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

Kosovo Violence Escalates

Tit-for-tat attacks threaten fragile relations between Serbs and Albanians.
By Jeta Xharra

Escalating violence in Kosovo has led to a new war of words between Serbian and Albanian politicians and raised tension between their respective communities.


At least three vehicles were stoned and their Albanian occupants beaten up while passing through the Serb enclave of Gracanica on August 17, in what United Nations police believe was retaliation for the murders of two young Serbs last week.


The two victims, Pantelija Dakic, 11, and Ivan Jovovic, 20, were killed on August 13 when an unknown gunman opened fire on a group of teenagers swimming in the Bistrica river, which lies between the Albanian village of Zahac and the Serb enclave of Gorazdevac.


Four other youngsters were wounded in the shooting.


Nine-year-old Nemanja Dakic was in the river when the attack occurred. “I heard a machine gun and when I turned round, my brother’s head was covered in blood,” he told IWPR a day after the incident.


Two days earlier, Dragan Tonic, a 45-year-old Serb, was shot while fishing near the village of Skulanovo in central Kosovo. He died on August 18.


No arrests have been made following either shooting incident.


Violence also escalated in the divided town of Mitrovica in northern Kosovo, with four explosions in as many days. In the latest incident, a bomb went off late on August 16 outside a building inhabited by ethnic Albanians in the Serb-dominated northern part of the city.


The attacks in Mitrovica took place despite increased security measures by the UN police and NATO-led peacekeepers.


Angela Joseph, spokeswoman for the police force run by the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK, told IWPR on August 18 that they thought the Gracanica attacks and the Mitrovica explosions were in revenge for the murders in Gorazdevac.


“I believe these incidents to be an act of retaliation [by] members of the Serb community… due to the tragic death of two Serb youths in Gorazdevac,” said Joseph. The violence fuelled a new war of words between Albanian and Serb politicians, each accusing the other side of deliberately stirring up trouble.


The UN Security Council held a special meeting on August 18 to discuss the escalation, and Serbian deputy prime minister Nebojsa Covic took the opportunity to blame Albanian extremists for what he said was a campaign to “drive all Serbs out of Kosovo and Metohjia, and discourage any refugees and internally displaced persons from returning, and in that way to bring the ethnic cleansing of the province to completion”.


In Kosovo, Nebojsa Vukumirovic, a former member of the Bridge Watchers, Serb paramilitaries in Mitrovica, claimed that it was Albanians, not Serbs, who were responsible for the recent explosions in the divided town.


“The recent series of bombs planted in the Albanian-inhabited part of north Mitrovica were set off by Albanians themselves, who want to draw attention away from the murder of Serbs in Gorazdevac,” he told IWPR.


Meanwhile, leading Albanian politician Ramush Haradinaj, head of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, claimed that Serb forces were responsible for the Gorazdevac killings – even though it was young Serbs who died.


“It can’t be pure coincidence that this murder happened on the day the new SRSG [UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Kosovo], Harri Holkeri, arrived in Kosovo,” Haradinaj told IWPR. He drew a parallel with the murders of three Serbs in Obilic less than two months ago, which happened when EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana was visiting Kosovo.


UNMIK has voiced concern over the escalation of violence. Spokeswoman Izabella Karlowicz said, “An incredibly tragic incident happened in Gorazdevac but it really is up to local communities not to let themselves be drawn into this atmosphere of retaliation.”


“The recent violent acts are terribly worrying for UNMIK. They are not going to contribute to the recent success stories of Serb returnees, who returned to Kosovo precisely because they received a public letter from Albanian leaders encouraging them to return,” she added.


The international community has been encouraging refugees – Serbs, Albanians and others - to go back to their homes. At the beginning of July, all the main Albanian leaders in Kosovo issued a statement saying it was time for the Serbs to do so.


Local people say the latest violence has reduced the already low level of trust that now exists between local Serbs and Albanians. Antoneta Kastrati, 22, who lives in the Albanian village of Zahac near where the young Serbs were killed, says the shooting has damaged relations at community level as well as between high-level politicians.


“We used to have a ‘live and let live’ sort of relationship with the neighbouring village, Gorazdevac. We didn’t love each other but we didn’t attack each other either. Now, because the murderers made their escape in the direction of our village, our houses have been searched and the atmosphere is far more tense,” she told IWPR.


A 35-year old Albanian taxi driver sitting outside a café in Peja, who preferred not to be named, said, “I used to drive through Gorazdevac to take customers to four or five Albanian villages on the other side of the town, but after this incident I wouldn't do it - it isn't safe.”


Jeta Xharra is IWPR Kosovo project manager, Tatjana Matic is IWPR Kosovo project coordinator.


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