Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Back to Normal

Things are back to normal...mostly.  A lot of the shops were still closed this morning for some reason.  Yesterday afternoon was filled with excitement in Pristina, but elsewhere in Kosovo, Albanians celebrated Flag Day without incident.  A reported 10,000 Albanians gathered in Skenderaj to celebrate without any incidents reported.  There were other smaller celebrations around Kosovo. 
The worst event of a Flag Day past since the end of the conflict was in 1999 when two Serbs were killed by a crowd in Dardania.  A Serbian woman living in Ulpiana fell sick and the sister and husband wanted to take her to the Russian hospital in FKP.  They decided to drive through Dardania but were blocked by a huge mob of celebrating Albanians.  The mob dragged the trio out of the car and killed the sick woman and the husband.  The man received more than 30 gunshot wounds during the incident.  After dragging the trio out of the car, the mob turned over the vehicle (which carried old Serbian PR plates) and set it on fire.  KFOR was unable to quickly reach the scene due to the large number of people in the mob and is probably why the incident it turned deadly.

There was an interesting article called Kosovo: Calm Now, But Nervously Approaching Final Status.  It is a good read and surprisingly, I think the author has actually been to Pristina although he did get it's Bill Clinton Boulevard...much more pleasing to the ear!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Albanian Flag Day

2230 Hours:  Finally the "All Clear" has been given by Security for people to go back to Mission HQ.  Earlier people called to ask if it was okay and security said that things were calm around 1800hrs.  The official tally according to the UN is that the demonstration had 4000 people.  The demonstration was a combination of the Self-Determination group, students from the University of Prishtine, and the War Veterans Association.  The crowd chanted anti-negotation, anti-negotiation team, anti-decentralization, and of course, anti-UNMIK slogans during the demonstration.  Both the government building and UNMIK Mission HQ had windows broken out with bottles filled with red paint.  The crowd also managed to topple on of the concrete blocks that makes up a blast barrier in front of UNMIK MHQ.  The total damage is at 80 windows, 3 government vehicles, and a partridge in a pear tear (just kidding about the bird!) 
An interesting note that I found was that the gate to UNMIK MHQ was chained shut.  Now from reading, it appears that the protesters actually did the chaining.  During that time, the blast barrier was pulled down.  It was a rather smart tactic because no one inside the compound would have been able to see much and it would have taken them a couple minutes to respond once they found out because the main entrance was chained shut.

1700 Hours: Things are quiet now.  The radio has fallen silent so that means that Security is busy taking care of other problems.  The protestors reportedly tried to storm MHQ causing riot police to fire tear gas on the crowd.  So far we still haven't been told that it is okay to go downtown so we may camp out in the offices until we hear something.  Several of my colleagues work in a two block radius to MHQ so going home for them might not be easy if there are still crowds on the streets.  Even living up the hill in Dragodan, I'm ready for anything with my sleeping bag, a couple changes of clothing, and toothbrush.  I can easily camp out in my office for a couple days comfortably should anything major happen.

 1430 Hours:  The demonstration has begun.  UNMIK sent all the staff working downtown home at 1330 hours with the instruction that they were not to return until the "All Clear" has been given.  Wish I was still downtown so I could be off too! :o)  The demonstration is quite large, reported to be around 5000 people which is bigger than I expected.  But then they did bring a lot of people from outside town (I've heard rumors that the villagers are sometimes paid to come to the demonstrations...and some are paid to cause trouble).
The demonstration started at the Government Building where windows were smashed out by thrown rocks.  The crowd has now proceeded to UN Mission HQ and tried to destroy the blast barrier that sits on the street outside the gate in front of the main building.  Security is going crazy with announcements about movement restrictions every few minutes...makes me think that some staff members haven't been paying much attention to the previous warnings!

1000 Hours:  I won't call it Kosovo Flag Day because it really isn't.  Kosovo does not have a flag of its own yet.  The Albanians here are "borrowing" the flag of another country and politicians or the public cannot agree on what kind of flag they want for their own.  Kosovo should it become independent will probably become the first country without its own flag.  Each political party has its own idea what the flag should look like and just like the status negotiations, there is no compromise!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Mission Increases Security

UNMIK officials have officially announced that the mission was increasing security due to unspecific but serious threats against its personnel and property.  Stress-levels have been rising on the lead up to tomorrow's Flag Day mass protests in the streets of Pristina by the Self-Determination group and a recent spate of threats and tampering of UN vehicles (slashing tires or removing lug nuts). 
The Self-Determination group seems to have recruited young men of high-school age to plaster posters calling for the protests.  I drove past a couple groups that were hanging up posters around and they couldn't have been old enough to shave (maybe around 15-16 years-old).  From speaking to many of my local friends, they don't think there will be a very large turn-out as most of the population doesn't agree with the group's tactics.  There seemed to be popular support in the beginning but as I've seen, each protest seems to be with fewer and fewer people.  In fact the group seems to be losing quite a bit of respect lately and last week their headquarters was raided and Kurti was arrested for failing to show up in court to answer for previous civil disturbance charges

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Explosion Rocks Serbian School

An explosion ripped through a classroom in the village of Ropotovo minutes after the children had left the room.  Investigators believe that the explosion was caused by a hand grenade placed in a stove and that the incident was not ethnically motivated but rather due to conflicts over the management of the school.  There also is a question as to why the children were removed from the room before the explosion.  The instructor was conveniently late for the class so the students were transferred to another classroom minutes before the blast.  A KPS spokesman stated that three Serbian men were being held for questioning following the incident. 
In other news, the parliament of Albania has adopted a resolution calling for a quick resolution to Kosovo's status and recommending that independence be granted.  <soapbox>Cynically viewing the resolution...I guess the Albanian parliament doesn't have anything else to solve their own problems :-P  I can understand politicians in other countries making press statements but having the government actually spend time drafting a resolution on affairs in another country...that's a bit strange, don't you think?  It would be kind of like having Mexico pass a resolution saying that they think that California should be independent...or the US Congress passing a resolution saying that Canada should give up Quebec.  Yeah...that'd go over real well :o) </soapbox>

Monday, November 20, 2006

Self-Determination Leader Arrested

Albin Kurti of the Self-Determination group (Vetenvendosje in Albanian) was arrested yesterday by Kosovo police for failing to show up in court to answer charges of civil unrest.  In addition to recent protests against UNMIK and decentralization, the group has claimed responsibility for vandalizing UN vehicles by painting or putting stickers on the body or removing the lug nuts from the wheels.  The group is reportedly planning mass street demonstrations on 28 November calling for the parliament to unilaterally declare independence from Serbia.
Meanwhile, a report has been released stating that Kosovo needs to have a multi-ethnic defense force if granted independence.  The force of around 2500 would be responsible for national security and upon its creation, the UN-group suggests that the Kosovo Protection Corp (TMK in Albanian, KPC in English) is disbanded.  The report that was previewed at a recent forum hosted by the US Institute for Peace goes on to state that TMK members should not be barred from applying for positions in the new Kosovo force but that there should be no guarantees that they will be allowed to transition.  TMK currently has about 5000 "national guardsmen" and is nearly all Albanian.

And in the run-up to the first elections since the death of Rugova, internal party conflict is threatening to split the LDK (Democratic League of Kosovo) party.  The current president, who must resign if he takes the position, and the former speaker are both running campaigns to take over as leader of the party.  The internal conflict has created even further divisions in the party that was struggling to keep things together before Rugova's death.  In the last elections, LDK did not gather enough votes to rule alone so they had to form a coalition government.

And finally, the power!  In one word...BAD!  The new power schedule is 3:3 (three on - three off) in A-areas, 2:5 in B-areas, and 1:5 in C-areas.  Only two of the generators of both power plants are working and Kosovo is already importing nearly 70MW from outside.  With the temperatures still in the 40-50's, the colder part of the winter is looking pretty miserable for everyone in Kosovo.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Let the Games Begin!

It has long be forecasted that should the UN not give the Albanians what they want, the population would basically rise up and "bite the hand that feeds" them.  And while groups have been against UNMIK before, I think now things have gotten a bit more serious and troublesome.  Distributing flyers or putting toilets in front of the gate is fine...but now the Self-Determination group has threatened to put explosive devices on UN vehicles prompting Security to go crazy with warning staff members to check vehicles and some individuals are starting to tamper with the vehicles creating potentially deadly consequences. 
Also few days ago, the entire wheel of one of the UNMIK 4Runners came off while a staff member was driving.  After investigating the incident, it was discovered that the wheel had been tampered with and the bolts removed.  This coincides with another threat against UN vehicles where the Self-Determination Group said they would deflate tires and otherwise vandalize the vehicles (nothing new.)

Another recent activity of the Self-Determination Group has been in the Gnjilane region.  Members of the group have been stepping in front of moving UN vehicles forcing the drivers to apply emergency braking procedures and then either accosting the drivers or attempting to put stickers on the vehicles.  Reports are also coming that members of the group have been attempting to spit on international staff members while walking or driving.

This weekend I also noticed a new poster hanging up around Pristina.  Every once in a while for American holidays, a group hangs up posters to celebrate the holiday.  The new posters say "Thank you USA.  We <heart> You!  Happy Thanksgiving".  I can't think of anywhere else in the world that celebrates the US holidays like they do in Kosovo.  In fact, I think that we Americans should go on strike because the Kosovo-Albanians are celebrating three days of Thanksgiving and we only have one!

Monday, November 6, 2006

SG Annan admits status may not be resolved by end 2006

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, the highest official in the UN announced that there may be a delay in the decision for Kosovo's status.  This is the first admission by the UN that the status may be delayed.  Annan does go on to say that special envoy Ahtisaari's negotiations are expected to conclude but as we have seen so far, the negotiations are not likely to bring around any compromised status anytime soon.  This new statement from Annan coincides with statements made a few weeks ago by EU representatives that the status may not be resolved until early 2007.  The fear is that should Serbia lose Kosovo (15% of its territory) that ultra-nationalists will take over in the coming elections (scheduled for December).  An article in the International Tribune gives some extra insight as to why delaying the status decision is politically sound and a good decision.

Friday, November 3, 2006

Self Determination Group in Macedonia?

Posters from the Kurti's Self-Determination group have turned up on the windows of shops in Macedonia.  One would ask the question as to why the group that pushing for a referendum in Kosovo for independence would hang up signs in Macedonia?! The signs urge the boycott of Serbian products stating that the money made by companies is used to finance the army and police...which I guess leads on to the argument that the army and police abuse the citizens and continue from there.  Of course the Serbian police and army haven't been in Kosovo for the past seven years...but we won't go there :)
Looking back, I noticed that I forgot to mention the Self-Determination group's protest last Friday where they threw bags of ink over the UN fence at vehicles and left a toilet with a bow around it in front of the main gate.  The group also distributed anti-UNMIK, anti-1244, and anti-decentralization pamphlets that littered the street near the Kukri/Phoenix bar.  There was only about 50 people at this demonstration...I'm not sure if the group is losing interest or if the demonstrations are losing strength due to crackdowns by the KPS.  

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Winter Comes to Kosovo!

Old man winter has arrived in Kosovo.  This morning Smokey and I were greeted with big fluffy flakes of snow when we went outside for our morning walk.  It has continued to snow for the past several hours but it is so wet that none of it is sticking yet.  A white Kosovo is one of the most beautiful places because everything (trash, mud, dirt, everything) is covered with a bright white blanket of snow.  Then it is all ruined when traffic and people turn the pristine snow into a muddy slush that seems to follow you no matter where you go! 
So far the power has been pretty good.  I can't remember any power outages in the past two nights when the temperatures dropped down into the freezing zone...get the window scrappers out!  KEK says that the power is supposed to be 4:2 in A-areas but maybe the power consumption is not as high as anticipated.  I still feel the pain of those who live in C-areas that are still only with 1:5 (translates into 4 hours of power a DAY!)

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

"Damned Silly Thing" in the Balkans

There was a commentary in the Globe & Mail titled "Keep an eye on that 'damned silly thing' in Kosovo" by the former Canadian ambassador to Yugoslavia.  It talks about the referendum in Serbia and the latest news that special representative Ahtisaari is getting ready to deliver (or has delivered) his report to the UN suggesting a roadmap for Kosovo for two years to statehood.  There continues to be conflicting statements made by EU and UN officials about the conclusion of the status talks.  EU officials want elections to be set in Serbia so that ultra-nationalists that are likely to gain support should Serbia lose Kosovo do not take over the country.  UN and US officials are pushing to conclude the status negotiations (which is quite a humorous title to what has mostly been like two kids playing tug-of-war with a favored toy) by the end of 2006.