Kosova's a Mess
THE ONCE-LOVELY CITY of Gjakova, in western Kosova, a major interreligious center for centuries, played host last week to State Department spokesman James Rubin. Predictably, he called on local Albanians to forgive their Serb neighbors and former oppressors for the suffering visited on them before last year's NATO intervention in Kosova.
But here, the wounds are still fresh. The Hadum mosque, built in 1594, in front of which Rubin delivered his remarks, was partly burned and the top of its minaret shot off by Serb forces. Its library, which dates from 1733, and the local archives of the Kosova Islamic Community, were destroyed. Human losses in the area were worse.
It is easy for Rubin to drop by and preach forgiveness, but far more difficult for people on the ground to achieve reconciliation. Exactly a year after the war to halt the rape of Kosova began, the province is unraveling. NATO forces occupy it, and "the international community" administers it, but it knows neither stability nor security from the continuing machinations of Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic.
In the northern industrial city of Mitrovica, a persistent Serb-Albanian confrontation has produced a dangerous split between the French and American wings of the peacekeeping forces, known as KFOR. When the war ended last summer, Serb militants seized the northern half of Mitrovica, isolating a handful of Albanian residents in a few apartment buildings, and barred Albanians from crossing the bridge over the Ibar river from the predominantly Albanian southern half. Ever since, rioting, arson, shootings, bombings, and stonings have plagued the city.
In a particularly repulsive act of ethnic cleansing, the Serbs expelled Albanian medical personnel and patients from Mitrovica's main hospital, in the northern zone. The hospital has sunk into an unsanitary and generally wretched condition, even while its non-Albanian doctors, employees of the Milosevic government, are reportedly paid twice the salary of their colleagues in Belgrade.
The main Kosova university campus now in operation is also in northern Mitrovica, and Albanian students fumed at the Serb blockade, which prevented them from going back to classes. Last October 16, thousands of Albanian students and others demonstrated at the bridge, demanding to cross. Violence broke out, and French troops and police repeatedly fired stun grenades into the crowd. Four French peacekeepers were wounded, as were some 22 Albanians including a 12-year-old boy; another 100 Albanians required treatment for their eyes. It was the first of several large-scale clashes.
The very day of that first big demonstration, the chief U.N. administrator in Kosova, the Frenchman Bernard Kouchner, was celebrating the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the charity he had co-founded, Doctors Without Borders. Western cynics who think Nobel prizes are used to glorify failing or controversial humanitarian projects suggested the prize was meant to divert attention from the weak performance of Kouchner's Kosova mission.
Kouchner himself was more circumspect. The Mitrovica demonstration showed what big challenges confronted him and his colleagues, he said; even after calm had returned to Mitrovica, the situation was difficult and "symbolic." Ethnic reconciliation, he conceded, in one of the great understatements of all time, remained out of reach. His ambiguous solution: coexistence.
Whether coexistence meant accepting separate Serb and Albanian zones in Mitrovica or attempting to reestablish a mixed town was left unaddressed, until shocking news hit the American media in mid-February: French troops had withdrawn from the scene rather than assist American police attempting to rescue Albanians from a deadly Serb pogrom, in which several families were attacked in their homes.
In the region, the disagreements among the peacekeepers are public knowledge. The Albanians regard the French as the Serb extremists' best friends, and the Serbs acknowledge as much. The Serb opposition weekly NIN reported smugly on February 24 that some members of KFOR and the U.N. police occasionally let the Serbs have their way in confrontations with Albanians.
High-level Americans, notably NATO commander Wesley Clark and U.S. ambassador Richard Holbrooke, see the bloody events in Mitrovica as caused principally by Milosevic's agents infiltrating from Serbia. But Paris insisted the Albanians were equally at fault.
The most recent and in some respects most outrageous instance of French peacekeepers' refusing to cooperate with the rest of KFOR came in early March. After a street battle between Serbs and Albanians injured 40 people, including 16 French soldiers, French forces inexplicably refused to permit U.N. police to investigate. John Adams, a Briton serving as deputy regional commander for the U.N. police, claimed the French had barred his officers from the crime scene after dark; at this writing, few of the injured have been interviewed. After airing his complaints to the media, Adams was relieved of his duties.
Meanwhile, the French promised to build a second bridge across the Ibar river to allow Albanians stranded in southern Mitrovica to gain access to their apartments. But the Serb militants in northern Mitrovica do not want Albanians living among them. In the logic of Milosevic and his dupes, if Albanians are permitted to live in Serb-dominated neighborhoods, they will soon expel the Serbs. Oliver Ivanovic, the engineer and karate aficionado who speaks for the Serbs, rejects multiethnicity in northern Mitrovica.
Ivanovic heads the Serb National Council of Northern Mitrovica, which he has flatly refused to allow to merge with the broader Serb National Council. This group, the Serb lobby in the rest of Kosova, is led by a layman and two Orthodox church leaders, Archbishop Artemije Radosavljevic and Father Sava Janjic (see "The Cybermonk of Kosovo," THE WEEKLY STANDARD, December 13, 1999).
There are two obvious reasons for Ivanovic's hard line. First, Archbishop Artemije favors allowing Albanians to return to their homes in northern Mitrovica; second, Ivanovic is Milosevic's man, and it is in Milosevic's interest to keep the pot boiling. Ivanovic's refusal to cooperate with the Kosova-wide council brings with it a refusal to join the Kosovo Temporary Administrative Council set up by Kouchner. For Ivanovic, the goal is to keep Kosova in Serbia; for Artemije, it is to keep Serbs in Kosova.
The two agendas are not the same. Ivanovic and his master in Belgrade treat the Kosovo Serbs as bargaining chips; Artemije seeks to protect their dignity, humanity, and civil rights. The archbishop and Father Sava stressed this in meetings with secretary of state Madeleine Albright in Washington on February 25.
One reason Milosevic wants to hold on to northern Kosova is the presence of a large mineral-industry complex near Mitrovica. But in addition, Milosevic is under pressure, from within and without. Inside Serbia, increasing lawlessness, epitomized by the assassination of indicted war criminal Zeljko Arkan Raznatovic, threatens his rule. An orderly transfer of power in neighboring Croatia following the death of autocratic president Franjo Tudjman has fed the dissatisfaction of Serbs, who are sick of sacrificing their standard of living, their reputation in the world, and their day-to-day sanity to advance Milosevic's obsessions.
Thus, Milosevic has adopted a three-pronged strategy of destabilization on his southern border. Mitrovica represents the center play. To the southwest, in Montenegro, he is threatening to overthrow the de facto independent government of Milo Djukanovic, who enjoys enough support from his people that a Milosevic coup there is unlikely to succeed. East of Kosova, in the south Serbian district of Presevo, Milosevic has stepped up repression against the Albanian majority, stimulating the emergence of a new Albanian extremist force, the Liberation Army of Presheva, Medvegja, and Bujanofc, known by its Albanian initials as UCPMB.
Common wisdom among foreigners holds that the UCPMB must be the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA) in a new guise. But there is powerful evidence to the contrary. The rank and file of the KLA and their former commander, Agim Ceku, instead have been transformed into the Kosova Protection Corps, which seems to have adopted a posture of assiduous obedience to Kouchner and NATO commanding general Klaus Reinhardt. After all, unlike most public workers in Kosova, the Kosova Protection Corps gets paid, and on time.
Indeed, for ordinary people in Kosova, Albanians as well as Serbs, who only want to rebuild their lives, a far bigger problem than ethnic touchiness is the incompetence of Kouchner's administration. There is no regular system for paying workers, or even for cashing a paycheck. Food is plentiful and cheap, but there is no telephone service in large sections of the province, and electric power goes out for days at a time. Civilian flights into Pristina's airport are routinely suspended by the U.N. mission. Bus service, on which most people depend, is also irregular. In one particularly ill-considered move, Kouchner decided to raise money for his cash-poor budget by levying a fee on trucks bringing commodities into Kosova. The ensuing protest by hundreds of truck drivers blocked the main northern route into Kosova from Montenegro for weeks.
Daily chaos continues to afflict ordinary Kosovars. Although the Americans remain popular among the Albanians, numerous Albanians are disillusioned with the failure of the broader international community to restore a minimally normal existence, and they object to the political heavy-handedness of the former KLA.
The main problem is, as ever, Milosevic. The Albanian media report that a curfew has been imposed in the Presheva-Medvegja-Bujanofc area of Serbia, and some 10,000 refugees already have fled into Kosova. Medvegja has supposedly been cleansed of its Albanian majority.
Off the record, American officials in the Balkans keep asking whether there is a solution in Mitrovica, or in Kosova at large. The U.S. State Department recently took the somewhat laughable step of issuing a wanted poster (in English, not Serbian, let it be noted) depicting Milosevic and his Bosnian henchmen Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic. It offered a $ 5 million reward to anybody with unspecified information about the Butcher of Belgrade.
Well, information about Milosevic's whereabouts is pretty common in the Balkans. If the United States and NATO really want to pacify Mitrovica, keep Montenegro out of trouble, and prevent a new bloodbath in southern Serbia, the solution is obvious: Deal with Milosevic the way President George Bush dealt with Panamanian dictator Manuel Antonio Noriega. On March 11, Carla del Ponte, chief war crimes prosecutor for the former Yugoslavia, called for Milosevic's arrest. About time.
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