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Vol 2, No 20
22 May 2000
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News from Kosovo
All the important news
since 13 May 2000

Llazar Semini

Kosovo Albanians say US Congress is playing with fire

It has been widely reported by the Kosovo media in recent days that a group of US senators are asking Congress to withdraw US forces from Kosovo after 1 July 2001. Among Kosovo Albanians Washington is considered the decisive factor in stopping Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević's ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.

The presence of some 6000 US troops is a "reprieve" for the Kosovars and helps balance troops from other, less friendly countries. Removing US troops would be a great shock to Kosovars, who say it would also be a clear sign to Milošević regarding his claims on Kosovo and could make Kosovo Serbs more radical in their demands. Washington has built a strong military base in southern Kosovo, and Kosovars consider US power to be their main source of peace and stability.

European powers, which time and again have wanted to exert their strength in decisions of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), are less highly regarded. Kosovars also remember that Washington is pressing hard for Kosovo's independence, their own long-awaited goal, which is not supported by European countries that hold to the locally meaningless plan for 'substantial autonomy." Albanians believe US troops are needed in the troubled Balkans as a power without which the wars and ethnic cleansings of the last decade could not have been stopped. "Albanians need a strong friend like America."


11 June deadline for municipal elections certification

A deadline of 11 June is set for political parties or other groups to register for the municipal elections in Kosovo to be held this autumn. The Central Election Commission (CEC) has agreed on rules governing how political parties, coalitions, citizens' initiatives and independent candidates may be certified to run in the elections. Groups or independent candidates must collect 100 signatures from eligible voters in each of the municipalities they will be contesting; these signatures can count towards those needed for Kosovo-wide political party registration, a separate but simultaneous process. The CEC's rules are designed to ensure free, fair and democratic elections in Kosovo.


UN Serb staff member murdered in Kosovo

An ethnic Serb member of the UN staff in Priština who disappeared last week has been found murdered, the UN Mission in Kosovo announced Tuesday (16 May). A body with multiple stab wounds, found in the village of Rimaniste in a remote area near Priština, was identified as being that of Petar Topoljski, age 25, who worked for the UNMIK Priština Regional Administration. UNMIK police mounted a search operation when Topoljski went missing from his office about a week ago. "I condemn in the strongest terms this attack on one of our staff members, particularly one of our Serbian staff, who are dedicated to their work in spite of threats and isolation they must endure here," said UNMIK head Bernard Kouchner. He pledged to bring the perpetrators to justice and expressed his condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Mr Topoljski.

UNMIK officials also condemned a report that appeared some time ago in an Albanian daily charging that Topoljski had committing crimes as a paramilitary last year . Earlier this spring, UNMIK and the OSCE denounced the Albanian media for publishing lists of Serb paramilitaries who allegedly committed war crimes against the Albanian population. UNMIK officials said that Topoljski was known to them to have been charged with war crimes, and UNMIK spokeswoman Susan Manuel said that "neither the police, the KFOR, nor anybody [has proved] that this man was connected with any kind of crime before or during his employment with UNMIK," adding that people should not take justice into their own hands.


Kosovo genocide trial suspended

A genocide trial due to start Monday at the District Court of Gjilan was postponed until 20 June after defence lawyers failed to attend, a UN spokeswoman in Priština said. The trial of Miloš Jokić, who is charged with genocide under the Yugoslav Criminal Code Article 141, is open to the media and the public and will be monitored by UNMIK and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). UNMIK spokeswoman Susan Manuel said the defence may request deferral to a war crimes court, expected to be functioning by July or August. She added that the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) had shown no interest in the case and supported the establishment of a war crimes court because many cases are not grave enough for the ICTY, which "has its hands full" with the indictments already issued on Kosovo.


36 prisoners on hunger strike in Mitrovica

The number of prisoners on hunger strike at the Mitrovica detention centre in Kosovo currently stands at 36, according to a UNMIK spokeswoman. Thirty-one Serbs and five Roma are protesting delays in their trial proceedings and have refused all food since Orthodox Easter (1 May), said Nadia Younes. In response to the hunger strike and at the urging of the UN mission, the president of the district court of Mitrovica has rescheduled the trials, the first of which will start on 6 June. Meanwhile, four doctors are monitoring the hunger strikers' health. A panel of judges, including Mr Karphammar, the international judge in Mitrovica, will conduct the trial and UNMIK will provide additional security


Security Council debates Kosovo mission report

Although the process of reconciliation is slow, the international community has invested heavily in Kosovo and can not afford to fail, the UN Security Council was told on 11 May during open debate on last month's mission to the area by eight Council members. Presenting the mission's report, delegation head Ambassador Anwarul Karim Chowdhury of Bangladesh said the Council "could not have envisaged" the enormity of the UN's responsibilties in Kosovo when it adopted Resolution 1244 (1999), which sets out UNMIK's tasks. The Kosovo situation is "extremely complex" and every day brings "a new challenge, or a resurfacing of one tackled earlier," Chowdhury said. UNMIK and the international peacekeeping force (KFOR) are addressing the challenges with determination, but ongoing staff shortages for civil administration and police have constrained UN operations and must be addressed with urgency..

Upcoming municipal elections and registration of the population and of voters present a major challenge, said the Ambassador. He emphasised that unresolved issues of missing persons and detainees continue to impede reconciliation and said the different ethnic communities in Kosovo support the appointment of a UN Special Envoy to address these matters.


UNMIK asks political parties to assist in registration

UNMIK head Bernard Kouchner has encouraged political party leaders to register publicly, with media coverage, so their example might help speed up the population registration process. Registration is proceeding very slowly, with only about 120,000 citizens registered so far. Kouchner fears that the population in general might not understand the need to register by the 15 July deadline. Population registration will serve also for the municipal elections to be held this autumn. It is particularly important that people without documents register soon, since their cases will have to be reviewed.

Meanwhile, the local press reported that Serbs, who have not agreed to participate in the census, were conducting a parallel registration of persons and property in northern Mitrovica. UNMIK said their activities did not affect the official registration.


Kosovo Reconstruction 2000

Kosovo's Department for Reconstruction will send the investment program "Kosovo Reconstruction 2000" to international donors. The program was compiled on the basis of priority needs established by administrative departments and municipalities and highlights reconstruction needs for 2000 and the funds required to meet them. It is addressed to the international community to encourage them to transform their pledges into firm commitments.

Funds pledged by international donors last July and December totalled DM 2.6 billion, but so far confirmed commitments amount to only DM 1.2 billion. Meeting the needs identified by Kosovo Reconstruction 2000 will require new commitments of some DM 1.4 billion, especially for rehabilitation of public buildings, development of waste disposal facilities, rehabilitation of transportation infrastructures and development of human resources.


Albanian leaders to visit Roma-inhabited areas

A plan for the return to Kosovo of some 30,000 Roma, Ashkalija and Egyptian minority citizens was announced last week. Later this month, Albanian leaders Hashim Thaçi, Ibrahim Rugova and Rexhep Qosja will visit Roma, Ashkalija and Egyptian communities in Gjakove, Prizren, Ferizaj, Gjilan, Podujeve and Peje. Bernard Kouchner of UNMIK and Dennis McNamara of UNHCR (UN High Commission on Human Rights) will also participate.


Kosovo judiciary continues reform

Heads of the judiciary in Kosovo reported that 277 judges and prosecutors have been sworn in. They hope to increase that number to 450 by mid-June. Serb judiciary members are boycotting Kosovo's judiciary based on advice from Belgrade.


New gravesite opened in Priština

Legal pathologists of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) have started opening a new gravesite in Priština where it is thought that Albanian victims were burnt one year ago. By October, the ICTY plans to open more than 300 gravesites. According to the Hague Tribunal there are 529 mass graves in Kosovo, 200 of which have already been opened.

Llazar Semini, 19 May 2000

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