Comment: Albanian Feuding In Kosovo Must End

The mounting tension in Mitrovica highlights the need for local Albanian leaders to put aside their differences and focus on building a new society in post-war Kosovo.

Comment: Albanian Feuding In Kosovo Must End

The mounting tension in Mitrovica highlights the need for local Albanian leaders to put aside their differences and focus on building a new society in post-war Kosovo.

Tuesday, 22 February, 2000

NATO and the United States have accused Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic of fueling violence in the ethnically divided Kosovo town, which has left 11 people dead in recent weeks.

The local Albanian press has printed unsubstantiated reports of buses, carrying Serb paramilitaries and former police officers, arriving in the Serb dominated northern part of the town.

NATO's supreme commander Wesley Clark confirmed on Monday (February 21) that he knew of the existence of an armed Serb organization operating in Mitrovica. But he refused to elaborate pending further investigation. The alliance has also voiced concern about the increase in Serbian military forces along the eastern Kosovo border, near areas with predominantly Albanian populations.

Elsewhere, the simmering confrontation between neighbouring Montenegro and Belgrade threatens to flare into conflict. To the south, relations between Macedonians and that country’s ethnic Albanian population remain difficult. And instability within Albania itself could yet influence developments.

But how are Albanian political leaders responding to this escalation in tension and violence?

One could clearly argue that their infernal bickering is hampering the resolution of many problems, distracting them from addressing matters of vital importance to the province’s future. In the case of Mitrovica, a unified strategy could be a great help to the international community and to the local population.

Tens of thousands of people have marched through the streets of Mitrovica – estimates in the local press ranged from 50,000 to 400,000 – illustrating that Albanian residents are united in their desire to live in peace. The demonstrators made clear their message that no Serb enclaves or a division of Kosovo would be tolerated.

International institutions, governments and politicians have reiterated time and again that there is no basis to this Albanian fear that the province will be divided.

Albanian political parties were, of course, instrumental in organising the demonstrations, but it would be better still if the province’s political leaders could meet and decide on a coherent policy for the province’s future. By presenting a united front to the international community, their impact on determining future policy would be that much greater.

At present, the leaders of the three main political groupings do participate in the Interim Administrative Council (IAC) created by the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). But their role tends to be limited to advising UNMIK chief, Bernard Kouchner, rather than deciding and implementing policy. The other, smaller political parties are paid little attention at all.

Had Albanian political leaders been more united they could have applied greater pressure to ensure that towns like Mitrovica did not become divided along ethnic lines. Before the NATO bombing campaign, northern Mitrovica was in fact predominantly Albanian. But since the arrival of KFOR troops in Kosovo, Serbs fleeing their homes around Kosovo have flocked there for shelter. Serbs can easily cross into Serbia proper from the town.

Additionally, why did Albanian leaders not object to KFOR troops of particular nationalities occupying certain areas – particularly the French in Mitrovica? Given the tension caused by ethnic hatred, a mixture of troops would have better suited the situation. Had they presented a common front on this issue, perhaps these same leaders would not now be accusing KFOR and UNMIK police of negligence in protecting their compatriots in the Serb part of the town.

It is now too late for Albanian leaders to denounce the "Berlin Wall"-like barrier across the Iber Bridge separating Mitrovica Serbs from Albanians. KFOR and UNMIK now face the task of smashing down that wall and that will take years.

Officials from the international community in Kosovo complain that Albanian leaders are partly to blame for the escalation of tension between Albanians and Serbs, saying they haven’t really tried to persuade people to accept a multi-ethnic society.

Murders are a weekly occurrence and whatever the real circumstances involved in each death, the killings are always blamed on ethnic hatred.

Kosovo's Albanian leaders need to present clear ideas about the future of multi-ethnic coexistence in Kosovo, about how Albanians should live together with the many Serbs innocent of any wrongdoing.

A united Albanian leadership would prove more potent in securing the release of the 1,600 Albanians currently held in Serbian prisons. Their calls for the international community to acknowledge that the Kumanova agreement securing the withdrawal of Serb forces from Kosovo failed to address the plight of these prisoners would be less likely to fall on deaf ears.

Albanian leaders should have insisted that Serb institutions linked to Belgrade in northern Mitrovica were closed down. They should be taking concrete steps to persuade the Serb minority to enter Kosovo’s joint administration - reassuring them that the IAC means to satisfy their security needs and fulfill commitments on the return of Serbs who have left Kosovo.

Were the Albanian leaders united, it would have been easier to push for national elections, rather than only local elections. These coming local elections will create local authorities. But how are they going to function? With a shared leadership, one Albanian and one foreigner, like the joint administration? Such an arrangement represents little or no change from the present situation.

Addressing such issues is difficult and achieving results even harder. Progress might take years, if not decades. There is no doubt the crimes perpetrated by one community on another will never be forgotten. But until Albanian politicians achieve some form of consensus at least among themselves, progress will be very slow indeed.

Llazar Semini is IWPR's Kosovo Project Manager in Pristina.

Albania, Serbia, Kosovo
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