Monday, October 31, 2005

Happy Halloween!

As I joked a couple days ago, the Albanians are more American than Americans at times.  While Halloween is typically considered an American holiday, for the past two years, they have celebrated Halloween in Kosovo.  Tonight we can expect to see little ghouls and witches running around downtown Pristina searching for candy.  There was a Halloween Party on Saturday night in the UN with yours truly (Dj Vegas in da Haunted House!) that was pretty fun.  We spent all afternoon carving up pumpkins and making decorations for the SRC Lounge at MHQ.  I had a pumpkin lighting my front balcony last night as well...Smokey was interested as it was the first time he had seen a pumpkin before...thankfully he did not try to claim the pumpkin is his as he does with all the trees in the yard (and lately the front gate)!

For some reason, the power was horrible from Saturday afternoon until Sunday noon-time.  The schedule seemed to be two on and four off.  The worst thing about it is that my generator was in for service so I ended up sitting in the dark while I was home (luckily we had the party so I didn't go insane!)  But I have a feeling that it will be long, cold winter!  The weather is dropping down to freezing at nights now so I'm starting to fire up (no pun intended) the wood stove in my living room.  After a discussion with friends yesterday, I'm considering buying a wood stove heater for my living room.  They cost around 100 Euros but I think it would help to retain some more of the heat in the living room than the old classic stove that I have now :)

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Cracker Jack Box

I think many of the drivers on Kosovo roadways received their driver's license from a Cracker Jack box.  During my bi-weekly visit to Bondsteel (I hit the PX every other weekend if I can) I witnessed two near misses for a head-on collision, was cut off three times by a driver who failed to have enough room to pass the line of vehicles in front of me, and saw no KPS traffic control points.  Honestly, I think the people drive here on sheer luck rather than skill.  I already dislike being cut-off by other drivers but when I am cut-off going 80 kms per hour by someone who just doesn't care to check if it is safe to pass and thinks that he can just jump back into the line of traffic if he sees an oncoming vehicle...that just makes my blood boil.  To read some more about Kosovo driving, you can check the humorous Kosovo Driver's Handbook :)
One of the more frustrating things about driving in Kosovo is that many of the local and international police just don't care to enforce the laws.  In fact too many of them (particularly the KPS) are the ones who are driving like maniacs!  Some of my friends have blue lights for their UN vehicles and occasionally use them to pull people over.  They joked that I don't get one because I would pull over all the stupid drivers :o)

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Shootout at OK Corral

Okay, it wasn't at the OK Corral but in Kacanik, near the Macedonia border.  And it wasn't much of a shootout...more like a shot-at...but I do like that title! 
Last night, gunmen opened fire on a KPS vehicle carrying four Serbian police officers.  This is the third attack on Serbian KPS in the past two months and is increasing the thinking that there is an organized violent campaign in the area.  I believe it was just last month that two Serbian KPS officers were killed by attackers in the same area.

In unrelated news, for the first time, Kosovo has received its first asylum seekers.  A group of ten Bangladeshis, two Indians, and one Pakistani arrived on Monday (24 Oct) seeking asylum.  It is the first case and there is currently no system to deal with asylum seekers arriving from other countries.  It will be interesting to see what happens.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Welcome to Kosovo!

I just wanted to wish the new group of US CivPol Officers a warm "Welcome to Kosovo".  I hope that you enjoy your time in the mission and have what can be the "experience of a lifetime" during your time here :)
There was an interesting article on the Antiwar website today.  While not the same news source as say CNN or BBC, the information to a great detail is accurate and the message clear.  You can read the article titled "The UN's Last Winter in Kosovo" at the site.

The weather is warmer again.  It was an absolutely beautiful day yesterday and this afternoon was also nice.  I was able to sit outside with several of the latest US contingent at the Peacekeepers Restaurant at AHQ this afternoon.  This is the second time that someone has recognized me from the pictures from this site...does that make me a Kosovo novelty? *hehe*  Anyways, I am happy to hear that this site is helpful to those who are coming to mission and I've added some of the information they suggested to the Mission Tips for people arriving :)

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

UN turns to FUND

Today around 12:20 CET around 100 demonstrators assembled at the gates of MHQ and proceeded down Police Avenue spray-painting the letters F and D around the UN on the doors of the vehicles.  "Fund" in Albanian means "the end" so I guess it is a sign that they want the UN to leave.  Most of the staff members eating along Police Avenue were stunned by the sudden demonstration and it appeared that the police were equally surprised as the entire city block was vandalized before the demonstrators were stopped.  According to the news, the leader of the "Self Determination" group Albin Kurti, whose father is reported to work for UNMIK, was in the group that was arrested by KPS (Kosovo Police Service) following the demonstration.  As far as we could see from our front-row view at the Chinese Restaurant, no one was arrested during the demonstration...we only saw KPS bring a couple vehicles full back to the station 30 minutes after it dispersed. We got some pictures of the vandalized vehicles (and maybe the vandals!) and I'll share them as soon as I download them off the camera :)

News is emerging about the group that threatened to kidnap and kill international personnel.  The group call themselves the "Independence Army of Kosovo" or UPK and have been operating in the Pec/Peje region. Reportedly, the group has stopped two KFOR vehicles and told the occupants that they should pack-up and leave or face harm.  KPS is denying that the group exists but both the UN and KFOR acknowledge the existence and have restricted travel in the Pec/Peje region.  The group appears to be organizing and uniformed in black with masks.  They have been manning illegal checkpoints and controlling passengers in western Kosovo so vehicle traffic has been restricted to certain areas as it is a serious matter.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Lights Out

I spent most of Monday night in the dark.  The weather has taken a turn to wintertime and part of the B-plant went down.  The power was off for around four hours and on for two.  My generator ran out of petrol after three and half hours and I discovered that I didn't have much left so I had to trudge down to the petrol station at 9:30pm to refill.  Then just as I was finished filling the generator and gave it one unsuccessful pull, bam!  The power came back on.  I know I said some unkind things about the power company...they probably heard and that's why the power went off an hour later :)  The officials from the power company (KEK) said that the power schedule would be four on: two off but Monday is was just off-off-off :-P  Now the problem seems to resolved or Kosovo is importing power but with the weather quickly reaching freezing points at night, I'm sure that the power cuts will become a regular thing.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Kosovo Update

ICTY decided to allow Haradinaj to participate in politics while awaiting trial.  He was previously restricted from giving public statements or participate in the leadership of his political party (AAK - Alliance for the Future of Kosovo).  The chief prosecutor, Carla del Ponte, immediately protested the ICTY decision to allow Haradinaj to participate in politics while awaiting trial and ICTY temporarily reversed the decision.  Should the decision be reinstated, Haradinaj would be allowed to be involved in the political process and make public statements under the supervision of UNMIK.  The Hague court gave UNMIK the task of determining if Haradinaj's involvement was beneficial and granted the responsibility of allowing or refusing his activities on a case-by-case basis
This decision comes at an interesting time because the Kosovo parliament (at least the Albanian part) has started working on a draft for independence.  Aside from this, there is a group in Kosovo that have stated that unless Kosovo is granted independence by tomorrow (15-October) that they will kill nine innocent UNMIK civilians.  Now that leads to another interesting we received notice that our movement is restricted in certain regions during the nighttime and then another announcement this afternoon that we can request a security escort to our residences.  Coincidence???

In other news, a Turkish politician was killed in a drive-by shooting on Tuesday.  There isn't much information right now but if I find out more, I'll update :)  Also a Serbian special police member, Dejan Demirovic, was extradited from Canada to Serbia to face war crimes charges.  He is charged with the murders of 14 Albanian civilians near Podujevo in 1999.  He has been living in Ontario for the past four years but will now stand trial in Serbia.

Winter is on its way.  Every one is getting ready with firewood and pulling the dustcovers off their heaters.  The temperature has dropped down into the mid-teens Celsius (55-60�F) and this morning it started raining.  I've ordered my five meters of firewood, discovering that I paid about 100E more than I should have last year!  I'll probably be working on stacking it behind the house this weekend if anyone wants to help *hehe*

Saturday, October 8, 2005

5th Annual CITS Road Rally

We held our 5th Annual CITS Road Rally today.  The weather took a turn for the cold with overcast skies and a strong chilling wind but everyone seemed to be in good spirits in the morning despite the cold.  I'm proud to report that only one team got lost this year and only for 15 minutes :)  They fortunately realized that they had made a wrong left turn and went back to the point where they should have made a right turn.  We had 10 teams competing for the champion position this year.
The route took the teams from Pristina through some Serbian villages (Uglare) to Shtime.  From Shtime, we went into the mountains where they are excavating granite and came out near Ferizaj.  From Rerizaj, we took the teams up to the top of another mountain to the Hollywood Restaurant.  I will share the pictures in my Kosovo Photo Album as always :)