Kosovo: Rugova Blast a Warning?

Apparent attack on president might have been linked to possible government changes.

Kosovo: Rugova Blast a Warning?

Apparent attack on president might have been linked to possible government changes.

A bomb blast apparently targeting President Ibrahim Rugova on March 15 may have been intended to influence the composition of the government following prime minister Ramush Haradinaj’s surrender to the Hague tribunal last week, many Kosovars believe.

The explosion injured at least one bystander and damaged two vehicles in Rugova’s motorcade as he was travelling through Pristina to meet with European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

The blast appeared to have been detonated remotely at approximately 8.20 in the morning local time. The rear window of Rugova’s vehicle was shattered as were nearby shop windows and a garbage bin that apparently contained the bomb.

The blast followed two explosions in front of the UN Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK, headquarters and a bomb threat to Kosovo’s public television broadcaster last week.

Nexhmedin Spahiu, political advisor to Haradinaj, described the March 15 blast as an attempt to destabilise the work of the narrow coalition government that Kosovo’s top administrator, Soren Jessen-Petersen, has described as moving the protectorate “closer than ever before to achieving its aspirations in settling its future status”.

Political analysts believe that the acting government is particularly vulnerable without Haradinaj’s leadership.

The former premier arrived in The Hague last week to face charges that he took part in a brutal campaign to abduct, torture and murder dozens of people including Albanians and Roma as well as Serbs in 1998.

Haradinaj, who resigned from his post on March 8 and handed himself over to the United Nations tribunal the following day, faces a total of 37 counts of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war.

Reacting to this week’s explosion, Labinot Salihu of the opposition party Ora said, “The timing of [the] bomb was especially bad considering Kosovo is in the middle of the process of fulfilling standards” – a reference to a set of eight democratic conditions that must be achieved by the interim government before the international community will agree to final status talks.

Jessen-Petersen said in a press conference, “The next hundred days will decide whether enough progress has been made for a positive review [of the standards process] this summer, so that status talks can be launched in early autumn. There is no time to lose.”

Alex Anderson, Kosovo project manager for the Brussels-based think tank the International Crisis Group, told IWPR that he does not fear an upsurge of violence while the government reorganises, but admits that the recent trouble should not be taken lightly.

Fears of widespread violence after Haradinaj’s extradition to The Hague last week saw an additional 500 British peacekeepers sent to Kosovo – boosting the number of KFOR troops to about 19,000.

Speaking a press conference this week, the EU’s Solana said, “KFOR and the security people are very well-prepared…so I think that it is important that everybody takes note of that.”

During his visit to Pristina, Solana called on Rugova to try to bring about a more inclusive government – and the word on the street is that this week’s blast was meant to serve as a warning to the president to either accede to Solana’s request or refuse to do so.

“Because no one has claimed responsibility for the attack, it is…problematic,” said local analyst Dukagjin Gorani. “What people are saying is [the motive is] either to broaden the coalition or to keep the coalition the way it is.”

Early next week, Rugova’s Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, must decide whether to maintain its ruling coalition partnership with the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo party, AAK - which Haradinaj founded in 2000 - and the marginal Albanian Christian Democratic Party, PSDK.

AAK has nominated Bajram Kosumi as prime minister, but Kosovo’s second largest party - the Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK - wants to see its leader Hashim Thaci, another former guerrilla commander, appointed to the post.

If Kosovo expects the international community to give the standards process a positive evaluation, any new government will have to move quickly to assure that progress made under Haradinaj’s leadership does not stall.

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