Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Kosovo Arms Amnesty Flounders
The UN's gun amnesty in Kosovo expires on Monday, June 4, leaving locals one last weekend to voluntarily hand in their weapons. From then on anyone found in possession of a firearm faces strict penalties.
Officials had hoped that the threat of 20,000 German mark fines and 10 year prison sentences would persuade people to comply with the deadline. Charley Johnson, UNMIK police spokesman, however, seems doubtful that the amnesty will have the desired effect.
"The campaign has not been successful - thousands and thousands of weapons have yet to be handed in. We'll try our best but we have no illusions. Serbia itself failed to disarm Kosovo's Albanians." To date, just under 1,000 firearms have been surrendered.
Even if more are given up, it'll be next to impossible to assess how successful the amnesty has been as no one knows how many weapons there are in Kosovo.
Guns from Albania began to flow into Kosovo in significant numbers in the late Nineties. Many of these remained after the 1999 conflict - and have been supplemented by continued smuggling over the next few years from other Balkan countries, including Serbia.
"We had a war here, and it's normal that many people have weapons, but we have done our best to collect as many of them as possible," said Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, secretary for public affairs, Fatmir Limaj.
The former Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, leader denies reports that its weapons have fallen into civilian hands, insisting that all had been handed over during the decommissioning of the force.
Since 1999, KFOR has seized arms caches along Kosovo's borders with southern Serbia, Albania and Macedonia, in some cases picking up hauls of guns and ordinance in three tonne loads. But figures for the actual amount confiscated have never been published. What is known is that there's plenty more where they came from.
The international community grew alarmed when conflict started to brew a year and a half ago in the Presevo valley. Their anxiety grew when fighting broke out in Macedonia. Evidently, Kosovo was the source for much if not all of the weapons used in these conflicts.
Sadder evidence of the wide proliferation of firearms in the province are the estimated 400 murders since the end of the war. Newly appointed UNMIK police chief, Albert Gross, says 246 killings were reported over the course of last year alone.
Charley Johnson says the figures are alarming and alludes to the high level of mafia-style crime in the province. "Weapons do not kill, it's the criminals who kill," he said.
Meanwhile, police and peacekeepers have published addresses of depots where weapons can be handed in. Despite this, locals prefer to leave their arms anonymously in places where they can easily be found by the internationals.
Worryingly, international officials are faced with growing evidence that Serbs are stockpiling weapons sent by Belgrade to protect their enclaves in northern Kosovo. None have been surrendered says UNMIK's Gerry Matthews who is adamant that the Serbs will be treated no differently to Albanians.
One senior UNMIK police official says that people's desire to hold onto their weapons is based on a false assessment of the dangers in the province.
"People are becoming victims of a paranoia that they may fall victims to criminals - that's why they want to carry a weapon," he said. "It's wrong to think that a firearm can protect you because, if you've got a gun, somebody else will get a cannon."
Ali Cenaj is an IWPR contributor
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