Wednesday, November 30, 2005

ICTY Decision

Today, ICTY handed down a "not guilty" verdict in the case of Fatmir Limaj, one of the UCK commanders on trial for war crimes.  Since the verdict was announced, the Albanians have been celebrating in the streets of Pristina.  Now, we sit in our offices and listen to the passing cars blowing their horns, shouting youths, and the occasional firecrackers or gunfire.  The opinion of most Albanians is that the UCK fighters should be absolved of any wrongdoing during the fighting as they were fighting for the independence of Kosovo.  The Albanians who are put on trial are often referred to as "war heroes"  no matter what they did during the fighting.
What is little heard about is the other UCK commander, Haradin Bala, who was found guilty of torture, cruel treatment, and murder.  He was sentenced to 13-years in prison for the torturing of 3 inmates and the murder of nine prisoners in his care in an UCK prison in Llapushnik/Lapusnik.  For more information on the entire trial, check Southeast European Times article.

Monday, November 28, 2005

National Flag Day

It's National Flag Day in Kosovo today.  Albanian flags decorate the front of nearly every business and line the streets.  Last night, the flag proposed by Rugova's government were also flying on the streets but they disappeared overnight, stolen and burned by those who oppose the unilateral decision of Rugova's government to impose the new flag without hearing from the people.
So far the day has been marked with a large demonstration of youngsters (probably in their early to late teens) chanting "UCK" at the gates of the UNHQ and the constant sound of exploding firecrackers.  The demonstration was not linked to the National Flag Day celebrations but rather a demand for the release of three Albanian UCK fighters currently accused of war crimes in the Hague.  I saw it estimated that there were one thousand demonstrators.  A great number of the demonstrators I saw were young people who probably didn't even understand the politics of what they were demonstrating about...just bored with nothing to do.  Reuters has a good photo of the crowd coming down Mother Theresa towards the Grand Hotel.

Over the weekend, a different phase of my power was out.  On Friday, the bedroom phase was out.  Saturday, the living room...and Sunday, the kitchen!  It's getting to be dangerous to walk around the house because I have extension cords running from room to room so I can keep power to the refrigerator or washing machine :)

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving

Another Kosovo Thanksgiving has passed by without much notice.  Of course, we don't' get the day off since Thanksgiving is just an American holiday.  I found cranberry sauce, stuffing, gravy, and even instant mashed potatoes (although I prefer homemade!) at Bondsteel a week ago.  I was thinking to have a traditional Thanksgiving meal because they were also selling frozen turkeys but the power schedule has been three on, three off the few days so I doubt that I would be able to properly cook the bird if I had bought it. 

Saturday, November 19, 2005

KIA is at it again!

The Kosovo Independence Army is at it again.  This time they are threatening to attack Pristina on the 23rd of November since it is the base for the "modern occupiers".  The KIA further stated that not only will UNMIK be unable to stop them but that we will be "asking for a corridor to be made by our troops in order for them to flee in shame".  If you have been reading my log for awhile, you will recall the KIA as being the group that is manning illegal checkpoints in southern Kosovo and that threatened to kidnap and murder nine innocent UNMIK staff if independence was not declared by 15 October (neither of which happened.)

Friday, November 18, 2005

It's Snowing!!!

Today marks the first day of snow in Kosovo.  I took Smokey outside this morning and it looked like just any other fall day, cloudy and gray.  But when I looked out the window 30 minutes later, it was snowing!  It snowed up until noon and has stuck to the cars and ground so this may be the beginning of winter.  The temperature has dropped down from the 40F's to freezing this morning.  Yesterday was a beautiful sunny day in the 50F's! 
There were a couple interesting reads today.  An article titled "Many Options But Independence for Kosovo" in the EU Observer explored the different options on the table and analyzes the actions of the international community in Kosovo.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Explosion Downtown

Around 2035 hrs, there was an explosion in downtown Pristina.  I happened to be getting in my car to go home at the time when I heard it.  Since there had been some thunder already, I first thought it was but then I realized that the sound was not quite the same because the boom was too short lived.  The security guard didn't seem sure to let me out of the compound but I was allowed to leave...good thing I turn the other way to go home!
Then, I promptly got stuck in traffic going up the hill out of Pristina due to a huge traffic accident.  Two vehicles lay smashed up, completely blocking the southbound traffic lanes.  We had to jump the median in order to pass.  I guess the rain combined with high speed was the probable cause.  Reckless driving seems to be a major traffic issue in Kosovo.  I often joke about how poorly they drive here but I think most people would honestly go stark-raving mad after experiencing just five minutes in Kosovo traffic.

Last night the power was out in Gracanica for nine hours.  I think there was a problem at the power plant because it was only on for two hours before going off again.  I think I said a few things about "crappy" and KEK in the same sentence as I fired up the generator again.  It seems like they are having some trouble switching the power back on in my area at times because it will go on-off every couple of seconds for awhile before finally coming on for the scheduled period.  When the overhead lights are on it's like being in a disco *hehe*

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Fate of the Balkans & Thanksgiving

There was an interesting article about the Future of the Balkans beyond 2005 at site called OpenDemocracy a few days ago.
It seems that winter is upon us.  I know I keep saying that but every couple of weeks, we think that winter has arrived and then it gets warmer.  But now the past couple of days a dense fog has rolled in at night and up until lunchtime today it was still a bit foggy.  The temperature hasn't dropped really low yet.  It's still in the 40's during the day and just below freezing at night.  To me, January is always the coldest month in Kosovo with a week or two of temperatures in the teens.

So far the power isn't so bad *knock on wood*.  It seems to be regulated to 5:1 (five on, one off) but we never know which one hour it will be off.  I'm still contemplating whether or not I want to attempt cooking a turkey for the Thanksgiving weekend.  If the power goes off in the middle of cooking, I don't know what I'll do (you'd probably see me outside on my balcony saying not so nice things about KEK :)  I saw that they are selling Butterball turkeys at Bondsteel this year.  I already found some cranberry sauce, stuffing, and gravy at the PX.  Maybe I will try to treat my friends to a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner over the weekend.  Unfortunately I will have to work on Thursday since they don't celebrate Thanksgiving in Kosovo (yet!)

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Bomb Blast in Pristina

Last night/this morning at approximately midnight, a car bomb exploded outside the Organization for Security & Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) headquarters in downtown Pristina.  The vehicle, reported to be an Audi 44, was destroyed but there were no injuries.  As usual, there is little information available, in fact I didn't even realize that it had occurred until checking up on a friend in Amman who had already heard about it all the way in Jordan!  Crazy how we in the mission wouldn't even know about it and someone in another country does!

Also the French Commander of the base located Vucitrn has apologized for the excessive use of tear gas during some exercises with local police.  Reportedly, 18 children from Vucitrn and some elderly from villages near Novo Selo were treated in hospital for the effects of tear gas.  All are reported to be in good condition now.

Wednesday, November 9, 2005

Illegal Checkpoints & Another Shoot-Out

Reports of illegal checkpoints set up by armed Albanian groups are emerging again. Between 11-11:30pm on Sunday, the group was reportedly stopping vehicles and checking IDs, welcoming those they stopped to inform the police that they were doing so.  A KPS official from Ferizaj confirmed that KPS was aware of the illegal checkpoints and activities.

On the 8th, a Czech Republic KFOR soldier was injured in a shoot-out with a group of Albanians.  One Albanian was also injured and several were arrested.  The KFOR soldiers came upon the Albanians illegally cutting wood.  The Albanians resisted and a warning shot was fired.  The Albanians then returned fire.  The KFOR soldier is being treated in a military hospital in Kosovo.

In other news, a bus of 40 Serbs was stoned by Albanians near the village of Djakovica as they were attempting to visit a cemetery.  The bus was being escorted by KFOR and KPS.  The Serbs are refugees from the town who fled after the conflict but returning to commemorate the restoration of some Christian monuments that had recently been destroyed.  The bus suffered minor damage but no one was injured.
There was also an interesting article about Kosovo and Montenegro's accension into the EU.  In the distance future in many people's minds but it's a good read -->  Red Tape In the EU

Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Black Shadow Group

A break-off of the recognized terrorist group Albanian National Army (ANA) is demanding that the Presevo Valley area be included in the "independence package" of Kosovo.  The ANA was officially labeled as a terrorist organization in 2003 by the SRSG for their activities against police in southern Serbia and parts of Macedonia.
You might remember the Presevo Valley from the news in 2000-2001 when an armed group of Albanians were fighting Serbian police. In one and a half years of shadowy fighting, 100 people were killed.  Belgrade only had a light security presence in the area because the zone was part of NATO's Ground Security Zones (GSZ).  NATO finally convinced the group to lay down their arms and there hasn't been much news of trouble in the area since.

The Black Shadow group issued a statement that Presevo, Bujanovac, Medvedja municipalities should be part of the independence negotiations and that the group will not accept any negotiation outcomes if they do not include those areas.  The group also warned the international community not to repeat the mistakes of the past that lead to war in the Balkans as well as mentioning that Albanian police officers should take care in their actions else they would be considered collaborators with the Serbs.