels and service centres, complete with car washes, supermarkets and cafés. By contrast, inside the isolated minority enclaves there has been little reconstruction, and the residents buy their gas from black marketeers who sell it in plastic bottles from their car trunks.

Until mid-May, the majority of about 100,000 remaining non-Albanians were clustered in 12 centres throughout Kosovo, protected by NATO troops. In an effort to encourage their re-integration, UNMIK recently replaced its barricades with roving patrols. But the psychological barriers remain.

Since the arrival of the NATO led peacekeepers, there have been more than 5,800 ethnically motivated attacks against Serbs and other non-Albanians in the province; 1,138 people have been murdered and 1.077 have been kidnapped. Photo: a protest of Serb mothers.

"We are afraid to enter the Albanian areas -- with good reason," said Miroslav Kisic, the director of the small Serbian community centre in Pristina. "We dare not speak in public or we will be identified as Serbs and assaulted."

Mr. Kisic recounted a recent incident at his bank when he dropped his cellphone and instinctively uttered a Serbian expletive. "I was lucky that my NATO escort intervened to save me from the crowd," he said.

Before the 1999 conflict, an estimated 35,000 Serbs lived in the Kosovo capital. Now there are only 170, living in a ghetto of two apartment blocks. A mining engineer by trade, Mr. Kisic was a director at the Trepca mines in northern Kosovo. Now he administers the few community resources in the ghetto. "We have a gym, a billiard table, a grocery store, and a tiny courtyard," said Mr. Kisic. "We are escorted by soldiers everywhere we go in the city, and guarded at the ghetto night and day. We live in a prison."

For the 30 Serbian children in the Pristina ghetto, life is even more difficult. Every day they make their way by bus to a school eight kilometres outside Pristina, in one of the larger enclaves. A detachment of Greek soldiers rides with them, with an armoured vehicle escort. Despite these measures, the bus is routinely pelted with stones by Albanian neighbours.

Vukosava Cvetkovic works in the ghetto's only grocery store, but she lives in a small apartment a few blocks away. NATO troops used to pick her up and drive her home, but under the integration policy, she is supposed to get to work on her own. Nevertheless, the British guard commander sends a six-man foot patrol along to ensure her safety. The 55-year-old widow has grown children and lives alone, yet she won't consider leaving Kosovo because of inat (a Serbian word meaning defiance). "I will not let the Albanians chase me away, even if I could live a better life somewhere else," she said.

Police statistics show a marked decrease in ethnic violence since NATO arrived (675 murders in 1999 compared with 136 last year), but the numbers are misleading, said Derek Chappell, the local spokesman for UNMIK and a former member of the Ottawa-Carleton police force. "Over that period, the population has been polarized to the point where interaction has become rare."

Even with the recent reduction in reported crime, the figures for Kosovo remain shockingly high given its relatively small population of barely two million. "Let's be honest. Law and order simply do not exist in Kosovo," said ex-ambassador Mr. Bissett. "There are 40,000 troops, 5,000 international police and 5,000 local police, yet the UN and NATO have proven totally unable to prevent murder, assassination, rape, robbery and intimidation from happening on a daily basis."

UCK/KLA was first labelled as a terrorist organization by CIA in 1998.
During and after the war KLA committed many ethnic crimes against
Serbs, Roma and dissenting Albanians in Kosovo

One of the methods used by Albanians to intimidate minorities is through the constant commemoration of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), recognized in 1998 as a terrorist organization by the CIA. As part of the 1999 peace agreement, this guerrilla army was to have been disbanded within two months. Although most of the KLA fighters then enrolled in either the new Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC) or the Kosovo police service, unofficially the KLA remains in existence. It was this cadre of veteran terrorists who first mounted incursions from Albania into southern Serbia in November 2000, and then launched the offensives into northern Macedonia during the summer of 2001.

On June 6, in the western Kosovo town of Klina, ex-KLA soldier Nusrat Kadriu and his comrades organized a three-day music festival to honour their former commander, Muje Krasnigi, who was killed by Yugoslav security forces while attempting to smuggle guns into Kosovo in 1998. Mr. Kadriu explained that his festival might serve "to remind Serbs of their crimes against Albanians."

Albanian Kosovars have also renamed landmarks and built tributes to the NATO leaders who led the 1999 military action. The road to Racak, for example, has been renamed William Walker Way in honour of the American special envoy who proclaimed this village a massacre site in January 1999. Although the allegation was eventually disproved by a UN forensic team, the Racak massacre was nevertheless the galvanizing event that prompted NATO to intervene.

As well, a high school in Pristina has been renamed after former U.S. secretary of state Madeleine Albright and a local construction firm is now known as Bill Clinton Marble Works. Later this summer, Albanian officials are to unveil a full-size statue of British Prime Minister Tony Blair in downtown Pristina. "These people are in our hearts as heroes," said Asem Sahiti, a 47-year-old former immigrant who has returned to Kosovo from Germany.

While such gestures can be dismissed as petty provocation, the continued covert military support of the U.S. for the Albanians remains disturbing.

Under the peace pact, the KLA was to be demilitarized into the TMK, a civilian emergency assistance organization with generous funding from U.S. sources: One Kosovo-based official at a non-governmental organization admitted his agency had forwarded $14 million U.S. to the TMK under a program deceptively titled Information Counseling Referral Service, administered through an umbrella group, the International Organization for Migration.

But under former KLA commander Gen. Agim Ceku, the TMK remains an armed force, using much of its foreign-aid funding to buy weapons and bankroll military training.

And much of the military aid provided to the UN-supervised TMK has ended up in the hands of the unofficial KLA guerrillas. At the height of last summer's KLA offensives in Macedonia, Gen. Ceku dismissed -- but did not arrest -- nine of his senior officers for collaboration with the guerrillas.

In addition to his authorized strength of 600 full-time personnel, Gen. Ceku has resisted pressure from UNMIK to release the nearly 3,000 TMK reservists he has permanently mobilized. In a recent interview with local media, he was quoted as saying, "I'm not here to please the international community. Ultimately, I'm responsible for the protection of my people."

Mazlom Kumnova, a former KLA commander who returned to Kosovo to become the mayor of the southern town of Djakovica, has since been accused of attempted extortion by several international aid agencies.

While the UNMIK police are cracking down on terrorism and organized crime, the perception remains that a pro-Albanian agenda is being orchestrated at senior international political levels.

A blown up Serb bus

After the terrorist attack on a Serb civilian bus (Feb 17, 2001) in which 11 people were killed (two of them children) and 40 wounded a few Kosovo Albanian suspects have been arrested by UN police. The main suspect Florim Ejupi is direcly linked to the circles of Kosovo Albanian organized crime, close to the former KLA and its successor UN/NATO sponosred Kosovo Protection Corps. Despite all security measures Ejupi ran away from the American detention facility in Camp Bondsteel. British Sunday Times reveals in its article by Bob Graham (July 29: British troops' error led to bus bomb) that "UN sources believe that Florim Ejupi had been working for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). His trial would have been a serious embarrassment, they claim".

The Sunday Times, British Troops' Error Led to Bus Bomb, July 29 2001

On Feb. 16, 2001, Albanian terrorists detonated a remote-controlled bomb directly beneath a Serbian bus on the Nis-Gracanica route. The blast killed 11 and injured 40. The UNMIK criminal investigation unit handled the case. "Although we were accused of being too slow, the Nis bus was actually an excellent bit of police work," said Mr. Chappell. "We collected DNA samples from the crime scene and compiled enough evidence to secure a conviction."

Although four men were arrested -- two of them officers in the TMK -- only one, Florim Ejupi, was detained. Fearing militant Albanians might try to force his release, UNMIK police transferred Mr. Ejupi from the Pristina Detention Centre to Camp Bondsteel, the American military base in Kosovo.

Located atop a low ridge, the massive installation -- 40 square kilometres in size -- is a virtual fortress. Ringed by three rows of barbed wire, the perimeter defences are formidable, complete with observation towers and floodlights. Yet Florim Ejupi managed to escape last May before his trial. He remains at large.

"We were told by the Americans that Ejupi had received a metal file hidden inside a spinach pie, and that was how he effected his escape," said Mr. Chappell, adding, "I'm not making this up."

Gorica Scepanovic, a 25-year-old journalist who survived the bus attack, was angry but not surprised at the news of Mr. Ejupi's escape. "How does a prisoner wearing a fluorescent orange jumpsuit escape from 5,000 American soldiers, unless they let him go?"
- - -
Meanwhile, the fate of the roughly 231,000 refugees from Kosovo within Yugoslavia remains an explosive issue, and the failure of Belgrade to negotiate their return has undermined support for President Vojislav Kostunica's regime.
Before last November's parliamentary elections in Kosovo, which were seen by some as the first step toward independence, UNMIK officials negotiated a trial project with Nebojsa Covic, Yugoslavia's special envoy for Kosovo affairs. About 100 Serbian families were to be allowed to rebuild homes in the western Kosovo valley of Osojane. In exchange, it was hoped Mr. Covic and Mr. Kostunica could convince Kosovar Serbs to participate in a UN-sponsored election. The result was a disaster for the Serbian refugees.

Beginning construction in late August, they had no way of completing even rudimentary shelters before winter. With minimal aid from international agencies and Belgrade, the families spent the winter in tents donated by the UNHCR. The Spanish infantry unit assigned to protect them endured the harsh conditions -- temperatures often dipped below -20 C -- alongside the returnees and earned the Serbians' lasting respect. "If it wasn't for the Spanish soldiers, none of us could have stayed in Osojane," said Vlastimir Vukovic, spokesman for the community. "As it turned out, not one Serb family gave up and quit."

Serb refugees at Osojane. Many spent their first winter in UNHCR tents

Conditions in the enclave remain among of the worst in Kosovo. Surrounded by extremely hostile Albanian neighbours, these Serbs live in tiny three-metre by two-metre plywood shacks, waiting until more permanent dwellings can be constructed.
They can expect little help from the local administration: The Albanian-dominated parliament of Kosovo has made its position on returning Serbs very clear. Earlier this year, Ethem Ceku, a cousin of the TMK commander and minister for the environment and spatial planning, warned that "Serbs attempting to return to Kosovo (without UN authority) will be repelled by force of arms if necessary."

As for the future, Mr. Vukovic is under no illusions. "When we left in 1999, they came in here and destroyed everything we have and poisoned the wells to prevent our return," said the 64-year-old former teacher. "If the international protection force ever leaves Kosovo, then we will have to leave with them."

Everett Erlandson, a retired Chicago police officer serving with UNMIK in Pristina for the past 27 months, shares Mr. Vukovic's concern. "When the internationals leave here, they're going to kill everybody who's left," Mr. Erlandson said. "That's not something that (the Albanians) say in anger, they just state it as a fact."
In the short term, however, it is becoming increasingly clear that Michael Steiner, the special representative heading UNMIK, is intent on breaking the continued defiance of the Serbs in Mitrovica who are still blocking the return of Albanian refugees. Although the number of Albanians displaced from the north is relatively small (some 5,000 villagers), UNMIK and the Albanian-dominated administration have made their safe return the top priority.

In support of Mr. Steiner's position is a new report tabled on June 3 by the International Crisis Group (ICG), chaired by Martti Ahtisaari, former president of Finland. The group includes such high-profile players as Gen. Wesley Clark (NATO commander during the crisis) and Canada's Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour, who is also the former prosecutor for The Hague War Crimes Tribunal. The ICG concluded that Mitrovica's "continuing de facto partition, with parallel structures run by Belgrade operating north of the River Ibar, is a black mark on the international community's record in Kosovo."

The ICG recommended that "UNMIK and NATO-led KFOR troops must act vigorously to establish their jurisdiction in Mitrovica," and called the Mitrovica Serbs "pawns in the nationalist game ... (and) hostages to organized crime." The ICG said the Bridgewatchers' defiance "unites and strengthens Serb extremists" and has contributed to the continuing crisis in the city.

Father Sava, a well-known Orthodox priest, has become a central figure in the Kosovo Serbs. "We have always emphasized that the Serbs of Mitrovica and north Kosovo have the full right not to allow the same thing that happened to them that happened to Serbs in other areas of the province," he said.

Traveling only under KFOR escort
Traveling only under KFOR escort in Italian military vehicles
Three years after the war Serb Orthodox monks in Kosovo can travel only in armoured KFOR vehicles.

Based at the monastery in Decani, Kosovo, Father Sava has been dubbed the "cyber monk" for his prolific Internet messages. In 1999, he won international acclaim as a humanitarian when he offered sanctuary to hundreds of Albanians fleeing Yugoslav security forces.

"Being labelled a radical is something new for me," says Father Sava. "I'm certainly not advocating violence. I simply believe people have the right to defend their lives."
Michael Steiner and the UNMIK police have already warned that more arrests of Serbs in Mitrovica are "imminent." Only this time, UNMIK will not just be targeting the individual perpetrators of the April 8 riot, they intend to seize the senior leadership of the Bridgewatchers as well. While obviously no specific timetable can be released, Barry Fletcher, a New Orleans police officer serving as a press officer with UNMIK, advised that the "individuals involved should carry a toothbrush with them at all times."
"Of course, we know their intentions," said Milan Ovanovic, the 47-year-old leader of the Bridgewatchers. Knowing he is UNMIK's primary target does not stop him from attending his regular day job: A cardiovascular specialist, Dr. Ovanovic is also the deputy director of the Mitrovica hospital.

"We (the Bridgewatchers) have established a 24-hour security vigil and our top personnel take the precaution to sleep in different houses every night," says Dr. Ovanovic. "However, we are not so naïve to think we will not eventually be seized, and when we are, our people will react."

Oliver Ivanovic was one of the Bridgewatchers' founders, and has since been elected to Kosovo's parliament. To bring attention to the plight of the Serbs in the enclaves, he has begun organizing a series of demonstrations in Serbia "to remind the Belgrade government and the international community that the Serb (refugee) situation has never been resolved."

He also believes any wave of arrests in Mitrovica prior to an agreement on the future of Serbian municipalities will spark a violent reaction. "The people will not accept this. They will force UNMIK completely out of the north with whatever means are necessary," he warned.

As a showdown looms, Serbs are looking ahead to June 28, the Serbian national holiday of Vidovdan. It was here in 1389 that the Serbs fought a valiant but one-sided battle against a superior Turkish invasion force, and first lost their claim to Kosovo.
Many here are wondering whether history is set to repeat itself.

© Copyright 2002 The Ottawa Citizen

Kosovo Albanian demonstrations in Mitrovica
Although Albanians do not allow return of Serbs in South Mitrovica and the rest of Kosovo they nevertheless make pressure to occupy the Serb inhabited North. So far the French KFOR did not allow this problem to be resolved only from one side.