"Recently there have been frequent calls from the municipal president and the municipal administration to Serbs to move about freely in the Albanian part of Orahovac. However, given that the present local government does not enjoy the support of the entire Albanian population, we also expect the leaders of other political parties to publicly and sincerely guarantee safety to the Serbs," commented Djuricic.
Aside from a visit to the municipal building, where they met with Esad Haxhijahu, the municipal president, and his associates, the reporters did not stay for long anywhere in the Albanian part of Orahovac. The renowned local wine of Orahovac was sampled in the Serb part of the town, which is separated from the Albanian part by a "buffer zone" of Serbian homes destroyed and torched from June 1999 to March 17 of last year.
"Activity aimed at the normalization of life has increased twofold since the definition of the standards that are the future of our municipality and Kosovo. Our conclusion is that they have been implemented, although we are not satisfied with freedom of movement and returns," admitted Esad Haxhijahu, a member of the DSK [Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic Alliance of Kosovo].
We heard from Lutfi Haziri, the minister for local self-government in the Kosovo Government, who is responsible for the standard of returns that "everyone who was born in Kosovo and has private property here can return". The government "will guarantee their property rights and reconstruction of damaged property".
"This is not valid for Serb refugees from Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina, who lived here for a few years and are documented by Belgrade as being refugees from Kosovo. The number of Serbs who wish to return is unknown and is being manipulated. Because of this, the Kosovo Government has decided in favor of the signing of a protocol and registration of refugees. If the number of Serbs living in Kosovo is added to the number of those who claim to be displaced persons in Serbia, it follows that almost a million Serbs lived in Kosovo," claimed Haziri, despite the fact that for six years the Serbian side has been saying there are close to 250,000 Serbs expelled from Kosovo and just over 136,000 who still remain in the southern Serbian province.
On the freshly asphalted road next to the bus Gjetaj explained to us that returns to Klina municipality began two and a half years ago with the arrival of Serb returnees to Bicha and Grabac. Life in Vidanje is shared by Serbs, 40 households out of the 100 living here prior to 1999 having returned, and Albanian Catholics. Unlike the UNMIK chief who claims based on his sources that "Serbs do not want to go back to Kosovo" and consequently supporting every form of return, both spontaneous and organized, Gjetaj says that Klina municipality insists on organized returns and only by "people whose hands are clean". He announced plans for the opening of a school and the integration of returnee children but he did not mingle with the Serb locals who were sitting not far away.
"Municipal representatives only visit us on official occasions, such as the arrival of some delegation. Except for that, no one comes to talk to us, to ask us about any problems and difficulties. Neither the municipality nor Serbia. Once Haradinaj came. The Danish League gives us 10 euros per week. That's for everything: bread, food, water - because the tap water is not suitable for drinking. We buy bottled water," said Miloje Sarkovic. He returned to Vidanje with his wife. Their children remain in central Serbia. "It's a real ghetto. We don't go anywhere. We have no transportation to go even as far as Bicha and Grabac. The Italians who protect us provide us with an escort once a week to Serbia [proper]. You have to register seven days in advance and you're lucky to get a spot. There's a lot of confusion," he said.
The Klina region, say local residents, is rich and fertile for every imaginable crop but they lack tools to work with and to cultivate the land. The agriculture which provided Vidanje with its livelihood in the past could be renewed but only with assistance. "We have nothing. The Italians gave us our beds. We paid the Gypsies five euros each to transport them to our houses. They gave us wood, too, but you have to pay the Gypsies five euros if you want to take it home. The conditions are impossible but nevertheless you are drawn to the place where you were born. The state, in all honesty, has given us about ten cans (of food) and a 25 kilo bag of flour. Nothing else," said Miloje Sarkovic.
by Jelena TASIC
Instead of meeting as scheduled with KPC commander Agim Cheku, former Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) officer, veteran of the Homeland War in Croatia, who became famous as one of the masterminds behind operations Medak Pocket and Storm, and then as head of the Kosovo Liberation Army command, we were met by colonel Shemsi Sula, whose Serbian Security Information Agency (BIA) file, where he is known by the nickname of Shaqa, is hardly less impressive.
In a BIA book entitled "Albanian Terrorism and Organized Crime in Kosovo and Metohija", our KPC host is mentioned as one of the commanders of the KLA and accused not only of misappropriating (Albanian) money but also of "organizing and issuing orders for the murder of Serbs and Kosovo Albanians believed to cooperating with the Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MUP), especially in the municipality of Novo Brdo and Kosovsko Pomoravlje region, as well as training the members of the Liberation Army of Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja during the course of the year 2000 on the territory of southern central Serbia".
Not only at the KPC but in all official meetings held with the reporters during their visit to Pristina, the issue of crimes committed in Kosovo and Metohija by both sides was somehow silently ignored, while broaching the same topic in private conversation appeared to lead to sudden deafness. It took us almost an hour to tour the KPC headquarters, which is located in the former building of the Technical Faculty. They showed us centers for training which, we were told, is conducted without weapons and according to standard procedures, dormitories, a gym, a library and a computer center... In every room we were greeted by photographs of Skenderbeg and Adem Jashari.
The KPC Training Program, which was completed last year, was prepared under the auspices of the International Organization for Migration with the support of the principal donor, the U.S., as well as contributions from Great Britain, the Council of Europe and the EU, which is apparent from the handbooks used for training. In the KPC there is a lot of emphasis on the English language, which is studied intensively. We were told that 20 percent of the KPC officers are former JNA officers, and the Corps is now multiethnic and includes women. Among minority members the highest ranking officer is a Bosniak, colonel Music, the deputy commander for minority communities and a member of the KPC command.
KPC representatives note that they "are not thinking about creating a military intelligence service for now because Kosovo still does not have an equivalent police service", something we had heard earlier the officials of Kosovo provisional institutions consider a great handicap for Pristina "because currently there are more than 30 foreign intelligence services active in the Province". When asked by reporters whether the KPC will become an army in the event that Kosovo becomes independent, colonel Sula answered that "the KPC is ready for all competencies entrusted to it by the institutions".
"We are well-trained. We have good discipline but everything depends on the process and institutions. One day UNMIK and KFOR will no longer be here and protection forces will be needed," said Sula.
Judging from all appearances the Pristina administration is preparing itself for what Naser Rugova, political advisor to the Kosovo prime minister, calls "the optimal solution" - an independent Kosovo within its present borders ("the best solution would be the unification of all Albanian territories in the former Yugoslavia and unification with Albania"), while Serbs are expected "to integrate into Kosovo society and institutions as an active part of all social reforms". "As far as final status is concerned, we want to see Kosovo Serbs on the Kosovo delegation side because they are citizens of Kosovo," emphasized Naser Rugova.
Kosovo and Metohija has 30 municipalities. In 25 the majority population is Albanian, in five it is Serbian. After security and freedom of movement, decentralization of government in Kosovo and Metohija is at the top of the Serbian priorities that are needed to ensure the survival of the Serb community in the Province. The statement of Kosovo prime minister Bajram Kosumi that, due to a lack of funds in the budget and the lengthiness of the process, decentralization must await the resolution of status will not help in finding a compromise. All the more so because Kosumi announced five decentralization pilot projects as part of the pre-status warm-up that Serbs claim are intended to change the ethnic structure of the local government in the next local elections in the Province.
Representatives of the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports in the Kosovo government have announced that the deputies of the Kosovo provisional assembly are expected to soon consider the proposed law on cultural heritage, in which the entire heritage of the Province is treated as Kosovo's. "The law on cultural heritage protects the cultural heritage of all ethnic groups as Kosovo's. The text of the law has been given to all communities and political parties for their review. The cultural heritage in Kosovo is considered to be Kosovo's heritage, and is not divided into religious or ethnic (categories)," explained Armenika Etemi, senior official of the Office of the Kosovo prime minister.
The Kosovo Ministry of Culture recently tried to push through this concept in Paris at a donors' conference for the cultural heritage in Kosovo and Metohija but a brochure renaming the Serb cultural heritage as Kosovo's heritage had to be withdrawn. Even Peterssen reacted.
Representatives of the Kosovo Government's Ministry of Health also spoke about positive discrimination of minorities (affirmative action) in Kosovo and the tolerance of the Government, especially toward the Serb community.
"In the Kosovo health system there are three categories of health workers. Those who are loyal to UNMIK have signed contracts and receive salaries like everyone else. Those who do not recognize (UNMIK) and challenge the Kosovo Government receive 200 percent salaries from Belgrade, and there are some who receive both the double salary from Belgrade and are at the same time financed from the Kosovo budget. That's illegal but it is tolerated," said Astrit Ajeti, the deputy health minister. According to Ajeti, the Ministry has given 380,000 euros just for maintaining the hospital center in Kosovska Mitrovica.
"That not true. They may have donated three or four tankers of heating oil somewhere along the line but that is less than one percent of the total health protection needs of the Serb population in Kosovo and Metohija. The hospital in Kosovska Mitrovica is funded by the Belgrade Ministry of Health, which can be seen from the invoices. All workers in Kosovo and Metohija receive 200 percent salaries from the budget of the Ministry in Belgrade," explained Marko Jaksic, the director of the Health center in the northern, Serb part of Kosovska Mitrovica.
Todorovic explained that Serbs in the central part of the Province are trying to survive primarily by buying and selling. "There are some state institutions such as health and education that have employees who receive a salary. There is also the local self-administration, where we have 868 employees on the payroll who were formerly employed by the municipal assembly. Unfortunately, more than 50 percent of these people are now in central Serbia, where they are receiving a minimum base salary of 4,600 dinars to live on. The action plans I proposed have not been implemented for two years now," said Todorovic.
He added that only recently was he summoned by UNMIK and the Albanian municipality "to participate in a work group for returns but only as a member of his political party (the Democratic Party), not as a representative of the Coordination Center". According to Todorovic, visiting the homes in the village of Badovac on the eve of St. Vitus Day had nothing to do with Pristina. "We still have not addressed the needs of people who have been expelled from Metohija in 1999, and in order to pass out keys to the houses in Badovac the commission had to introduce the criterion of injuries or casualties in the family. It's a fact that the house of the Stolic family in Obilic was rebuilt 20 days ago but was set on fire again, meaning that normal conditions for someone to return there simply don't exist," said Todorovic.
As far as the announced decentralization pilot projects, including Gracanica, Todorovic says that he has spoken about it with Pristina and UNMIK on several occasions. "After failing to expel the Serbs from this region through war and use of force, they are now trying to do this through decentralization. At this moment they are like milk and honey, there is no better people in the world than the Albanians, just so they can get away with presenting their implementation of standards as a success," notes Todorovic.