Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Fire at Municipal Building Leads to Helicopter Evacuation

Yesterday, four UN staff members were rescued by KFOR helicopter from the roof of the Prizren municipal building after a fire broke out in the late afternoon.  An investigation is pending into the cause of the fire which reportedly broke out on the first floor of the Bankos building. 
Could Kosovo's status be put on hold until 2020 in exchange for billions of Euros in aid and an eventual referendum?  BIRN takes a look in Kosovo's Moment of Truth at what the decision might mean for Kosovo.  Kosovo's PM Agim Ceku has already rejected the idea stating that Kosovo's independence is not for sale.  However, given that Kosovo will face tough economic times and possible isolation following a unilateral declaration of independence, other politicians might want to think twice before rejecting the plan so quickly.  However, is the whole 2020 plan just a hoax???  The US State Department denies that there are any new plans for Kosovo's status other than the implementation of the Ahtisaari proposal.

Snippets of other Kosovo News...
  • The Times published an article on Kosovo militias and the threat they pose towards progress and peace.  The article takes a look at militias from both sides of the Kosovo argument in this interesting piece.
  • B92 has an article about how some members of the Serbian parliament questions the multi-ethnic idea in Kosovo
  • Serbia is urging Kosovo-Serbs to boycott the upcoming elections
  • As a response, UN tells Serbia to stop intimidating Kosovo-Serbs who want to vote in the elections
  • A poll of Serbs shows that they believe the coalition government will collapse over Kosovo

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Investigation Reveals Freelance Reporter Lied!

The investigation into the alleged beating of a freelance VOA reporter in Gracanica last week has been revealed that the reporter made a false report to the police.  During the investigation, it was discovered that the reporter was intoxicated, was involved in an incident at a local bar, and to top it all off...was involved in a traffic accident with her vehicle!  The investigation is still continuing...
The employees of the Minor Offense Court have been striking in favor of raising their salaries.  By my experience with the local economy, I would estimate that the employees of the court probably make somewhere in the range of 120-180 Euros a month which is essentially peanuts.  It truly baffles me when I try to figure out how the locals live on their measly salaries.  When I look at the new Mercedes, cell phones, warehouses, and other luxury lifestyle choices of the local population I really wonder how many of them cope!  Of course most internationals are paying between 350-600 Euros a month rent on their accommodations so there is a bit of a compensation if you can rent out a floor of your house.  Anyways...just some meandering thoughts for the day :D

Friday, October 19, 2007

Muddy Season

After a few days of sunshine, the rain has returned.  It looks like we are heading into the "muddy season" evidenced by the fact that while jumping up into my 4Runner this morning I managed to get mud all over my pants leg.  Of course I say "jump" into my 4Runner because at my impressive height of 5'3 + 3/4ths (that 3/4 is very important because its nearly another inch!!!) I can't just get in but I have to perform a little hop & jump routine in order to get into the car :)  But back to the weather, it's muddy season.  There aren't really the standard four seasons in Kosovo but three seasons.  The three seasons are dust, mud, and frozen and refer to the dirt that seems to cover every inch of the roads and sidewalks in Kosovo.
With the dropping temperatures and the typical maintenance problems at the power plants, the new power schedule for Pristina is 5:1 (five on, one off) which isn't that bad although you'll still hear people whining as they've become accustomed to 24/7 power since last year.  C-areas which are mainly villages and minority areas have a 3:3 schedule which means they essential live with power for half of the day.  It is expected that the tender for the new Kosovo power plant will be completed sometime this year but it will still be many years before the power situation gets better as the current power plants are fairly old, poorly maintained, and the quality of the management is questioned by many.  But at least I can say that over the years the power situation has gotten much better and I believe that credit should be given to those that worked hard to repair the plants and better the living situation.  Back in the beginning of the mission, we would go days without knowing when the power would come back on and there was no published schedule.  Now you can be guaranteed that you'll have power at least half of the day and you can also visit the KEK website to see when the power will be on.

MTCowgirl's Interesting Articles...

Thursday, October 18, 2007

VOA Reporter Beaten in Pristina

A freelance reporter for the Voice of America (VOA) was attacked and beaten in her home by a masked man in military fatigues on Tuesday evening.  Vesna Bojicic was allegedly attacked by a masked man who pushed his way into her accommodation and proceeded to beat her, accusing her of bias towards Albanians.  The ethnicity of the attacker is not know but according to Bojicic, the assailant spoke "very good Serbian , which doesn't have to mean anything, but tells a lot". 
With the upcoming elections, Kosovo's politicians have been declaring their net worth.  Almost all of the candidates are worth more than a million Euros each while one has topped the 400 million Euro range.  So far, the public has not been able to receive a disclosure from the politicians as to where the wealth has come from and there have been many allegations of corruption at the highest levels of politics with one source stating that following the "liberation" of Kosovo, "all the leading KLA commanders immediately 'liberated' the most attractive business premises and cafes".

An ex-KLA fighter has been arrested on suspicion of murdering 14 Serb farmers back in 1999.  Mazllum Bytyqi was arrested in 2002 for the same charges but was later released due to a lack of evidence.  KPS now says that new evidence has emerged in the killings of the farmers who were allegedly tending their fields when they were gunned down with an automatic weapon in Staro Gacko.

A new advertising campaign by Telecom Slovenia has stirred some ire when they referred to Kosovo as a state.  In response to criticism, the company released a press statement explaining that the usage of the term "state of Kosovo" was in reference to the market and the company was not interested in the politics but rather their users.  An interesting note at the end of the article is that in new atlases in Austria, Kosovo is already shown as an independent country.

The Albanian National Army (ANA) is stepping up their political rhetoric by issuing a statement that said if by 1 November KFOR, UNMIK, and KPS fail to take control of areas in northern Kosovo controlled by Serbs, they will step in and take control.  North of the Ibar still has many parallel institutions and there has been criticism that the area is still under heavy influence of Belgrade.

A student union of the Pristina University called Student Initiative for Independence Kosovo has announced plans for a peaceful demonstration on 10 December.  The students plan on demanding the Kosovo parliament to declare immediate independence and the demonstration will supposedly last until the parliament does so.  Additional student groups have announced that they will hold similar protests on the same day as they do not belong to the Initiative group.

Other Kosovo News...
MTCowgirl's Interesting Articles...
  • A Serbian writer talks about the calamitous relationships between ethnic groups in ex-Yugoslavia in an article titled "Our negroes, our enemies"...this is probably one of the more interesting articles I've read for quite some time!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Doing Business Kosovo Style

This weekend, my landlady brought over a plumber/electrician/jack-of-all-trades to fix some problems in the bathroom of my flat.  But there was something wrong with the picture when he arrived with the landlady and they began to work in the bathroom.  Then when the landlady asked me if I had any screws and a screwdriver, I figured out what was wrong.  The guy came without any tools or equipment!  How on earth did he expect to be able to fix anything without tools?  Luckily I had the screwdriver he needed and the landlady was able to scrounge up the screws from her flat.  This is not my first experience with workers showing up to a job without the necessary tools.  In fact, slowly but surely my collection of tools has disappeared into the back pockets of all the workers that have shown up at my flat to do something and failed to bring anything with them other than their wallets :P 
Probably my most interesting experience was back when I lived in Gracanica.  Basically, I decided that the hot water tank needed to come out of the shower because I didn't feel like electrocuting myself while bathing.  The hot water tank is located inside the shower area of many a flat in Kosovo and most are probably safe enough but in my old place in Gracanica, the power cord was not contained in the wall but was hanging outside the wall.  So I asked the landlord to bring an electrician or plumber to move the tank into the storeroom next to the bathroom.  Naturally the guy showed up without tools!  I was able to find the variety of different sockets and screwdrivers the guy needed to complete the job.  Unfortunately, I didn't have the necessary brackets or screws however to mount the tank on the wall of the storeroom (silly me!) so the guy decided to leave the hot water tank sitting on the floor of the storeroom upside down!

Now, most elementary children know that heat rises so I'm not exactly sure what the worker expected to happen when he set up the tank upside down...maybe the hot water would magically sink to the bottom of the tank and the freezing cold water would float to the top to heat up??? Yeah, didn't happen...So for a couple of days (before really giving it to the landlord and demanding that the worker or someone else come back to fix the so-called installation) I had warm water for about two minutes into the shower before the heated water was exhausted and the bone chilling water came shooting out of the faucet.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Another Rainy Day

It's another dreary rainy day in Kosovo.  Yesterday one of the generators overloaded at Kosovo A power plant and ignited a fire causing system failures.  There were a couple power outages but it has been barely noticeable.
Many of us are wondering what the power situation will be like this winter as it has been forecasted that the winter will be long, cold, and harsh.  I've donated an old generator to a family living in a C-area for the winter as I expect that the people in the villages are going to suffer with just a couple hours of power a day if KEK does not import power from abroad.  Last winter the situation wasn't so bad perhaps due to the mild weather...Gracanica (C-Area) had pretty much constant power during the coldest month, in fact the power situation has been downright spectacular compared to how it used to be in the beginning of the mission!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Beginning of Fall

2300 CET:  The suspicious package was found to be non-explosive but an investigation is being conducted.

1640 CET:  A bit over one hour after the security alerts went out to the staff, KFOR EOD has responded to Mission HQ to inspect the suspicious package...

1620 CET:  UN Mission HQ has been closed due to the finding of a suspicious package underneath a vehicle.

1525 CET:  For some "ongoing security incident" at Mission HQ, everyone has been asked to leave the compound and the compound has closed.  UN Security is advising everyone to stay away from Mission HQ as well as Police Avenue at this time.  In fact, Police Avenue is closed to all vehicle and pedestrian traffic.  If I find out exactly what is going on, I will update!

I've also noticed a statement given yesterday by KFOR's Commander Xavier Bout de Mamhac.  The French general has given mid-January as a date for Kosovo's status to be settled and said that it was the duty of Kosovo politicians to explain this to the general public.

1420 CET:  Well, yeah, it does look like the protestors here don't like the rainy cold fall weather.  While some reports say there were 1100 demonstrators, only about 150 people actually marched through the city.  It looked almost as if the students were in a hurry to get back to their warm dorm rooms as they didn't even stop in front of the UN Mission HQ to protest but just continued straight on down the road at a fairly brisk pace!

Earlier in the Day...It looks like fall is finally upon us with the rain and clouds that came over the weekend.  Today's grey skies and constant drizzle are certain to put a damper on the planned protest of the Albanian Student Union in Pristina.  The USSH (Albanian acronym) announced that they would be protesting the "the further delays of independence of Kosovo, as well as against the negotiations which threaten independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Kosovo".  Estimates for the demonstration have been put at between 5-10,000 people although many of us doubt that there will quite that many people, especially since previous bad weather protests gathered few people (hmmm, so does that make the Kosovars fair-weather protestors?)

In the news, Kosovo's PM Agim Ceku has again stated that if there is no agreement by 10 December, Kosovo will unilaterally declare independence.  The UK and US are expected to recognize the independence but the EU is likely to split over the the issue, an outcome some conspiracy theorists say is the whole idea behind the US' policy.

Serbia has arrested 56 neo-Nazis during a Kosovo protest in Novi Sad after a fight broke out against anti-fascists who were holding an counter-demonstration.  The demonstration had been banned by the government but organizers went ahead   One liberal parliament leader in Serbia has blasted his fellow lawmakers and demanded the resignation of several key members such as PM Kostunica for their failure to appear at the anti-fascist rally.  The parliament session had to be recessed due to harsh verbal exchanges between the liberals and Kostunica's supporters.

A Swedish diplomat and a Swedish KFOR escort are being accused of illegally smuggling a Kosovar family into Macedonia.  The family was detained at the Skopje airport and being sent back to the Macedonia-Kosovo border for clarification of how they entered Macedonia without receiving entry stamps when the Swedish KFOR convoy took off and crossed the border into Kosovo without stopping leaving the Swedish diplomat stranded.  It is suspected that the Kosovar family entered Macedonia using the auxiliary border crossing at Blace reserved for official KFOR vehicles.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Going Slow in Kosovo

I had to steal my blog title from an article in the Economist. The article discusses the situation in Kosovo and questions whether or not the Hong Kong model would work and the power struggle between the US & Russia.  But overall, the title seems to best describe the process in Kosovo...sloooooooow!  I have heard countless years of declarations and estimations of when Kosovo's status will be resolved or when Kosovo will be independent yet still things remain the same.  This winter should be interesting and I hope to stay here through the changes :)
The conflict in Kosovo has gone all the way to football (soccer).  Serbia has officially opposed the Kosovo Soccer Association playing international matches as a national team.  The Serbian Football Association plans to lodge a complaint with FIFA and UEFA and wants the Kosovo association first to receive permission to play as a national team.

There has been a series of arrests at the Pristina Airport over false documents.  A few KPS officers along with regular civilians, and an airport employee have been arrested in connection to a ring producing and selling Slovenian travel documents.  In total, six people have been arrested in the past week for involvement in the ring.  A KPS Border Police officer is accused of assisting people using the fake documents to cross the border.

Two of the August Dubrava escapees were re-arrested in Pristina on Friday.  During the search operations, several items of interest were confiscated including sub-machine guns and silences in addition to pistols and several boxes of ammunition.  The sister of one of the escapees, a KPS officer, was also arrested under suspicion of aiding & abetting a fugitive along with two Kosovo-Albanians and an Albanian citizen (errr, how would you politically correct identify a citizen of Albanian in comparison to Kosovo Albanian???  Would it be K-Albanian and normal Albanian???  Somehow that doesn't sound quite right!)

Other Kosovo News...
MTCowgirl's Interesting Articles...
  • From Military Disaster to Moral High Ground, an opinion-editorial that looks at Kosovo and Iraq
  • Kosovo PM Agim Ceku states he is ready to forgive but not forget (reminds me of the song by Garth Brooks where he sings that they "bury the hatchet with the handle sticking out" *grin*)

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Banned Albanian National Army Patrols Kosovo

Last night, local TV station RTK aired a report and interview with members of the banned Albanian National Army (ANA in English, AKSH in Albanian).  Some officials have denied the existence of ANA but it seems like after last night it will be difficult to continue to say they don't exist!  In the broadcast, masked men were shown patrolling the main highway near Podujevo near the Kosovo-Serbia border.  The group has previously threatened the UN, Africans, Asians as well as demand the unification of Albanians in Kosovo, Macedonia, and Albania.  According to BIRN, last night's broadcast was the first time the group has been filmed by a local station.
MTCowgirl's Interesting Articles...
Other Kosovo News

Monday, October 1, 2007

Where'd the Time Go???

Yikes, the beginning of October already!  It's hard to believe that time has been passing so quickly!  Already nearly months of new negotiations have passed with no result.  Of course, it was hard to believe that there'd be any agreement when both sides continued to reiterated that they'd accept nothing more than this or that! I've come across a couple interesting news articles...again I want to reiterate that these articles don't necessarily reflect my opinion but they do offer some interesting insights into Kosovo and its people.

MTCowgirl's Interesting Articles!
Other Kosovo Articles