Kosovo Gun Amnesty Setback

Highly-publicised campaign fails to persuade Albanians and Serbs to hand over their firearms.

Kosovo Gun Amnesty Setback

Highly-publicised campaign fails to persuade Albanians and Serbs to hand over their firearms.

Tuesday, 6 September, 2005

After a family row, 15-year-old Ermira Demaj, daughter of a Kosovo supreme court judge from Pristina, took her father's unlicensed pistol from an unlocked drawer and shot herself in the head.

She died on October 13 after spending several days in a coma. Her father said he kept the firearm for personal protection, as local judges often face threats.

The tragedy came just days after a failed arms amnesty designed to clear Kosovo of an estimated 400,000 illegally-held weapons - and questions are now being raised as to why the high-profile campaign was unable to deliver.

The month-long project, which ended on October 1, resulted in only 155 guns being handed in to the authorities despite a three-month public awareness campaign launched by the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP.

Marie-France Desjardins, programme manager for the UNDP's Illicit Small Arms Control Project, ISAC, described the campaign's results as disappointing.

"We still don't know why we were unable to make a dent on the numbers of illegal weapons still in circulation. We have to think hard about it and discover where we went wrong," she said last week.

A combination of continuing uncertainty over the final status of Kosovo, distrust of the security forces, suspicion of corruption among local officials and growing culture of violence appears to have led to the failure of the amnesty.

Ethnic Albanians are concerned about continuing delays over negotiations on Kosovo's final status, which, they hope, will provide them with full independence from Serbia.

Halim Gecaj, a tour-guide at the Adem Jashari memorial complex in Prekaz, Drenica, once the heartland of Kosovar resistance against the Serbs, told IWPR, "Nobody knows if another war is going to happen or not.

"If they don't give us independence, that might mean that the Serbian forces will be allowed to come back - and most people here don't want to be caught empty-handed when that happens."

Distrust of local law enforcers and NATO troops is thought to have been a factor in the failure of the amnesty.

Gani Xhemajli, a Prekaz farmer, said, "Even if I had weapons, I wouldn't hand them in, because I don't believe that the police or KFOR can keep me safe at any time."

The distrust stems from a widespread view that few murders or other serious crimes ever get solved.

"You need a weapon to protect yourself," Xhemajli said, "as all we hear from the police when there's a murder is that an investigation is ongoing - and in most cases nothing happens."

Some believe that the police are more concerned about their own safety than protecting ordinary citizens.

"The police are armed with pistols while the criminals - even the petty thieves - have AK-47s. So if a citizen is attacked, the cops are far more likely to worry about their own safety rather than carrying out a rescue," said Artan Rexha, a student from Prekaz.

A recent UNDP study noted that while a number of weapons are smuggled from Serbia and Albania, the majority of illegally-held firearms have been in civilian hands since the war.

The Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, which carried out a study in the protectorate in July of this year, has estimated that around 65 per cent of households in Kosovo own a gun.

Alex Anderson, the director of the International Crisis Group in Kosovo, told IWPR that he was not surprised that such a low number of weapons was handed over, as Kosovars are uncertain whether they will have to fight for independence.

"Albanians are appreciative of what's been done since 1999, but they are not so trusting of the international community's intentions [over Kosovo's final status]," he said.

Local reluctance to comply with the amnesty came despite the offer of substantial financial incentives. The UNDP had promised to divide 675,000 US dollars between the three municipalities that collected the highest number of weapons.

The cash, which was donated by the Japanese government, was intended to finance local school projects, health services and general repair work.

But the incentive scheme appears to have been ill-conceived because the public regards local councils with suspicion, "The municipality administration is viewed as corrupt. Many people believe that they would not benefit by handing over weapons, as any money won by the authorities will simply disappear," student Faruk Binaku told IWPR.

Another factor that may have contributed to the failure of the amnesty is the region's culture of violence. "Kosovar Albanian society is witnessing a rise in violence in the home, in schools and in sport, there's a fascination with militarism and army folklore is starting to dominate local culture," said Blerim Latifi, a sociologist with the Gani Bobi centre for humanistic studies, in Pristina.

The protectorate's Serb minority was no more willing to part with its weapons.

They were armed by the Serbian ministry of internal affairs throughout the Nineties and received more weaponry from the Yugoslav army when it withdrew from the region in June 1999.

One Serb from the enclave of Gracanica, who did not want to give his name, told IWPR that he and his neighbours had no intention of giving up their firearms. "We believe that none of the security forces operating in Kosovo at the moment are able to fully protect the Serbs, so we have to look out for ourselves," he said.

Artan Mustafa is a freelance journalist in Kosovo and Jeta Xharra is IWPR's project manager in Pristina.

Albania, Serbia, Kosovo
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