Monday, August 27, 2007

Massive Cache of Explosives Seized

Kosovo Police Service (KPS) and KFOR troops have seized a massive cache of explosives in western Kosovo.  Acting in an anonymous tip, the 92.6kg of explosives were discovered in two villages near the Kosovo-Montenegrin border outside the town of Pec/Peja.  Two Albanians have been arrested in connection with the cache.
The UN has called for probe into prison break.  UN officials have requested an independent inquiry into how seven inmates at Kosovo's high-security prison managed to escape with the help of prison guards.  The inquiry would look into conditions at the prison and ensure that safeguards are put in place to prevent a repeat of the past weekend's events.  There is little hope that the inmates will be discovered in Kosovo as it is thought that they have already slipped across the porous borders to Macedonia or Montenegro.

Last night, I tried out a restaurant called Mozaik (038 247 634) near the "opera house" off of Ramiz Sadiku street.  It's hard to describe exactly how to get there, but if you were walking on Mother Theresa going towards the government building, you would turn off to the right on a small road once you passed the large statue of the guy with the AK-47.  When you reach the end of that road, turn left and then turn right at the end small road.  Mozaik would be right in front of you as the road jogs off to the side since there is a huge red apartment building in the middle :)  We didn't actually look at the menu since a friend suggested that we order salads and meat to share.  The waiter was quite attentive and the food was fantastic.  The salads were quite impressive especially the creamed spinach and broccoli starters.  The combination meat platter was nice and the grilled veal cutlet I had was cooked to perfection, tender and juicy!  We must have drank about 5-6 bottles of the Hoya de Cardenas wine from Spain which I would recommend to wine 12 Euros a bottle, you can't go wrong with this superb wine.  

I also noticed that the Indian Food & More restaurant (038 248 592/044 799 791) was open and grabbed a menu as we walked past.  The restaurant is just off of Mother Theresa on a small road called Korriku (first right going towards the government building after passing the AK47 guy statue).  There is everything from pizza to traditional curry dishes on the menu.  I can't yet attest to the quality of the food but I'm hoping to try it out in the next few weeks.

MTCowgirl's Daily News Break ...
  • The Washington Post takes a look at Albin Kurti who continues to remain under house arrest. 
  • The Wall Street Journal asks if Moscow's support for Serbia is paying off, questioning whether or not diplomatic support has been traded for economic prospects. 
  • A senior Russian leader urges the world to resolve older self-determination conflicts (Palestine, Cyprus, Soviet-bloc) before Kosovo
  • Under-Secretary Nicholas Burns says that US hopes Kosovo will be independent in 2007
  • BIRN looks at how the Bosniak and Goranci communities in Kosovo are struggling

Taking a Breather

Ah, I have to take a breather from the news.  All the political mumbo-jumbo about status and unilateral declarations and partition...blah, it is all making my head spin now-a-days.  It seems like every couple of days there is some new statements by a politician that upsets one side and then there is an onslaught of rhetoric ranging from accusations of NATO creating a puppet-state to how the international community has betrayed the trust of Albanians.
Let's talk about life in general in Kosovo for a change :)  Life isn't easy.  People here seem to age quickly.  When most Westerners are getting ready for early retirement and living the golden life, people in Kosovo are having to worry about all sorts of health problems due to living their lives in an unnaturally polluted environment.  I'm often shocked to hear of the various health problems that face a typical 50-year-old Kosovar.

But not everyone is living a difficult life.  There are plenty of people who seem to be well off.  All you have to do is go out in Pristina and take a look at all the new BMW, Audis, and Mercedes sedans that are running around (often going the wrong way down the one way street which is always guaranteed to grab my attention!)  There seems to be a disproportionate number of people who are filthy-stinking rich and those that are living far below the poverty line in Kosovo.  I would say most people are oblivious to the differences in living standards because few ever step outside the comfort of Pristina...but it's there and a glaring problem that will eventually need to be addressed.

Stepping outside the news about Kosovo's status, the Washington Times featured an article titled Kosovo's grim future which explores a report on how the economy is stuck in misery and the youth are basically faced with criminality as their "solo career choice".  It is an interesting read and I would like to further explore the reports that the article is based on.  As usual, posted for your reading pleasure and opinion formation process!!!

Also, an interesting look into life in Kosovo is an article on the summer tradition of Sunet, a festival held high in the Kosovo mountains.  Held every five years, Sunet is a four day festival during which a mass circumcision of young boys is performed.  Often two villages will combine their celebrations.  Seen as a rite of passage, the traditions roots have been lost in the passing of time yet there still are deep feelings of pride as it symbolizes the unique culture of the villages that celebrate Sunet.  Often even after going abroad for a better life, villagers will return with their children to take part in the festival.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Back in Kosovo :)

After a long but uneventful 24-hour trip from the US, I arrived in the sweltering Kosovo heat yesterday.  Supposedly temperatures are due to spike up into the mid-30�C's (that's 100's for �F folks) later this week.  Yikes!  With the high summer temperatures (I can't remember a hot summer like this except maybe my first year here!) there are all sorts of water shortages.  Whether or not we will run out next month as suspected and reported still remains to be seen but severe water rationing has been put into effect.  Everyone's water is turned off from 11pm-5am each night.  That means the neighbors run outside around 9pm to water their sidewalks :P 
The UN has implemented conservation efforts by informing everyone that they can only have their car washed once a week (we do our part in my office by never getting the cars washed until we can't see out the windows at night from the layers of dust on the inside of the windshield *hehe*)  Yet the whole thing that I don't understand about all the conservation efforts is that the UN will issue a directive about the cars but then they will bring in a water truck during the middle of the day to wash the roads in the compound or water the grass (which is really stupid because the heat & rays from the sun magnify in the water and end up frying the grass!).  I say let the stupid grass die and let's save the water for showering next week!  Or at least bring the trucks in at night when the temperatures are down and you don't end up killing the grass in your efforts to keep them green!  That's real UN-efficiency and UN-thinking for you :o)

While I was on my way back to Kosovo, there was a bit of excitement at Dubrava prison.  Seven inmates escaped on Saturday (18 August) in a apparently well-organized plan that seems to have involved armed "rescuers" and prison guards.  Five guards have been detained or arrested in conjunction with the escape.  One of the inmates has escaped three times prior to this latest escape.  All the escapees have been identified, one is accused of murdering a Russian KFOR soldier.  The charges of the inmates range from acts of terrorism to kidnapping and robbery.  Kosovo's minister of justice visited the prison following the breakout and promised that there will be rigorous changes to prevent a repeat of the weekend escape.  An investigation is ongoing into the escape and KPS is still actively searching for the inmates in a manhunt that involves several hundred officers.  

Current PM Agim Ceku has announced that he will not run for office in the upcoming elections.  In his weekly address, Ceku said that he would not participate in elections held before the status resolution and urged politicians participating to "show individual and institutional responsibility and not let their political differences affect the process of establishing the future status of Kosovo".  The date for the elections will be determined in two weeks at the beginning of September.  The Kosovo government has requested that the elections be held the third week of November.

MTCowgirl's Interesting News Articles
  • Kosovo negotiators receive death threats from ethnic Albanian group
  • What if Kosovo is recognized, an opinion piece in the Sofia Echo
  • The UN's Flawed Kosovo Plan, an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal
  • Kosovo Albanians only coming to Serbia for passports, another article on Kosovo citizens visiting Serbia for travel documents
  • Kosovo celebrates Bill Clinton's 61st birthday - Ha, gotta love it!!! :o)

Friday, August 17, 2007

Kosovo Song Hits the News - Again!

It only took the Serbian government five years to discover the humorous "Kosovo Song" and get upset, demanding an apology from the Norwegian government for the video parody of the Beach Boys' hit Kokomo. Now Croatian Javno seems to have discovered the video more than seven years after it was made! It's interesting to see the video continue to get press after so long...but perhaps that means that it's a classic!
Serbia has proposed the return of their security forces to Kosovo for the first time in more than eight years. Serbian forces have not been in Kosovo basically since the end of the NATO bombing campaign in 1999. Under the UN Security Council resolution 1244, Serbia does hold territorial rights to Kosovo as well as the right to send a limited number of security forces to Kosovo. Following the March 2004 riots, there was discussion of having Serbian forces return but UNMIK and KFOR negotiated with Serbia.

Meanwhile, former Kosovo PM Bajram Rexhepi has suggested that if Kosovo will be partitioned, the Kosovo government would only agree if Presevo Valley was integrated into Kosovo. Rexhepi also stated that he did not believe that the 120-day period of negotiation would bring Belgrade and Pristina closer on their positions which continue to be diametrically opposed on autonomy vs. independence.

UNMIK has kick-started the process for local elections due to be held this November in Kosovo. PDSRSG Steven Schook signed an executive order yesterday that authorized the elections commission to begin preparations for the elections. In a statement, he cautioned that the elections should not interfere with the negotiations on status...which seems kind of like wishful thinking. Citizens are probably more likely to vote for candidates who appear to be able to deliver on the promises of independence which means the current government is going to have to prove that they are on the right track. Already there has been speculation that PM Agim Ceku is on his way out because of failures to deliver independence by his constantly moving deadlines.

And finally, how about MTCowgirl's Interesting News Stories???

Friday, August 10, 2007

Controvery Rages

There is a bit of controversy brewing in Kosovo over the arrest of a minority minister in Gracanica over the alleged assault of a police officer following the issuance of a speeding ticket to the minister's daughter. Whew, that was kind of a mouthful! Branislav Grbic was arrested on the 7th for verbally and physically assaulting an Albanian KPS officer working in Gracanica. Three other officers of Serbian ethnicity were reported to have assisted in the arrest and recorded Grbic, the Minister of Community and Return, making threats towards the officer in question. Following the incident, the Kosovo government called for the suspension of the commander of the Gracanica police station and a government spokesperson stated that procedure was not followed and that the minister had some sort of immunity. There are also allegations of excessive force and there is a possibility that Grbic was intoxicated when the incident took place. Overall, it will be interesting to see if there are any follow-ups in the news!
The three representatives from the Contact Group, have arrived in the Balkans to begin the new 120-days of negotiations. It still is not clear whether or not there will be face to face talks between Belgrade and Pristina. Frank Wisner from the US is again involved in the talks along with German envoy Wolfgang Ischinger, representing the EU, and Russia's Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko. In a meeting with Serbian officials today, the troika was presented with a proposal that offers Kosovo wide autonomy and representation in world organizations. The Contact Group troika is due to meet with Kosovo officials on Saturday who have already threatened to pull out of the talks if independence is threatened. Some deadlines have been tossed out such as 10 December but as before, it is difficult to predict when exactly the status will be resolved.

Meanwhile, in other news, OSCE has issued a statement condemning a Kosovo newspaper of irresponsible and unprofessional reporting. If you recall my blog a few months ago about a newspaper printing names of Serbians living in minority areas and accusing them of crimes during the fighting. A series of articles appeared in Infopress newspaper and gave names and other details about Serbs who allegedly served in reserve units. Even after receiving warnings about the articles, the newspaper published more and more names and articles of the same fashion between 30 May and 4 August.

And finally, KPS has reported an increase in the number of attacks on religious and spiritual sites in Kosovo but states that the attacks are criminally, not ethnically, motivated. There have been 52 attacks on religious/spiritual sites since the beginning of the year and KPS has managed to solve 18 of the reported cases.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Interesting Articles and Some News Updates

As usual, I came across a couple interesting articles in my daily research on Kosovo :) One article from a Philadelphia publication explains that Kosovo is more of a Russia-Germany stand-off than a Russia-US issue. The article argues that Germany and Russia are fighting to exert their influence on Europe. I can't attest to how true the information is but it is an interesting take on the situation in Kosovo and I wanted to share the article :)
The EU may be considering proposing that Kosovo and Serbia form a confederation that would last several years before Kosovo became independence. The proposal is thought to be an alternative that may be put forth as a compromise to satisfy both Belgrade and Pristina. Ideally, it may follow a similar model to the loose ties between Serbia and Montenegro when they were considered one country. Under the possible proposal, Kosovo would have equal rights as Serbia but Kosovo would have the opportunity to self-determination through a new constitution. It's an interesting alternative and I would actually like to see it proposed to see how the parties would react.

An opinion piece in Indonesia's Jakarta Post wonders if the stand-off over Kosovo will result in WWIII with Kosovo unilaterally declaring independence and Serb ultra-nationalists going to war with Russia as an ally (as Russia is upset at the West, particularly the US who has said they would recognize if Kosovo declared...but I do believe those declarations were kind of retracted at later dates.)

As I was traveling, I forgot to pass on information about the high-profile meeting between Kosovo leaders and US Secretary of State Connie Rice. The leaders of Kosovo promised to not declare independence unilaterally without consulting its allies.The US reaffirmed its support for Kosovo's independence during the meeting and promised to continue to push for quick resolution within the next months, possibly before the conclusion of the 120-days of negotiations.

Also due to my travels, I missed news about a bus being hit by a booby trap on 20 July. The bus was transporting 10 Albanians in northern Kosovo and supposedly drove over a rope that was attached to a grenade. No one was injured in the blast and KPS is investigating the incident.

Wildfires are continuing to ravage Kosovo. Some 100,000 hectares have been burned in Kosovo over the past few months. KFOR has stepped in to assist in battling the fires.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Serbia Proposes Rules for Negotiations

Serbia has proposed a new set of rules to govern the four-month round of negotiations with Pristina under the supervision of the Contact Group. Belgrade has stated that it was ready to give concessions to Kosovo on joining international organizations such as the IMF and World Bank while still maintaining that Kosovo should remain a part of Serbia. However, Kosovo's President Fatmir Sedjiu has declared that he will not accept anything other than independence. He announced that the negotiations would center around issues of secession, missing persons, and freedom of movement.
Meanwhile, some international peacekeepers from Slovakia have been busted trying to smuggle cigarettes and alcohol from Kosovo after serving in Kosovo. Around 450 liters of alcohol and 320 boxes of cigarettes were found by Hungarian officials in a truck that was transporting Slovak soldier's luggage back to their home country following the conclusion of their peacekeeping duties in Kosovo.

Authorities in Kosovo have discovered an illegal water bottling plant in Kosovo. The plant was discovered producing the Serbian brand "Heba" without a license and without a license to conduct business. The water is currently being tested for quality and 3000 liters of water has been seized. Also, authorities expect that the tender for Kosovo's "C" power plant will be announced later this year. It is expected that the construction of the billion dollar plant will make Kosovo a big player in Southeast Europe's energy market. It will be a big change from the current situation where Kosovo must pay to import power during the winter to meet the demand.

KPS has brought in a good sized haul during a recent operation targeting arms smugglers and organized crime in Pristina and Podujevo. Approximately 500 guns and 2000 rounds of ammunition were seized during raids and two people were arrested. A KPS spokesperson is quoted as saying that most of the weapons came from Macedonia.