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

Kosovo Radicals Turn on UN and NATO

International forces fear they are now the target of Albanian extremists.
By Jeta Xharra

UN and KFOR forces in Kosovo are on heightened alert after receiving information that fresh attacks may follow the recent spate of shootings and killings in the region.


The internationals fear extremist groups among the Albanian majority are now specifically targeting them, after two UN police officers were killed and two KFOR soldiers were wounded this week.


Angela Joseph, the UN police spokesperson, said, “We are still in a very seriously dangerous position and we are taking all measures to ensure we are prepared for everything.”


The most recent attacks occurred on March 24, when a Serb male threw a hand grenade at KFOR troops in the northern sector of the divided town of Mitrovica, injuring two French soldiers. The man was arrested.


Later in the day, Kosovo Police Service, KPS, officers came under gunfire from a vehicle that rushed through their checkpoint. After an exchange of fire, they arrested an ethnic Albanian male.


However, the most serious blow came earlier with the double murder of two UN police officers, one from Kosovo and the second from Ghana.


Police reports said the two men were sitting in their car in the village of Sakovica near Podujevo, when another car pulled up alongside and the occupants opened fire with Kalashnikov automatic rifles.


The attack is thought to have been the work of Albanian nationalists living in the Podujevo area, a northern town near the Serbian border.


Podujevo was a Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, stronghold during the 1998 and 1999 conflict. Police shot and wounded one of the assailants as he was running away from the scene.


Neeraj Singh, a UN spokesperson, confirmed that the body of one male – possibly the killer - was later found in a village near where the shootings occurred. Four other people have been arrested in relation to the murders.


The latest attacks took place well after the ethnic rioting that saw 22 people killed and 600 wounded. About 150 international peacekeepers were injured during three days of violence, most of them caught in cross fire between Serbs and Albanians, rather than being targeted deliberately.


About 4,366 people have been displaced, of whom 300 are Albanian and the rest Serbs, Romas and Ashkalis.


As police and troops gear up for the possibility of fresh attacks, barbed wire and sandbags have been used to secure KPS, UN police and KFOR buildings in Podujevo.


A Czech soldier on duty in the town said, “We have been told we are in danger, that more attacks can take place. So we are taking precautions.”


As recently deployed British reinforcements patrol Pristina, several streets in the centre of the city around the UN headquarters and UN police central station have been sealed off for civilian vehicles.


Analysts fear the security forces can expect new attacks in revenge for UN police arrests of more than 200 people following the riots.


More than a week since these clashes, officials are still giving out little information concerning the names of those who died, the places where they died, or their ethnic background.


Both KFOR and UN police appear reluctant to reveal this information, fearing it might incite a fresh revolt among the extremists.


The danger of further attacks was confirmed by Bajram Rexhepi, the prime minister of Kosovo.


“We are appealing for calm but we fear more revolts will follow if the situation remains in this limbo and the status quo does not change,” Rexhepi told a press conference on March 25, referring to the current political impasse over the territory’s future.


While the precise identity of the extremists responsible for the recent violence remains unclear, the finger of suspicion points at a couple of far-right extremists, such as the National Movement for the Freedom of Kosovo, LKCK, whose rhetoric appears to be hardening towards the UN and KFOR.


Fatmir Humolli, the head of LKCK, openly predicts new revolts against the UN and KFOR, which he describes as an occupation force.


“It is obvious political means have failed, so we are ready to use other means,” Humolli was reported as saying in the March 26 edition of the main newspaper, Koha Ditore.


Extremist politicians like Humolli do not appear ready for any compromise. Their rhetoric demands that the international administration and KFOR troops pull out of Kosovo.


Whether a fresh revolt can count on popular support is debatable. However, not all the people of Kosovo are hostile to the international forces.


Earlier this week, Luljeta Vuniqi, 46, handed a bouquet of daffodils to a British soldier at a demonstration held in front of the National Theatre in Pristina to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the NATO bombing, which led to the Serbian withdrawal.


“I am here to show not all Albanians are ungrateful to NATO for liberating them,” she said. “Some people may have thrown stones at them last week but I give them flowers today.”


If the worst-case scenario does unfold, UN officials have drawn up an evacuation plan, which involves staff keeping money aside for immediate withdrawal to Thessaloniki in northern Greece and restricting their travel around the territory so that they can be pulled back to Pristina rapidly.


“I have already packed my most valuable things in case I need to leave fast,” one UN official said.


Jeta Xharra is an IWPR project manager in Pristina.