Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

'Controlled' Chaos In Kosovo

On December 13 the UN witnessed a pact setting up an Interim Administration with space for both Hashim Thaci and Ibrahim Rugova around its table. But can more Albanian involvement in the executive halt the escalating violence plaguing the province?
By Gordana Igric

An United Nations policeman, an American, furiously kicked a car, one in a line of vehicles jamming a crossroads in central Pristina. One more helpless attempt to impose some semblance of order on the traffic chaos endemic to Pristina, a town without street lights, police, judges or any law and order, beyond that brought by the self-control of citizens suffering from post-war stress.


Six months have passed since the anti-Albanian apartheid system imposed by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic on the people of Kosovo was overthrown. It has taken as many months for some 50,000 KFOR soldiers and about 1,800 UN policemen, under the jurisdiction of the UN high representative, Bernard Kouchner, to enter this formerly Serbian province.


The UNMIK policeman launched one more blow at the car, this time punching the bonnet with his fist. A young Albanian angrily jumped out of the car. His body trembling, he told the policeman in perfect English, "Do it one more time, and I'll kill you."


"What am I doing in this crazy place?" the American shouted back.


"I am asking you the same thing", came the Albanian's response.


Finally a bus conductor jumped from his bus, tangled up in the midst of the traffic jam, and took up position in the middle of the junction and began to "make order".


Journalists in Kosovo are filling up column inches with reports that the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) chief Bernard Kouchner has decided to recruit 400 new judges and prosecutors in an effort to combat escalating crime rates.


On December 13 three Albanian political leaders signed an agreement with the UNMIK to share provisional management of the province. The three signatories Hashim Thaci, leader of the Peoples Democratic Party of Kosovo (PPDK), Ibrahim Rugova, leader of theDemocratic League of Kosovo (LDK), and Rexhep Qosja, leader of the United Democratic Movement (LDB) were appointed to the newly established Joint Interim Administrative Structures.


The province's Serb leadership rejected the agreement. Serbs called it another step toward an independent, Albanian-run Kosovo.


Vengeful and systematic violence is against Serbs is very obvious and well documented. Those Serbs remaining in the province use KFOR troops as bodyguards when they venture to the shops or out for a walk in the fresh air.


However, very little is said about the experience of Albanians in the post-war legal violence, of the increase in Albanian on Albanian violence.


"Not even during Milosevic's time did I have to escort my child to school," A.M. says bitterly, "but now I have to."


A.M is not nostalgic for the Milosevic era but he is saying that it is very unsafe, still, to be an Albanian in Kosovo. The schoolyards are full of parents, afraid of child kidnapping, waiting to collect their children.


No one goes out on the streets after dark. Property security is non-existent. Muharem S. said an acquaintance had gone to Skopje for two days and upon his return found the house ransacked. He tried to report the robbery to the UNMIK, where he was subjected to hours of questioning before finally giving up the whole issue.


Gangs of robbers sporting black masks have appeared in the villages of Drenica, the Pec area and Malisevo.


Albanian Kosovars have organised night guards in a village near Pristina. In the apartment blocks, tenants have organised their own self-defence system to counter robbers they believe come from Albania.


Kosovo Albanians are blaming Albanians from Albania and the infamous Albanian mafia for all the crime related problems. Other offences are placed at the door of Milosevic's secret service, members of which are thought to be still operating in Kosovo. But mostly blame is directed at representatives from the international community. The view of A.M - "someone from the outside benefits from this chaos in Kosovo" - is not an isolated one.


It is in this chaotic atmosphere that armed groups of "fighters for justice" are appearing on the political scene.


A group from the Llap region, the self-styled "National Eagles", made itself known to the public last week. The group said they arrest, try and liquidate criminals. One suspect captured by the "National Eagles" admitted (and who wouldn't) to 42 criminal acts, including kidnapping, and was duly executed.


It is not known who is behind the Eagles.


The Pristina daily newspaper, Koha Ditore, received a fax recently from a self-styled "National Intelligence Agency". Again it is not at all clear who is behind this organisation.


Another group, calling itself the "New KLA", has appeared in rural Kosovo. The backers of this organisation are also a mystery.


MMK, the Albanian acronym for Kosovo's Big Mafia is inscribed on the walls of some buildings in rural Kosovo. It is assumed that this is a counterpart of the newly formed Kosovo Protection Corps (TMK).


With the approval of the international community, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA or UCK) has been practically transformed into the TMK, an unarmed organisation still in its nascent stages. The international community envisages a multi-ethnic TMK, which should incorporate members not linked to the KLA, to act as a crack intervention unit in trouble spots.


But this is definitely not what the KLA members or their former leader, Hashim Thaci, has in mind. These men believe they deserve more having "shed blood for freedom in the woods."


Over 10,000 people have applied to join the TMK so far and a total of 5,000 recruits are planned for, including a reserve numbering 2,000. Some of the applicants are already carrying TMK insignia and documents, even though the selection process is still underway. These new TMK officers are imposing their own law and order - with arms. They are stopping traffic, checking documents. They are encountering opposition from KFOR.


Only a superficial observer cannot see a system in the existing madness.


Kosovo is politically torn between supporters of Hashim Thaci and Ibrahim Rugova, the moderate intellectual and unofficial, long-standing president of Kosovo.


The supporters of Hashim Thaci seek reward for "having fought, while others (Albanians) sat in the coffee shops". They believe that the current chaos is a direct result of the international community's inability to impose order and that the allocation of greater power to Thaci would end the crime wave.


A source close to Thaci, who sees the TMK as the future armed forces of the independent


Kosovo, said "Our (men) have discovered five gangs that kidnapped children, Albanians, and even the members of the KLA in Kosovo. In all cases, the leaders of those groups were Albanians from Albania.


"They were caught, and handed over to KFOR. They were held there for 48 hours, and then released. Now, our men, who caught them, are receiving threats. Also, we gave a list with (the names of) 40 criminals to KFOR. They have not done anything until now. We also tracked down the robbers with masks. And KFOR began to detain our men for overstepping their powers. Kouchner wants to disarm us, while not prosecuting the criminals."


Rugova's supporters, however, argue that all the existing vigilante groups and even several criminal gangs are actually under the control of Hashim Thaci. The argument goes that Thaci is deliberately creating the feeling of insecurity in Kosovo in order to force the international community to hand over executive authority to him.


"It is no secret that Thaci has his own police, is taking people into custody for interrogation, is introducing a reign of terror," said a Kosovo intellectual who is currently preparing to leave "such a Kosovo."


Hashim Thaci himself dismisses such accusations, claiming he is unable to control the various armed groups. In a recent statement to the Voice of America Thaci said that both KFOR and UNMIK know who is behind the kidnappings and murders, "just as we know as well." But, that nothing is being done about it.


The deteriorating security situation within Kosovo provides an explanation for Kouchner's decision to establish the Interim Administration incorporating Thaci and Rugova. Kouchner's repeated requests for at least 6,000 police officers have been turned down on financial grounds.


He has described the decision to allocate only 1,800 officers as "ridiculous and a scandal".


Furthermore by bringing in Thaci, Kouchner has succeeded in forcing Thaci to relinquish his 'provisional government'. An unofficial source told IWPR that Thaci was reluctant to sign the December 13 agreement for this reason but that he had no choice.


But, it is already clear that the balance of forces between the two Albanian political blocks will depend on how much chaos, orchestrated or otherwise, descends on post-war Kosovo.


Gordana Igric is Associate Editor at the Institute of War and Peace Reporting and recently visited Kosovo, December 11-14, 1999.


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