by Svetlana DURDEVIC-LUKIC
The hand of a criminal that cowardly activated explosives sending to their death innocent civilians opened, perhaps the worst since the end of the bombardment in July 1999, concentric circles of fear and tension among the remaining Serbs in Kosovo, the rest of Serbia and Yugoslavia, the whole region, NATO countries and the European Union, all the way to the new US administration.
Daily targets of arson, planted bombs, all sorts of mistreatment, Serbs in Kosovo, reacted in the only available manner - by blocking access roads to their enclaves in order to as much as possible regain security and remaining traces of self-confidence that still keep them tied to the land of their ancestors. So that they can on their own, in their pain, grief for and bury their dead and face the question that is getting increasingly difficult to answer with every new day: what now?
Those who are more inclined to political manifestations organized protest rallies in Kosovo, Kraljevo, Nis... Resignation was demanded from the KFOR commander Carlo Cabigiosu. Other demands were the return of the Yugoslav Army and Police to Kosovo, a ban on all Serb participation in the administration of the province, abolishment of the Kosovo Protection Corps, arrest of its leaders...
Even the state and federation officials were not tentative in their condemnations of KFOR and UNMiK, starting with president Vojislav Kostunica who warned that KFOR and UNMiK are not fulfilling the tasks given to them by the UN Resolution 1244. Federal Minister of Internal Affairs [Police] Zoran Zivkovic stated that KFOR is lenient with armed Albanians, unprepared to confront them. Deputy Prime Minister of the Serbian government Nebojsa Covic stressed that "Serbs do not have freedom of movement and that is now clear even to those who refused to acknowledge that fact." Covic warned that "those who think that it is possible to resolve the Kosovo problem without Serbia are fooling themselves," and promised frequent visits of officials to Kosovo and continuous contacts with the KFOR and UNMiK.
Skillfully switching the focus from Presevo to Mitrovica, then from there to Strpce (shots fired at a bus on February, one person killed, two wounded), then again to the north of Kosovo (Livadice), and then again back to Bujanovac (murder of three policemen), followed with mobilization of ethnic Albanians, shots fired at a KFOR patrol near Prizren and never more obvious organization and military provocations in Macedonia (concluded with a murder of a soldier), Albanian extremists in the past week opened fighting on all fronts sending terrifying signals to all the participants in the Balkan crisis.
The message reserved for Kosovo Serbs was that they can neither return nor survive in Kosovo, for Belgrade authorities to think again about promised speed in the implementation of their plans, for the international forces that they are risking the repetition of the Somalia scenario, for Macedonian government to stop negotiations with Serbs about the border that do not include ethnic Albanians, and for hesitant compatriots that democracy will have to wait.
"Albanians clearly and loudly stated that they control the terrain and that KFOR is impotent," Marko Jaksic, the vide-president of DSS from Kosovska Mitrovica assesses, and Miroslav Solevic, president of the Association for Return of Serbs to Kosovo and Metohija concludes: "Albanian politicians will be forced to choose - they either accept the return of the Serbs or confirm that they support ethnic cleansing."
Even ethnic Albanians understand that the messages are terrifying. They condemned the terrorist attacks on the civilian bus and the police patrol in Presevo valley stronger than ever before. Ethnic Albanian comments about the murdered women and children near Livadice along the lines of "who forced them to go there", or already routine blaming of the Serb secret services for similar incidents are strikingly muted in comparison with the calls of ethnic Albanian politicians for "real efforts that would in practice contribute to prevention of all sorts of violence," instead of "habitual and generic condemnations of violence for the sake of political marketing," as the Kosovo Human Rights Council characterized them. Well-known publisher Veton Surroi warned that these explosions prompt the division of Kosovo and that "a bomb was thrown at the civilian bus and at NATO, liberators of Kosovo". "Albanians must ask themselves whether they want to endanger relations with NATO" since "Kosovo is threatened with a trap to which Albanians contribute themselves."
"Continuing attacks on Serbs will become a nightmare for KFOR, causing tensions that cannot be eliminated by any statements. KFOR is not capable of conducting a decisive action that would remove armed Albanians from the region," American analytical agency Stratfor concludes, predicting that new Serb victims would force NATO to change its policy with respect to the Serb armed forces.
The international forces have only confirmed that they have taken into custody two individuals for suspicious behavior in Livadice, which perfectly fits with the hitherto conducted brief arrests of armed extremists, without a single trial of ethnic Albanians for murders of civilians, destruction of houses and monasteries. KFOR touts the transport of 200 Serbs in helicopters to Strpce at the time when as many as 65 landmines were detected on the road between Urosevac and Strpce as an unprecedented heroic gesture!
In the meantime the new democratic authorities in Belgrade are facing increasing pressure from the Hague Tribunal, forces loyal to the old regime in connection with the Amnesty [for ethnic Albanian prisoners] law, as well as touching efforts of the association of the relatives of 1,3000 missing persons from Kosovo and Metohija, which is announcing severe actions such as hunger strikes, blockade of prisons and KFOR bases, even self-immolation. Their only consolation comes from the support letters they receive from all sides, including Washington. However, the international authorities are still loath to take any concrete measures... Oliver Ivanovic, the leader of the Serb part of Kosovska Mitrovica suggested that KFOR be reorganized and split into the forces that would focus on general safety and a part that will provide conditions for the safe movement of Serbs and other minorities, which the KFOR commander rejected "with indignation".
Cristina Gayak [approximate spelling], Javier Solana's spokesperson, stated for NIN that the EU is not only considering a "very, very, very strong condemnation" but also initiation of some concrete actions, especially demands to the ethnic Albanian leadership to demonstrate its leadership potential in such a crisis situation. UNMiK head Hans Haekkerup has been invited to the EU headquarters where on Monday he is supposed to brief the ministers about the situation, while Solana will arrive in Skopje on Friday to the summit of the leaders of the South-Eastern Balkans, "to discuss with them regional cooperation and sending of right messages to the Albanian leaders about the formation of a negotiating team."
For now it seems unlikely that significantly more strident diplomatic rhetoric directed at the ethnic Albanians will actually reach them. Especially considering the development of the situation in neighboring Macedonia, where observers already predict the repetition of the Beirut scenario. Indications that at the mentioned summit of the Balkan leaders in Skopje Greece will present some sort of a plan were neither confirmed nor denied. Alex Rondos, George Papandreou's advisor and special representative of the chairperson of the OSCE only told us that Greece is deeply concerned and that the road Belgrade-Thessaloniki is of strategic importance for several countries in the region. "The region will either be blackmailed by armed people or it will choose democracy. Countries of the Balkans must improve internal cooperation, and the international community must improve its coordination and send clear messages. The responsibility is shared and we must prove that we shall not accept flimsy peace in the Balkans. We want lasting peace."
The road to peace is for now paved by corpses of Serb civilians and it is not at all certain that "small IQ wars", as these conflicts are referred to by the editor of the Radio Free Europe in Prague, will end with that. The next KFOR commander, a Norwegian general who will take that duty in early April, stated that his main task will be the protection of minorities. However, the London Economist, describing the new UNMiK police commander, Christopher Albiston, with huge experience from Northern Ireland, and "zero tolerance", glumly predicts that he will soon realize that problems in Northern Ireland are simple in comparison with the witches brew in the Balkans.