Saturday, December 31, 2005

A Reflection on 2005 and Mission

It's hard to believe that I have passed 4 1/2 years of my life in Kosovo.  The experience will continue to touch my life in many ways that I will probably never realize.  I have learned how to survive in less than optimal circumstances (no power, no water, no air-conditioning, no heating), tried to understand the local points-of-view (still somewhat baffling over the obsession over a battle taking place 500 years ago), and had the opportunity to meet people from around the world and visit some fantastic countries.  Should you be reading this log/blog/journal or whatever it is called these days and have the opportunity to visit, travel, or participate in the Kosovo mission, I strongly urge you to give it a chance.  While there are many challenges, there are also many rewards :)
I will end my little reflection on the joys that I've had in the mission now and turn to something that I've debated over a few months whether or not I should share the details.  I have decided that I should inform those who may be thinking of coming to Kosovo (particularly Pristina) of the recent increase in burglaries and robberies against international employees of the UN and KFOR.  In December alone there were 25 burglaries in Pristina in the homes of internationals.  The previous two months had the same or more.  The past three months have seen a dramatic increase in the number of robberies and burglaries against internationals.  I've updated my Kosovo Tips page with general security and the new power schedule.

Robberies have been at gunpoint and at night.  There have only been a handful reported robberies in the past few months, burglaries are far more common.  However, some people have been injured during robberies, none seriously to my knowledge.  The burglaries are normally conducted when the residents are not at home but I have known a few cases where the burglars tried while the staff member was at home.  I do not wish to discourage anyone from visiting, crimes of opportunity are present in many missions where locals know that the internationals have the best TVs and sometimes leave large amounts of money unsecured in their accommodations.  But the recent months have, as I said, seen an increase in the frequency against internationals.  So, if you are coming to Kosovo (especially Pristina), be vigilant.  Do not walk alone at night with backpacks or laptop cases.  Try not to leave laptops and other portable valuables at home.  And last but not least, for goodness sake, don't leave large amounts of money unsecured and at home!!!

Friday, December 16, 2005

Attempted Prison Break

Police foiled an attempted prison break from Kosovo's largest prison on the 12th.  An investigation is ongoing as during the prison break, a Romanian special police unit (SPU) came under fire from outside the prison.  Three prison staff were injured and two vehicles were hit by gunfire. 
In unrelated news, an ICTY appeals court has ruled that Haradinaj will not be allowed to participate in politics while awaiting trial.

Monday, December 5, 2005

Rocket Attack

Saturday evening (3rd) there was a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) attack on a bus near Prizren.  The bus was carrying several different ethnicities but mostly Albanians.  Luckily, the two RPGs did not detonate and no one was injured.  Local and international politicians are condemning the attack and stating that there are forces at work in Kosovo that do not want stability in the region.  The SRSG has ordered security to be increased with more patrols and vehicle checkpoints.
In other news, a report by OSCE has been issued stating that the local courts failed to condemn the violence in March 2004 by not dedicating resources, not acting quickly enough, and allowing witnesses to be intimidated.  Over 600 Serbian homes were burned, 30 churches, and 4,000 people fled in the outbreak of violence in March 2004.  The report said that while the courts did address the deaths, displacement, and descruction of property its response was "not strong enough".  You can read more about the report at SE European Times.

Today marks the beginning of the new power schedule for A,B,C areas.  KEK is playing with the power now.  The grids have changed recently to A,B,C areas.  A areas will receive constant 24/7 power, B areas will have 5:1 or 4:2 (I forget which it is), and C areas will have whatever is left over.  As I suspected Gracanica is in a C area...or maybe even D *hehe*  Today my power was on most of the day but the voltage was running at 160V and my freezer defrosted while the power was on.  I ended up purchasing a make-up transformer to bring the voltage back to 220V so that the kitchen appliances will function normally.

Thursday, December 1, 2005

Eventful Day

It's only 1325 CET and it has already been an eventful day for me.  I was stuck at home for part of the morning due to the road being blocked in Gracanica due to an "ongoing police operation", UN Security's catch-all for any event that occurs in Kosovo.  It was later this morning that I discovered the roadblock was due to a drive-by shooting that injured a Serbian youth in a nearby village.  Several hundred Serbs gathered and stoned several vehicles in downtown Gracanica.
Then when we went to lunch, we discovered a group of men (20-30) demonstrating in front of the gate at MHQ.  We aren't sure what they are demonstrating but we believe that they have lost their jobs.  Often groups of former employees gather in front of the MHQ to protest their unemployment although there is little that UNMIK can do...they should rather protest to the Kosovo government.

Fatmir Limaj arrived back in Pristina today and there was a large celebration near the university.  From 1400-1800, the Albanians were again celebrating in Pristina with firecrackers, flags, and car horns.