Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Old Man Winter

Old Man Winter just won't let go of Kosovo yet.  It snowed overnight last night...right after I told someone that I didn't think it was going to snow significantly again :-P  Guess I set myself up for that one!  It has been lightly snowing on & off all day, covering the ground with a light dusting of white stuff.  The temperatures dropped again to near freezing at night so the power situation in Gracanica is bad.  Last night the power was 1:5 which is barely even worth the effort of turning on the heaters.  By the time they start putting off some heat the power goes off!  Anyways, I've still got firewood so I'll be keeping warm that way!

There was an interesting article today from the Canadian Globe & Mail about how the UN is Worse than Civil War.  While I don't agree with all the information or views that are contained in the article, it does give an indication of how some Albanians view UNMIK, the negotiations, and the international community.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Honorary DCA

Due to melting snow, rain, and the subsequent rising water levels in Kosovo, 14 municipalities in Kosovo have been flooded.  I became an honorary DCA (still don't know what it means) for a clothing drive taking place within UNMIK to aid the RAE (Roma, Ashkalia, Egyptian) communities in North Mitrovica.  Since yesterday, people have been delivering clothing, blankets, pillows, and kitchen supplies to my office and we will be handing everything over to the Norwegian Church Aid group on Friday for distribution to those who are in need.  To read more about the flooding, you can access the Red Cross' report at ReliefWeb.
In other news, a group of 50 Albanian youths was reported to have stoned a bus of refugees from Montenegro who were traveling to the Decani monastery over the weekend.  There was no serious damage to the bus.  The incident occurred around 3pm on Saturday (25 Feb).

Friday, February 24, 2006

Flooding Leaves Kosovo in the Dark

The past several days it has been raining or drizzling a combination of rain/snow.  The road at the entrance to Gracanica is all tore up with water-filled potholes the size of a VW Golf.  It is expected that power plant B will be taken off line (probably already has since I've been without power for the past 12 hours) because of flooding in Obilic.  Supposedly the river near Obilic broke through the banks and a dyke protecting the plant and the coal stockyard is flooded.  KEK is trying to import around 400MW of power from neighboring countries but that won't cover the nearly 500MW that the B-plant can produce.  It's expected that many areas will be without power for three hours at a time.  My place was like a disco last night with the lights flickering on and off every couple of seconds :)

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Status Talks Update

The status talks adjourned today with what the news called a "positive first step".  Instead of talking outright about independence or autonomy in which it was thought both parties would have walked out, the negotiations are reported to have focused on smaller issues like health care, decentralization, culture, and police & justice.  The next round of talks will start on the 17th of March. It is hoped that the talks will wrap-up by the end of the year.  You can read more from the International Herald Tribune.
There is great discussion about whether or not Kosovo will set a precedent in other areas of conflict around the world.  Russia has been arguing that it will set a precedent while other republics like Moldova an Georgia argue that it is a special situation that cannot be applied elsewhere.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Status Talks Begin

Today the status talks for determining the final status of Kosovo began in Vienna.  For the first time, Serb and Albanian politicians are meeting face to face to discuss if Kosovo will be an autonomous state of Serbia or be conditionally/unconditionally independent.  Even though the Albanian negotiators are seeking independence, their negotiation with the government of Serbia is not welcome by all Albanians.  Albi Kurti's group was spreading posters today proclaiming "Wanted - Dead or Alive" with the names and pictures of the Albanian negotiation team.
The feeling is that the international contact group (US, Britain, Russia, Germany, France, Italy) seems to be supporting unconditional independence under the UN's supervision.  One of the main concerns of the talks are the standards that have not yet been reached.  The old mantra "Standards before Status" has been forgotten and areas such as freedom of movement and minority issues still need a great deal of improvement.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Five Year Anniversary

Today marks the five year anniversary of the deadly bus bombing near Podjevo in 2001 that killed seven people, including women and children.  February 17th is the Orthodox Day of Remembrance and 250 Serbs were traveling in a convoy from Serbia to Gracanica to visit the graves of their families.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Collective Punishment

There was an article today in an online publication called Inner City Press from NY that talks about the collective punishment system of KEK (Kosovo Electric Company).  Scheduling is done on the collective payment of the area that one is living in rather than individual bill payment.  The explanation for this collective punishment system is because of the old wiring of Kosovo.  C-areas (which Gracanica is a part of) are without power for 16 hours each day.  A-areas enjoy a 24/7 or 5:1 schedule and B-areas will either have 5:1 or 4:2 depending on the power consumption levels.
Yesterday there was a free jazz concert sponsored by the US Office Pristina.  The Agora Latin Jazz Quartet played to a full-house at the Red Hall across from UN MHQ.  The musicians from the US are on a tour of the Balkans, previously playing in Greece.  They are scheduled to play this evening in Prizren.  The quartet is part of the 2006 American Music Abroad program.

Monday, February 13, 2006

New President of Kosovo

On the 10th of February, the Kosovo parliament elected 54-year old Fatmir Sejdiu, a law professor.  Sejdiu is labeled as a moderate and will head the status talks scheduled for the 20th of February.  Sejdiu was a strong supporter of Rugova and held the presidency of the LDK political party since its formation in 1991.  It took three rounds of voting until the Kosovo lawmakers voted 80-12 for Sejdiu.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Winter Wonderland!

Around 1100 yesterday, it started snowing.  By 1300, road conditions were dangerous and traffic was starting to back-up.  At the airport, the Malev Budapest-Pristina flight slid 50m off the runway when landing.  Fortunately no one was hurt and the airplane was not damaged due to the ground being frozen solid but there is an investigation into the incident.  It continued snowing non-stop until late in the evening and at 1800, it took me 40 minutes to make the 5km drive from AHQ to downtown!
Today, flights are cancelled due to fog at the airport limiting visibility to 100m.  That means my weekend of shopping in Istanbul is cancelled :(  I was looking forward to getting out of Pristina for a couple of days, having 24/7 power, and a nice hot bath!  Now I guess I'll just stay home with Smokey, drink hot chocolate, and do the laundry!

Sunday, February 5, 2006

New Power Schedule

Yes, I know.  Power seems to be a theme in my posts lately but that's because it is one of the biggest problems plaguing Kosovo.  There simply is not enough power for all the people living in Kosovo!  During the winter when consumption spikes, especially when the temperatures sink below 0, the problem with production becomes more evident.nt.

Anyways, according to the local media, there is a new power schedule.  It is still ABC but A-areas will have 4:2, B-areas will have 3:3, and C-areas will have 2:4 at all times.  Now, I'm in a C-area but I'm still getting only one hour of power but then the temperatures are supposed to drop down to a low of -10�C (that's around 15�F) and it has already started snowing.  I heard that the weather is supposed to stay like this for at least the next week so I'm stocking up on firewood and will be camping out in the living room with Smokey and my thermal sleeping bag!  It's so cold outside that even he begs to come indoors when I get home *hehe*

Luckily I'll be living it up in style next weekend in Istanbul, Turkey.  I'm going for the weekend for a little shopping trip and to eat some good Turkish food.  The weather isn't much better but at least I won't have to wake up every couple of hours to put wood on the fire and won't have to worry if there's going to be hot water in the morning!

Thursday, February 2, 2006

Interesting Reads

I found an interesting interview article from the former head of the Pristina Regional Crimes Unit.  I imagine that he is no longer in mission because we are prohibited from speaking to the press without permission and his comments are not on the flattering side...it points out many of the problems in peacekeeping in Kosovo.  The article focuses on the political problems hindering investigations in Kosovo.  After talking with some friends and police officers, sometimes I find that they are frustrated because they cannot do what is right but have to do what is politically appropriate. 
I also found a write-up about Camp Bondsteel with pictures of the base.  It is amazing how built-up the camp has become since 1999 :)  You can also visit the official site of Task Force Falcon with PX and movie times.

The power situation seems to be a bit better now.  KEK seems to have reverted to the old power schedule where everyone shares the same kind of schedule.  In some areas, power lines/poles are down and I read that KEK says it will take $500,000 to fix some of the poles that are down.  I think the schedule is 4 on: 2 off for everyone now but I'm still playing the phase game at my house :)