Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Criminal Animals

Today an elderly Serbian couple (ages 71 and 73) was attacked by assistants who beat and stabbed them in an apparent ethnically motivated attack.  The couple, Mr. & Mrs. Vucic, were attacked outside their home about 50kms outside Pristina.  They were taken to the hospital in Mitrovica where they were treated for broken bones and stab wounds.  One is still in critical condition and the other is recovering.  All I can think is what kind of criminal animal would attack an elderly couple in such a brutal manner and for what reason?
While it has been recognized that progress is being made in minority rights and freedom of movement, this establishment of order seems to be bothersome to some groups.  Attacks on minorities have increased to almost one per day in recent weeks.  These groups do not seem to want an independent, democratic, or orderly Kosovo.  They are probably relishing in the criminal freedom of an interim administration and some incompetence on the part of the local government to realize the grave threat the groups pose to the democratic process.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Trip to Brezovica

Actually, it was last weekend that I took a trip to Brezovica but I didn't get a chance to write about the interesting trip :)  I've always heard about how beautiful it is up at the ski resort at Brezovica.  A misconception is that the mountain is called Brezovica but it is actually the name of the village located at the base.  The mountain is really called Sara but if you tell someone you're going to Sara they probably wouldn't know where you were going :)
A friend invited me to go up to Brezovica with him last weekend to visit a breeder of the famous Sharr Mountain dogs.  The dogs are mammoth in size with a coat of shaggy fur, a head the size of a lion, and a bark with the bass of James Earl Jones.  On the way, we passed the KFOR checkpoint and were stopped about five minutes later by a group of young Serbian men between 15-21 years-old.  They were dressed in normal clothing but with some sort of fur shawls and many had masks (traditional or ski masks).  They demanded that we pay money to continue on the road.  A KPS vehicle was leaving the group when we pulled up...and now I wonder if they paid the fee to pass as the group effectively stopped all traffic on both sides of the road by sheer number on the road.  My friend refused to pay and ended up being called a SOB by some drunk kid but we eventually passed after a verbal challenge to get out of the car and fight the drunk youngster...and then probably all of his drunken friends after that :-P

Then we reached Brezovica and discovered that someone came up with the idea to charge a fee to enter what they now classify as a "National Park".  The fee was five euros but when informed that we were in a KFOR vehicle, the price went down to a "just pay two or three and you can go".  My friend didn't want to pay so the attendant started complaining that the international organizations weren't paying but we passed after a moment.  Passing through Brezovica, I noticed many destroyed houses.  I was informed that they were Albanian homes that were burnt down in last March's violence...which was interesting because you didn't hear much about the Albanians losing property last March

When we got the resort, the sheer number of people and vehicles astounded me.  If all those private vehicles paid five euros, the attendant made a couple hundred euros that day!  Naturally, I got some pictures at the resort :)  If you happen to visit the resort, I recommend stopping by Pizzaria Tina for a fantastic pizza :)

Thursday, March 17, 2005

One Year Anniversary of Riots

Today was marked with commemorations and memorials of last year's March 17 riots and violence.  We were informed that there was to be a commemoration in Gracanica around 1200 CET and then we started getting advisories of other memorials being held in other villages this afternoon.  The only disturbing event of today was a bomb threat against the municipal building in Peja/Pec.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Hell in a Handbasket

1030 CET:  Security has informed us that KFOR will be making a series of controlled explosions in the vicinity of this morning's incident.  I suppose that means that they found more bombs.  Reports are that the first explosion came from a garbage dumpster while Rugova's vehicle was passing.
0820 CET:  An explosion broke the morning commute today near King Casino in Pristina.  The target appears to be President Rugova whose vehicle was damaged in the explosion.  Fortunately no one was injured but windows in nearby buildings were blown out.  The EU Foreign Policy Advisor, Javier Solano, arrived yesterday and Rugova was on his way for a meeting with him.  Details are sketchy right now but as more emerges I'll post more.

There was no demonstration in Pristina yesterday but a village of Serbs did protest the power situation by walking to Obilic.  Lately the power is being cutoff to Serbian areas (although Kosovo Electric Company-KEK says that it is not them just the equipment) and KEK is stating that they will not repair the problems until the bills are paid.  Of course, I have a problem with that statement because I have never received a power bill for the past three and half years I've been in my flat.  I wouldn't mind paying if they sent me a bill :-P  I've heard that rather than punish individuals, KEK collectively punishes the people living in apartment blocks or villages by leaving the power off until 75-80% of the inhabitants pay their bills.

I emailed some of my friends and family this morning as the news of this morning's incident will no doubt reach the news in the US.  I called home when Haradinaj was arrested too just to assure my folks that I was doing okay.  One of the worst parts of being in the mission is having loved ones worry about me and whether I am safe when things happen.  I do remember though in March when I called dad to tell him everything was okay and he asked "is something going on?" *hehe*  I guess sometimes things that are big here aren't so important in the rest of the world.  But trying to blow up the President is fairly big so I'm sure it'll be in the news :-P

Friday, March 11, 2005

Attack in Pristina

At approximately 2330 CET, two hand grenades were thrown into the area below the Sports Center where some of the Police&Justice have offices.  Two civilian vehicles and one UN vehicle were damaged and one civilian was injured.  There still is not much information on who was responsible for the attack but I've heard a rumor that it was related to Pristina Mafia rather than the indictment against Haradinaj. 
There was to be a peaceful demonstration on Monday in Pristina but after the incident, it was cancelled.  If people decide to demonstrate anyway, I am certain that there will be zero-tolerance on the part of the police for any troublemakers.

Movement to Peja/Pec is still restricted and no international staff are allowed to go out after 1900 until sunrise.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

All Calm for Now

1230 CET:  It has been announced that there is a peaceful demonstration in Decani, Peja/Pec Region.  Security very clearly stated that it was in control of the police.
1130CET:  Our movement is still restricted in the Peja/Pec region but that is probably due to the fact that on the 7th of March two hand grenades were thrown at UN vehicles (one Coca-Cola and one white) and a bus of Serbs was stoned.

If you can remember back to mid-January where a Nigerian police officer was killed in a car bomb explosion in Prizren, I heard something interesting yesterday from a colleague about it.  Reportedly, the bomb was placed by the ANA (Albanian National Army) who has said that they are specifically targeting black and Asian persons.  I've heard little about the ANA except that it is a radical group.  I'm not sure of their intentions for operating in Kosovo but I'm definitely going to look into it.

Smokey is still caring for his little puppies.  They have doubled in size but still can slip through the fence for his kennel.  I'm not sure if they are the same two that I saw in January because they are both dark (sort of a bad mix of black, white, and brown I think.)  I have not seen the adorable brown puppy I took pictures of before.  I think maybe it was not lucky enough to survive the winter and/or crossing the road.  I still have not gotten over the amount of road-kill on the road between Pristina and Gracanica.  There always seems to be at least one dog or cat on the road every day.

Tuesday, March 8, 2005

Day of Reckoning

2200 CET:  Several hundred students are staging a peaceful demonstration over the indictment of Haradinaj.  In the freezing temperatures, it only lasted about half an hour.  As soon as everyone got excited it was over.  I think after the March riots people have a tendency to get over excited about any gatherings.
1400 CET:  Ramush Haradinaj officially has been indicted for war crimes by ICTY and resigned as Prime Minister of Kosovo.  The SRSG gave a statement calling for everyone to remain calm and thanking Haradinaj for his leadership the past few months.  Haradinaj has said before that if he was indicted he would go willingly to the Hague.  It is a good political step for him and also will hopefully lead to a calm situation.  I do not doubt that there will be demonstrations against the decision to indict Haradinaj but the final result of those demonstrations, peaceful or violent, is the question in everyone's minds.

1000-1200 CET:  The morning started off like any other until UN Security announced that all travel to the Peja/Pec region was restricted.  Then the rumors started going around.  We were told that it was likely that Ramush Haradinaj would be arrested and told to be on alert with our overnight bags ready.  I shot home to pick up my bag and laptop (hate to lose my baby if anything happened!)  The only thing that I worry about in these situations is Smokey because he has to stay at the house.

Monday, March 7, 2005

Teacher's Day & Night of Fire

1700 CET:  The security situation has returned to normal.  KFOR EOD blew the trunk out of the vehicle and removed the suspicious bag.  The vehicle was registered in Macedonia and it could have been that the driver did not realize that civilian vehicles are not allowed to park on Police Avenue (although there is a sign stating it near MHQ.)  But then again, better safe than sorry!  It is difficult to find the results of the happenings in Kosovo but if any of what I know is confirmed, I'll let you know!
1445 CET:  There is a little bit of excitement in downtown Pristina right now.  We first heard UN-Security tell us that we needed to move our vehicles off Police Avenue.  Then we got a Security announcement that the front gate was closed.  Finally, there was a message that Police Avenue was closed to vehicle and pedestrian traffic.  All those messages came out in about 1/2 an hour.  I was on my way to the bathroom when I saw the KFOR EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) vehicle drive past.  As it turns out, there is a suspicious package in a civilian vehicle parked on Police Avenue.

1200 CET:  Today is Teacher's Day in Kosovo.  Schools are not closed but classes are shortened 15 minutes.  It is tradition for the students to give their teachers flowers.  I'm not sure if they do the whole apple thing as well.  I guess I should investigate a little more :)

It is also the Night of Fire tonight.  It is the end of three-days of celebration/memorial for Adam Dashuri, who is pictured a couple stories tall on the Pristina Sports Center.  I personally think he looks a bit like Grizzly Adams myself.  But the memorial is for what happened to Dashuri and his village.  Dashuri was one of the founders of the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army or UCK in Albanian).  Dashuri's men were snipering off Serbian police.  The Serbian police went to his village near Skenderbeq and basically killed everyone there (men, women, elderly, and children).  Tonight, the Albanian community remembers those that were killed, celebrate the KLA, and the fight against the Serbian para-militaries.

Oh, and by the way, it's still snowing :-D

Sunday, March 6, 2005

Guess What?! More SNOW!!!

It is still winter in Kosovo.  There is about a foot of new snow since last night.  It took a group of us about two hours to drive down to Bondsteel (a trip that normally takes 45 minutes.)  It's great to see everything all white (for a day at least before it gets muddy) but the power is getting a little worse.  It was off for around 2 1/2 hours earlier.  There doesn't seem to be a regular power schedule.  It seems to go off at all hours.  I suppose that it is going off when the system is overloaded.  My wood pile is pretty much exhausted but the landlord offered to let me take what I need from their pile.  But se la vie! 
I didn't post much last month due to the fact that I was sick for about three weeks.  First I got a cold the day of the concert.  I was going through a box of Kleenex every day for half the week.  I finally went to the pharmacy and asked for something to make my nose stop running.  I ended up looking like Rudolph after a few days.  The next week, I developed a horrible cough and ended up being kicked out of my office...told to go home and rest until I got better.  Everyone in my office ended up getting this nasty virus.  But because I didn't stay home and went out in the cold after a day of rest...I ended up being diagnosed with bronchitis :(  I took anti-biotics and am happy to say that I'm recovered and back to work now.