Serbian envoy in Kosovo
Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojša Čović paid a visit to Kosovo on Tuesday to show support to fellow Serbs, who are still in shock after a bombing that killed ten people last week.
Čović was the highest-ranking official from Belgrade to visit Kosovo since NATO-led peacekeepers were deployed in the province in June 1999 following NATO's bombing campaign.
Albanian local leaders however considered his visit to be "provocative." They said it "caused displeasure among the Kosovo citizens at a time when his government has still to undertake any step for the release of the prisoners and acknowledgement of the Kosovo reality." Senior Albanian politicians had nevertheless condemned the bombing of the bus.
Burying the bus victims
Thousands of Serbs took part in the funeral of eight of the victims killed in the bus bomb attack in northeastern Kosovo a week ago. The number of dead has now risen to ten following the deaths of two of the most heavily injured.
UNMIK head Hans Hækkerup, KFOR commander Carlo Cabigiousu and other senior international leaders also attended the ceremony held at Gracanica monastery. NATO together with the European Union and the OSCE also urgently sent a delegation to Kosovo following the recent incidents.
Serbian protests scaled down
After days of blocking the main roads linking Priština with Skopje and other towns, Serbs agreed to allow free passage of all traffic after getting further assurances from KFOR on their security.
In another effort to calm down the situation, Kosovo's Interim Administrative Council (IAC) condemned the 16 February attack "in the strongest terms."
"This is a terrible tragedy, not only for the victims but for all the people of Kosovo," the IAC said in a statement issued in Priština. "The international community has judged this tragedy, and other attacks in recent days, very harshly."
Few clues, little information about bombers
Police trying to find those responsible for the killing have so far failed to make a breakthrough. The attack was well-prepared and must have involved a wide group of people to make up the bomb and place it. The device was detonated by a command wire when the first of a convoy of buses crossed a culvert packed with explosives.
United Nations officials in Kosovo denounced the province's "culture of impunity," saying Albanian reluctance to help police was giving strength to extremist killers.
"It seems the minority community is being hunted down one by one and extreme members of this society will not rest until the province is ethnically cleansed," said Eric Morris, head of the UNHCR refugee agency in Kosovo.
No political solution yet, fighting continues
Despite a number of diplomatic efforts, fighting continued in the Preševo Valley between the Serbian army and police and the guerrilla fighters of the Liberation Army of Preševo, Medvedja and Bujanovac (UÇPMB).
NATO, EU and OSCE senior officials met with Albanian political and military representatives in Terrnoc on Wednesday to try to get a dialogue going with Serbian side through international mediation. Sources at the talks report that NATO officials invited Albanians to nominate representatives to meet the Serbs.
Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojša Čović said the army and police would stay in their present positions until a solution was found, but they would not engage in any offensive operations. That statement was made in a letter handed over to the leaders of two ethnic Albanian parties in Serbia's Preševo Valley, and stressed the need to solve the crisis peacefully.
Belgrade accuses Albanian guerrillas of responsibility for the latest deadly incident in which three Serbian policemen were killed by anti-tank land mines. It has also linked the police killing with the bomb attack on the bus carrying Serbs in north Kosovo, saying the incidents were all part of a broader terror campaign by ethnic Albanians.
The Preševo Valley guerrillas say they are fighting Serbian repression. But they denied killing the three policemen, saying their own mines blew them up. They have also condemned the bus attack.
Signs of normality: ID cards are back
The UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) on Thursday began the second phase of identity card distribution. Some 400,000 ID cards are to be produced and distributed between now and May for those who registered last summer. Some 35,000 cards have already been made available during the first phase, which began in mid-December.
The information gathered during the ID card process will form the basis of the civil registry. That will be used to manage items ranging from travel documents to a comprehensive voter list. The UNMIK travel document has so far been recognized by 16 European countries and the United States. In the final phase, starting in May, the remaining 600,000 ID cards will be issued.
And in other news...
- UNMIK head Hans Hækkerup announced his decision to appoint a representative of the AAK (the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo) to the fourth IAC seat. This position has been vacant since the resignation of the LBD's Rexhep Qosja. Hækkerup decided to invite the AAK because of the results of the October municipal elections in which the party ranked third in terms of votes collected.
- OSCE Mission head in Kosovo Daan Everts said they had already started the technical preparation for holding general elections. He said they were looking at possible dates. Former UNMIK head Bernard Kouchner had said they would be held this year. But his successor Hans Hækkerup has insisted that first a temporary constitution should be written. He has neither denied nor confirmed that elections will be held this year.
- Kosovo representatives and experts have expressed their anger at the way property of the former Yugoslavia is being divided up after the collapse of the state. It is their view that Kosovo should have taken part in the division, because Kosovo was a constitutive element of the former Yugoslavia. Formal talks have been taking place in Ljubljana, Slovenia, under the chairmanship of the international mediator Sir Arthur Watts.
- UNMIK head Hans Hækkerup will visit NATO headquarters in Brussels on February 28 to discuss the escalation of violence in Kosovo. Hækkerup will meet NATO secretary general George Robertson and take part in the NATO Permanent Council's work as an ambassador.
- The European Commission approved the sum of EUR 100 million to finance a support program for Kosovo in 2001. EUR 38 million is to be used for housing , water; EUR 20 m for solid waste management, ie garbage and sewage, agriculture EUR 10 m, local government and civil society EUR 18 m and health EUR 14 m. The assistance package is part of an overall support in 2001 to Kosovo of EUR 350 million to reinforce the development of civil society, democratisation and institution building which the Commission says are key measures to accompany physical re-construction.
- Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) head Ibrahim Rugova met Finnish Foreign Minister Erki Tuomi, who was on a visit in Kosovo. They discussed the present difficult security situation in Kosovo, especially after the new wave of violence, and the prospects for general elections. The situation in the Preševo Valley was another topic.
Llazar Semini, 22 February 2001
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