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

Insecurity In Kosovo - The Fear Of Death

The escalating crime plaguing post-conflict Kosovo is forcing the people of Peja to abandon their streets before nightfall. Patience is wearing thin with the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and its failure to deliver security.
By Albert Ademi

Sanije Daci, 19, was found dead by the side of a road in Peja, a town in the west of Kosovo. She was shot dead during the night in yet another "case" where the only known fact is the identity of the victim.


The inhabitants in Peja are intimidated by daily killings, kidnappings and robberies perpetrated by unknown criminals. The town dies at 5pm. Shops pull down the shutters and people rush home and lock their doors before the "crazy dark hours" descend on the town.


"Peja dies by five o clock in the evening. We do not dare go out after dark," says Arlinda, a sales clerk in a small boutique. She is terrified that one day she might end up like her friend Sanije. "You can easily fall victim to the gangs that operate in the area", Arlinda says before adding, "life has become a real hell for us."


Young Albanian women appear to be particularly "attractive" to the mysterious gangs. Only the intervention of a KFOR patrol prevented two men from abducting a nine-year-old girl near the stadium in Peja. Attempted abductions of young girls are reported to KFOR and UNMIK daily.


"Some people tried to abduct me right in the center of the town, at three o'clock in the afternoon," said one victim, Besa, a 17 year-old from Pristina.


Few girls now venture out to the cafes in Pristina. "I prefer to stay at home, rather than risk being killed or forced to work as a prostitute," says Teuta.


"We have heard about girls being abducted and sent to Albania, Italy and other countries where they are sold as prostitutes. But, we have no evidence" says Jack Seamson, Chief Detective of the UNMIK police.


In fact Seamson complains that his police officers receive a great deal of disinformation. "We are informed about many cases, but when we go and ask, the families tell us that nothing has happened," says Seamson.


But it is not only women and young girls who are caught up in violent crime. Mete Krasniqi was shot in the head in his café in Peja, while his partner, Fikrete was found dead one week later in a small village a few kilometers outside the town.


In Pristina, two cigarette sellers were found dead only a few meters away from UNMIK headquarters. Several robberies by masked gunmen have been reported throughout the province.


Bajram Berisha from Klina, a small town close to Peja, was robbed at gunpoint and his car and money taken. Robbers stabbed Halit Skenderi, a taxi driver from Ferizaj, to death.


Tahir Demaj, the head of the Council for the Defense of the Human Rights and Freedoms (KMDLNJ) in Peja said many of the killings originate in personal quarrels. "I think that most killings are because of personal revenge, although people, no matter what they have done, can not be executed without first facing a regular court," he adds.


But some believe there is more to the level of crime than simply personal revenge. One former KLA fighter, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the perpetrators of these crimes often pose as KLA members. "We have had many such cases. We, the local police of KLA, have identified many criminals. We have arrested several people and handed them over to the local authorities".


He does not rule out that a 'higher authority' is orchestrating the spate of violent crime. "I think someone important is behind this situation, and all this is organised".


According to official reports from UNMIK, 9.5 per cent of the total crimes of the province are carried out in Peja. Citizens blame the UNMIK for the present security situation. "If they are not able to protect us, why are they here then?" says a fifty years old man from Peja.


UNMIK has always denied that they are at fault for the escalating crime in the province. "It is impossible that the police and KFOR defend every citizen. The police can not be everywhere to prevent crimes," said Uwe Shweifer, deputy head of the UNMIK police.


But Kosovo Albanian officials also blame UNMIK for failing to address the situation. "The work of the UNMIK police looks more like a movie script," complained Rexhep Selimi, Minister of Public Order in the Interim Government of Kosovo, in one Albanian daily newspaper.


Selimi argues that crime would be defeated through closer collaboration between UNMIK and his government. The "lack of definition of competencies", as he puts it, is fuelling the rise in criminality. In addition the inadequacies of the court system in Kosovo and the low number of actual prosecutions provides little deterrent for would-be offenders.


"We have arrested about 30 criminals and handed them over to the Italian troops of KFOR. They were freed within days," said the former KLA fighter, now serving with the Selimi ministry police. These police are not officially recognised by UNMIK.


"The killing and abduction of minors and women form part of a destabilising platform in Kosovo. UNMIK and its administration are not yet able to provide security to the citizens," read a declaration from the Hashim Thaci's interim government.


UNMIK has called on the citizens of Kosovo to collaborate with them in order to defeat criminality. "I call on the population to understand that we are their police and the only way to be successful is for them to collaborate", said Shweifer.


Nowadays few people enjoy "freedom" in Kosovo and many compare the present situation with conditions before the war. "Before we were afraid of the Serbs, now we fear Albanians. How can you call this freedom, when people don't even dare to go out?" declared Fatime, a very angry 60-year-old woman from Peja.


Six months into the KFOR intervention in Kosovo and people still live in fear, intimidated by anonymous criminals. "I pray to God I am not on their list," says Agron from Peja, currently a student in Pristina. When asked about his hometown, Argon replied in English, "there is the wild west of Kosovo".


Albert Ademi and Imer Mushkolaj are trainee journalists working with IWPR in Kosovo.