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Armed Group Roams Western Kosovo
The United Nations police force has increased security in western Kosovo following the emergence of a shadowy group calling for the territory’s independence.
The announcement at a press conference on October 19 came after a week of denials from the UN force, known as UNMIK Police, that an armed and organised group dressed in black uniforms was roaming the area.
Residents have been stopped at night near Lugu i Beranit and on the road between Peja and Decani by members of an organisation calling themselves the Army for the Independence of Kosovo.
A 35 year old from Lugu i Behranit said he encountered an armed group of uniformed and masked people near the village of Rashiq. They told him that they were members of the new group and were looking for the “traitors of the people”.
“They were very correct to me, looked serious and prepared,” said the man.
The militant organisation first emerged several weeks ago, warning UNMIK officials to be wary crossing the region of Peja and Decani at night and insisting members of the Kosovo parliament would receive “capital punishment” if they failed to declare independence by October 15.
That date passed without incident, though the Kosovo Police Service and KFOR troops - who along with UNMIK Police are responsible for security in the territory - have been more visible than usual. Almost every car passing through the area has been stopped and thoroughly searched in an effort to find those connected to the group.
IWPR managed to contact a person who claims to be a member. He said the militants are a guerrilla movement, active throughout Kosovo not just in the western region. The group is organised so individual members have no idea who else is involved, he said, adding they are not fighting KFOR but those who work against the interest of Albanians.
The 90 per cent of Kosovo’s population who are Albanian want independence, though it remains legally part of Serbia.
Kai Eide, the UN envoy on Kosovo, presented a report earlier this month on whether Kosovo Albanians have done enough to guarantee the rights of the Serb minority. The report recommends the status talks to begin next month, but said that the lack of Serb representation due to Serb boycott had created a ‘grim’ inter-ethnic situation.
A similar group of militants emerged in April last year callings itself the Albanian National Army. It appeared in Drenica during a ceremony marking the fifth anniversary of the deaths of two KLA fighters. It called for a "fight for the freedom of Albanian lands that are not controlled by KFOR and for Albanian interests wherever they are", but subsequently disappeared.
Peja residents appear unconcerned about the possibility of a new armed group in their midst. Some even support its goals, saying radical action is needed to ensure independence is the outcome of the negotiations on Kosovo’s status.
UNMIK Police insists, however, that the latest group of militants to emerge is composed of a band of criminals who lack broad support.
“They only represent a small group of people who don’t support the democratic way,” said Kai Vitrupp, the commissioner of UNMIK Police.
KFOR commander Giuseppe Valotto urged calm and said the recent incidents would have no affect on the final status talks.
“I believe that 95 per cent of the people here are for peace and peace and quiet,” said Valotto. “KFOR knows its duties and we will react to all threats. If there are armed groups we will fight them. Anyone who uses such [methods] is a criminal.”
Some, like Nebojsa Covic, the former head of the Serbian government’s Centre for Coordination of Kosovo, aren’t convinced the group and those like it pose no real threat and say they should be taken seriously.
“This not only put greater pressure on KFOR and UNMIK, who are frightened to begin with, but also on the Serbian and non-Albanian population,” said Covic on B92 Television.
The emergence of the new group of militants over the past few weeks has coincided with a number of violent incidents in Kosovo.
Dejan Jankovic, the KPS commander for Gjilan, was wounded in an ambush as he drove through Old Kacanik near the town of Urosevac/Ferizaj. The public broadcaster RTK said a phantom Serb organisation from Strpce called The Voluntary Serb Guard – Tigers had claimed responsibility.
This happened a few days after two young Serbs - Ivan Dejanovic, 24, and Aleksandar Stankovic, 28 - were shot dead on the road from Strpce to Urosevac/Ferizaj. After that incident, some local representatives threatened to form their own defence force if they didn’t receive better protection.
Ibrahim Kelmendi is a correspondent for the Koha Ditore newspaper in Peja. Zana Limani is IWPR/BIRN Kosovo Project Coordinator.
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