Memo from Ms XX -- Is "Shit Hitting the Fan" in Kosovo? 

February 1, 2001

Comment: #404

Attached References:

[1] Beth Potter, "French, British Troops Clash with Kosovo Albanians," Reuters, February 1 11:43 AM ET. (Attached)

[2] Beth Potter, "Ethnic Albanian Protests Mount in Kosovo," Reuters, January 30 4:02 PM ET.  (Attached)

[3] SYLEJMAN KLLOKOQI, "Albanian Rebels Pledge To Fight," AP International, January 26, 2001 2023EST.  (Attached)

Kosovo has been off the radar screen for some time, but a recent spate of wire reports describing violence in the Presevo Valley, Serbia (key to Serbia's lifeline to Greece and the Mediterranean) and Mitrovitca, Kosovo suggest ethnic tensions are mounting in mid-winter. This raises the possibility of a bloody spring when environmental conditions and bodily fluids are more conducive to fighting.

References 1-3, attached below, are typical of the wire reports issued in the last week.

Sometimes, however, first hand observations by observers "untrained" in reportage add a more real sense life, immediacy, fear, confusion, and smell of cordite to the violence described by these reports.

The following email is a case in point. I received it, via a third party, from an American woman, Ms. XX, working for UN in Kosovo.

------[Email from Ms. XX]------

Sent: Tuesday, January 30, 2001 9:55 AM

Subject:  Shit is Hitting the Fan

This is all happening real time, right now all the internationals are barricaded inside our office building. Mass of Serbs on one side, mass of Albanians on the other side. Albanians have set fire to several French KFOR vehicles, explosions everywhere, tear gas flying everywhere, shootings into the air, rocks flying, vandalism.....KFOR, special riot forces everywhere..

Just last night, some Serb nuts bombed a Muslim neighborhood and killed two people, since then, masses of Albanians have gathered and started to protest and riot...then the Serbs organized and started taunting the French KFOR and then shootings...

Lots of explosions right now, we have to stay away from the windows... hundreds outside...things should quiet down hopefully but except a slight chance that we could be raided by some Albanian nuts because of our Serb translators in the building.

This is the worst that I have seen since my ten months here. Hopefully they don't cut our power, etc. Hopefully nutty Serbs aren't raiding my apartment in the Serb neighborhood. Luckily I have my passport with me in case we are evacuated......

-------[End email from Ms. XX]--------

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Reference #1

Thursday February 1 11:43 AM ET

French, British Troops Clash with Kosovo Albanians By Beth Potter

KOSOVSKA MITROVICA, Yugoslavia (Reuters) - French and British soldiers clashed with Kosovo Albanians in the flashpoint town of Mitrovica on Thursday, the third straight day protesters have confronted the NATO (news - web sites)-led KFOR peacekeeping force.

Soldiers from a British unit, sent to reinforce the French who normally secure the town, fired plastic bullets and moved through the streets with tanks to disperse crowds of Albanians who had thrown rocks and petrol bombs at peacekeepers.

"The violence has been going on long enough. We will deal with aggressive behavior with a positive response. They have to realize they cannot attack KFOR soldiers,'' declared Major Tim Pearce, a spokesman for British forces.

Ethnic Albanians began targeting KFOR after a 15-year-old Albanian boy was killed by a hand grenade in ethnic clashes in the Serb-dominated north of the town on Monday.

Albanians have repeatedly clashed with French forces in Mitrovica since Kosovo came under international control at the end of NATO's 1999 bombing campaign to halt Serb repression of the province's ethnic Albanian majority.

They accuse the French of failing to protect the small Albanian community in the north of the ethnically divided town.

A local Albanian doctor said 26 people had been slightly wounded in the latest clashes. A Reuters photographer suffered burns and hearing damage from a stun grenade.

French and British officers had no word of any casualties in their ranks on Thursday but more than 20 KFOR soldiers were wounded, one of them seriously, on Wednesday.

"KFOR soldiers are impartial. I think it's an insult to the soldiers who are injured to say they don't play their role in Kosovo correctly,'' said Colonel Jean-Pierre Beaulieu, spokesman for French forces in the run-down industrial northern town.

Serbs Accuse Albanians

Oliver Ivanovic, the leader of the town's Serb community, accused Albanians of provoking the latest violence to distract from ethnic Albanian guerrilla attacks in southern Serbia.

"The entire crisis has been staged in order to divert attention from southern Serbia to Kosovska Mitrovica,'' Ivanovic said, also accusing KFOR and the province's U.N. administration (UNMIK) of not protecting Kosovo's beleaguered Serb minority.

Thursday's violence began after young protesters gathered at the southern end of the main bridge over the river Ibar, which divides Mitrovica into Albanian and Serb-dominated sections.

They were told to leave by Italian peacekeepers. They marched to another bridge and threw some rocks at a checkpoint of French soldiers.

The soldiers responded by firing stun grenades, also known as percussion grenades, which make a booming sound intended to scatter crowds in panic.

Some older Albanians then appeared and told the crowd to stop the violence. They left but clashes began again in the center of the city around French military bases.

Some young Albanians in the crowd said they wanted French forces out of Mitrovica, blaming them for the fact ethnic Albanians have not been able to return to the homes in the north they fled during NATO's 1999 bombing campaign.

"We will go on like this. We will go home when Mitrovica is liberated,'' said 23-year-old Fejz Ademi.

Serb leaders say ethnic Albanians should not return to their homes in the north until Serbs can return to other parts of Kosovo which they fled as a wave of ethnic Albanian vengeance swept across the province after the end of the bombing campaign.

Reference #2

Tuesday January 30 4:02 PM ET

Ethnic Albanian Protests Mount in Kosovo

By Beth Potter

KOSOVSKA MITROVICA, Yugoslavia (Reuters) - NATO-led peacekeepers fired tear gas at stone-throwing Kosovo Albanians Tuesday as violence that has claimed two lives flared in the flashpoint town of Mitrovica.

The clashes came as NATO Secretary-General George Robertson urged Yugoslavia to expand the rights of ethnic Albanians in the tense Presevo Valley zone on Kosovo's eastern border.

A week-long upsurge of separatist attacks in the area, coupled with the clashes in Mitrovica, has raised the specter of spreading violence as Kosovo's political future remains unsettled.

The U.N. Security Council strongly condemned the border attacks Tuesday, particularly the killing of the Yugoslav soldier, and expressed alarm over the latest violence in Mitrovica.

In a statement drafted by the United States, it stressed the need for an immediate and full investigation to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Robertson was speaking to reporters in Brussels with former U.N. Kosovo administrator Bernard Kouchner who said he had told leading powers they must "be precise with the future of Kosovo otherwise you will get other attacks and murders and other unacceptable reactions.''

A grenade attack in Mitrovica which killed two Kosovo Albanians Monday was a sign of worse to come, he said.

Kouchner urged voter registration to begin now for a Kosovo general election that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) says will take six months to organize.

Kouchner declined to predict what might happen if the Kosovo Albanians' demand for complete independence is blocked indefinitely by the West, pointing out that U.N. resolution 1244 on Kosovo promises them "substantial autonomy.''

The resolution also affirms Yugoslav sovereignty over Kosovo, which ethnic Albanians reject. Its calculated ambivalence is seen by some analysts as a symptom of major power indecision, which could develop into paralysis.

Mitrovica Clashes

In Mitrovica, bitterly divided between ethnic Albanians and Serbs, Albanian protesters angered by the death of a 15-year-old youth in clashes with Serbs Monday set two parked armored personnel carriers on fire after pouring gasoline over them.

Explosions were heard from inside the empty vehicles.

About 300 feet away, French peacekeepers in riot gear formed a cordon and fired several rounds of tear gas when a crowd of about 1,000 ethnic Albanians tried to cross a bridge into the northern Serb-dominated part.

The air became filled with tear gas and the crowd dispersed. The peacekeepers later fired booming percussion grenades to keep approaching protesters away.

About 200 Serbs gathered by the bridge on the other side.

The incident followed the death overnight of a Kosovo man, which brought the death toll to two.

In another incident near the town Monday a crowd stopped a car with local translators working for the OSCE, dragged them out and beat one Serb man, breaking his jaw, the OSCE said.

The town was reported to be quiet Tuesday night.

Presevo Valley

Mounting violence between Serb forces and ethnic Albanian guerrillas in the Presevo valley prompted Albania to appeal for dialogue Tuesday.

The Yugoslav army said one soldier had died from injuries received in a clash Friday and four others were wounded when a rocket-propelled grenade fired by "terrorists'' exploded in front of their vehicle Sunday in the volatile area adjoining U.N.-ruled Kosovo.

Macedonian police said Tuesday they had arrested four ethnic Albanians in connection with the attack.

The Albanian appeal came after Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica said Monday a "more radical solution'' was needed to ease tension, but stressed he did not mean violence.

"The Albanian government reconfirms that the legacy of grave problems the region has inherited can be solved only through political dialogue,'' the Albanian foreign ministry said in a statement issued in Tirana.

"Extremist and provocative attitudes compromise efforts to find a real solution to the problems.''

Albanian officials said the statement was directed both at the Belgrade government and at ethnic Albanian guerrillas of the UCPBM which has been attacking Serbian security forces.

UCPBM, whose acronym stands for the Liberation Army for Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja, emerged a year ago.

It took positions in the three-mile-wide zone where Serb forces were banned under an agreement with NATO at the end of the 1999 allied bombing campaign which forced Serbian troops out of Kosovo.

Kostunica has proposed narrowing the so-called ground safety zone to two miles, which would inevitably bring the opposing forces closer to each other.

Reference #3

AP International - AP-NY-01-26-01 2023EST

Albanian Rebels Pledge To Fight

by SYLEJMAN KLLOKOQI Associated Press Writer

DOBROSIN, Yugoslavia (AP) -- Ethnic Albanian rebels massed Friday in a show of strength in a tense buffer zone and pledged to keep fighting to wrest the three-mile wide strip from Yugoslavia and link it to Kosovo.

The zone between Kosovo and Yugoslavia's largest province of Serbia was set up in 1999 in a peace deal ending fighting between Albanian guerillas in Kosovo and Serb forces. The Yugoslav army is banned from the area, letting ethnic Albanian operate unhindered in the zone.

Hundreds of ethnic Albanian guerrillas gathered in this town to celebrate what they consider the first anniversary of a struggle to link the region to Kosovo, whose population is at least 90 percent ethnic Albanian.

''The people of this land do not want anything else apart from freedom and will not ever accept slavery,'' said rebel commander Shefket Muslim, speaking on an improvised stage. ''Let Belgrade and the entire world know that we are, have been and will be always in our land, where we belong.

''Let's hope that next anniversary will be celebrated in freedom.''

The Yugoslav army is deployed on the edge of the predominantly ethnic Albanian zone in an effort to contain the new ethnic Albanian rebel movement.

In the latest reported violence in the area, ethnic Albanian extremists opened fire on Yugoslav soldiers on patrol Friday, wounding one, Yugoslavia's Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic said.

Zivkovic said the soldier was wounded near the town of Bujanovac, just on the edge of the zone.

The tensions in the region figured in talks in Pristina Friday between Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, and international officials and local political leaders.

Solana said the European Union is very concerned with the situation in the Presevo Valley area, site of most of the skirmishing between ethnic Albanian guerillas and Serb forces.

Solana said that European Union has deployed teams of observers in the Presevo Valley and would like to increase their number.

Kosovo is run by the United Nations and NATO peacekeepers are deployed in the province as part of the arrangement that ended NATO's 78-day bombing campaign that drove Serb forces from Kosovo.

AP-NY-01-26-01 2023EST