Kouchner's last week at the top
The head of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), Bernard Kouchner, spent his last week in charge before being replaced by the former Danish defense minister Hans Haekkerup.
For the last time, Kouchner led the meetings of the Kosovo Transitional Council and the Kosovo government, during which he had to deal with the usual routine—trying to balance the practical needs of daily administration and the aspirations of politics.
Silvy Panz, co-head of the justice department, said she would ask Kouchner to convince her counterpart Nekibe Kelmendi, a member of the leading Democratic League of Kosovo, not to resign from her post, something that she has already announced.
Next week Haekkerup will come to take over Kouchner's work of running the province. The greatest challenges facing him in his first year are most likely to be: preparing for general elections; the possibility of drafting a temporary constitution before that; and mediating in the political arena in Kosovo where all the Albanians are looking forward only to an independent Kosovo, something that is not likely to be accepted by Belgrade.
Balkan Syndrome and Kosovo
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said that preliminary investigations into the incidence of leukaemia in Kosovo show no rise in cases over the past four years.
The findings come against a background of heightened concern over the effects of depleted uranium (DU) on NATO troops involved in the Kosovo crisis, and calls by several European governments for increased research into the munitions, which were used most recently in Kosovo but also in Iraq.
Dr Erik Schouten, Head of Mission in Kosovo, said the WHO, in collaboration with the UNMIK Department of Health and Social Welfare, had been tracking the number of leukaemia cases among the population of Kosovo. Initial findings suggest no significant increase in cases since July 1999.
"On the basis of these preliminary results we cannot conclude that the number of leukemia cases is increasing. However, the assessment is not finalised yet. More results are expected during the next week.", said Dr Schouten, adding that Kosovo's system for the reporting of diseases is far from perfect.
Kouchner talked with NATO Secretary General George Robertson to coordinate all the various efforts aimed at checking DU in Kosovo. The Interim Administrative Council (IAC) of Kosovo joined Kouchner in declaring that independent experts, not persons involved directly in the debate over the use of depleted uranium, should investigate the presence of radioactivity caused by the substance in Kosovo, in order to put an end to speculation. A concerned Kouchner called on the WHO to send a group of experts to Kosovo to verify any possible effects.
A string of high-level international delegations arrived in Kosovo in Tuesday to examine scientific studies into the potential health risks posed by the use of depleted uranium shells. The Portuguese defense and interior ministers, Julio Castro Caldas and Severiano Teixeira, came to Kosovo on Tuesday and met their country's contingent in the KFOR peacekeeping force. Science and Technology Minister Mariano Gago was also expected to arrive in the UN-run province. Also visiting Kosovo this week were President Leonid Kuchma of Ukraine and President Aleksander Kwaśniewski of Poland.
Famous family hopes to unite Kosovo leaders
Rifat Jashari, the head of a large and influential family in Drenica, has invited the three most important Kosovo Albanian political leaders—Ibrahim Rugova, Hashim Thaçi, and Ramush Haradinaj—for a traditional-style meeting in his home.
Adem Jashari, legendary former chief of the family, was among the founders of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UÇK). Serbian forces killed him in a massacre in 1998 along with another 52 members of his family, including children.
Politicians will hardly be able to refuse the invitation of Rifat Jashari to "sit down with their legs crossed ... to discuss joint interests for the future of Kosovo." The invitation, moreover, is in line with traditional Albanian ways of seeking compromise between politicians and leaders of influential extended families on general political strategies, outside the framework of public institutions.
International representatives and some Kosovar leaders have repeatedly urged the Kosovar politicians to find a basic consensus on general policies and then to speak with one voice. But rivalries among the parties remain strong, and informal multi-party meetings have been rare.
The influence of the Jashari family is such, though, that this meeting is very likely to happen—and soon.
Nearly 700 Kosovars still in Serbian jails
693 Kosovar Albanians, who were arrested in Kosovo during the repression of 1998 and 1999, are still being held in Serbian jails, according to the Kosovar Albanian daily Koha Ditore.
Government changes in Yugoslavia have not yet resulted in the passage of an amnesty law for those arrested for reasons associated with the Kosovo conflict.
Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanović recently said that a long-awaited amnesty law would soon be adopted and bring the issue of imprisoned Kosovar Albanians to an end. He also added that Kosovar moves towards independence would threaten stability.
Three or four ethnic Albanians leave prisons every week, but, says Koha Ditore, "it was not the new President [Vojislav Koštunica] who ordered their release. They have continued a practice of buying their freedom for astronomical prices." The newspaper claims that most released prisoners had to bribe court and jail officials for their release "in just the same way as when Milosević was in power."
The fate of about 3000 additional missing Kosovars remains a mystery.
No talking in the Preševo Valley
The political situation in the Preševo Valley is still tense as a result of the presence of massive Serb police and military forces, said senior officials of the Democratic Action Party (PVD) in Preševo on Tuesday.
"The general situation is complicated by the problem of 20,000 displaced Albanians as a result of national repression. The overwhelming majority of displaced persons are temporarily based in Kosovo under very difficult circumstances," a press release of the PVD stated.
PVD appealed for prompt talks in order to find a general solution to the Preševo Valley problem, especially through monitoring and mediation by international organisations.
The leader of the Democratic Party of Kosovo (former Kosovo Liberation Army) Hashim Thaçi said in an interview with the Voice of America that he supported a political solution to the Preševo conflict and urged all Albanians return to their homes.
Thaçi has been in the United States where he also met with US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright before she leaves her post later this month.
Did he jump or was he pushed?
Naim Maloku, leader of the Party of the Liberal Center of Kosovo (PQLK) unexpectedly resigned from his post, without warning his colleagues, and moved to the Alliance for Kosovo Future (AAK) of Ramush Haradinaj.
No one could give an exact reasons for such a move. Maloku, who also resigned from his post on the regional administration advising committees, said he would not accept any political post at the new party until after the general elections that may be held this spring or summer.
In the last local elections held in October 2000, the PQLK, made up mainly of former fighters of the Kosovo Liberation Army, failed to win the necessary percentage for power in any commune.
Those elections were won by the Democratic League of Kosovo of Ibrahim Rugova, followed by the Democratic Party of Kosovo of Hashim Thaçi and the AAK.
Llazar Semini, 12 January 2001
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