Kosovo: UN Facing Backlash

Anti-UN feeling is on the rise after the arrest of former Albanian rebel leaders.

Kosovo: UN Facing Backlash

Anti-UN feeling is on the rise after the arrest of former Albanian rebel leaders.

Relations between Kosovars and international peacekeepers have reached an all time low following the arrest of high profile members of the former Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA.

The arrests have both heightened fears over the international community's final status plans for Kosovo and led to the first clear signs of a political campaign against the United Nations Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK.

Former KLA commander Ramush Haradinaj, a parliamentary deputy and president of Alliance for the Future of Kosovo - a coalition partner in the Kosovo government - was indicted last week for his alleged involvement in a shootout with a rival Kosovo Albanian family in Decan, western Kosovo, in August 2000.

His brother Daut Haradinaj and Rrustem Mustafa-Remi - both former key leaders of the Kosovo Protection Corps, KPC - were arrested in June and August this year respectively, on suspicion of the torture, murder and illegal detention of some Albanian captives during the 1999 conflict.

A series of protests calling for the release of the ex-KLA members culminated in clashes between demonstrators and UNMIK police and KFOR soldiers last Thursday, when the former attempted to remove a roadblock from Decan's main thoroughfare.

Fifty-two civilians, 11 police officers and three soldiers were injured. The deteriorating situation has prompted KFOR to take additional security measures to protect its personnel on the ground.

The protests have been condemned by the European Union, the United States and Germany among others.

When NATO-led forces came to Kosovo in June 1999 following the withdrawal of Serbian forces, the Albanian majority greeted them as liberators, certain their arrival placed them on the road to independence.

Though still formally part of Yugoslavia, Kosovo became a UN protectorate under Resolution 1244 and its final status has been a subject of intense speculation and controversy.

The violence in Decan alone would not in itself be remarkable were it not for the political background to this new conflict.

The Kosovo government, headed by Bajram Rexhepi - another former guerrilla and member of Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK - issued a statement on Monday, describing the former KLA detainees as "political prisoners".

"Whoever thinks that these arrests will discipline the personalities that led the war for Kosovo's freedom and that are today engaged body and soul for the independence and democratisation of Kosovo are deceived," he said.

Ministers from Kosovo president Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, declined to back the government's position. Rugova's party is trying to avoid confrontation with the international community.

PDK president Hashim Thaci asked his people not to confront the peacekeepers, warning them "to remember the help of NATO in liberating Kosovo".

Rexhepi and assembly president Nexhat Daci have since called for an immediate halt to the protests.

A political campaign, accusing the international administration of trying to re-establish Belgrade's control over Kosovo, is now underway. The concern of those involved in the campaign is that the next step could be the return of the Yugoslav Army, VJ, and Serbian police to Kosovo.

Newspapers close to former KLA circles, such as Epoka e Re and 24 Ore, claim UNMIK is exercising a similar dictatorship to that operated by former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic between 1989 and 1999.

Their view is that the international community is comparing the KLA's struggle for liberation to the crimes committed by Serbian forces, in an attempt to devaluate Kosovo's desire for independence.

Even the pro-LDK newspaper Bota Sot has voiced anger over the arrests of Remi and Ramush Haradinaj, despite Rugova's request that the matter be resolved in court.

UNMIK assurances that it is prosecuting individuals - not targeting KPC or former KLA personnel - have little chance of convincing a public overwhelmed by propaganda.

Kosovar Albanian concerns over the protectorate's final status heightened in December last year, with the signing of the Common Document between UNMIK and the Serbian government. This agreement established cooperation between the two and gave Belgrade leverage to influence the mission's policies in Kosovo.

UNMIK's failure to exert control over the Serb enclave of northern Mitrovica in the north of the protectorate has also contributed to the growing anxiety.

The failure of UN police last week to arrest Milan Ivanovic, one of the leaders of the hard line Serbian group known as the Bridge Watchers, triggered accusations that UNMIK is unwilling to act against Belgrade influence in the north.

European Union support for the reformed Serbia-Montenegro state also raised concerns over its plans for Kosovo: the EU's flat rejection of Montenegro's bid for independence in March added to fears that the protectorate may also be forced to join the new union.

KPC commander General Agim Ceku has summed up the anxiety felt by Kosovars over their future and relations with UNMIK and KFOR. After accusing the latter of deliberately attacking his organisation to undermine Albanian independence aspirations, he said, "Kosovars and the international community should check once again whether they share the same objectives, or whether these separate at some point."

Kosovars feel their fears could at least be assuaged by more precise guidelines over the region's future. If something is not delivered soon, the protectorate's peacekeeping mission could plunge further into crisis.

Arben Qirezi is regular IWPR contributor.

Serbia, Kosovo
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