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

LDK Takes a Stand on Kosovo Violence

Political tensions in Kosovo soar following killing of leading guerrilla leader.
By Arben Qirezi

The Kosovo assembly held an emergency session this week to address the worsening security situation in the wake of the killing of a leading ally of President Rugova earlier this month.


The January 23 came as political tensions reached a height, with Rugova's party, the Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, declaring that it had had enough of a long-standing campaign of violence against its members and representatives.


In the past, the killing and intimidation of LDK activists and politicians has drawn a muted response from the party's leadership because it has been very wary of provoking an escalation in tensions that might lead to political turmoil.


But analysts believe that the January 4 murder of Tahir Zemaj, a close associate of Rugova, prompted the party and their allies to jettison their policy of restraint.


During Zemaj's funeral, Shpen Shala, one of his former colleagues from the disbanded Armed Forces of the Republic of Kosovo, FARK, which was aligned to the LDK, accused "communists in Dukagjin and Drenica" of murdering the guerrilla commander.


Dukjagjin is a stronghold of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, AAK, and Drenica is in the grip of the Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK - both formed by key former Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, leaders.


As tensions rose sharply over the past week, the United Nations Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK, chief Michael Steiner called on Rugova and his allies on January 11 to refrain from speculating over who was responsible for Zemaj's death, until the investigation into the murder is completed.


Rugova chose to ignore the appeal, declaring, more forcefully than ever before, that the intimidation and murder of LDK members in recent years had clearly been politically motivated, but declined to pin the blame on any particular party.


The former secretary-general of the LDK, Nekibe Kelmendi, who received a number of threats and was under 24-hour protection by UNMIK police, while in office, subsequently made a similar claim.


Jean-Christian Cady, head of police and justice in UNMIK administration, told the emergency session of the assembly that he viewed the murders as politically motivated and that they led to a serious deterioration in the protectorate.


A number of LDK members have been killed over the last three years, and their assailants have never been brought to justice. Some of the more prominent assassinated officials are listed below.


Uke Bytyqi, head of the Suhareka (Suva Reka) local council, was killed one day after local elections in 2002. Following the previous year's parliamentary poll, Smajl Hajdaraj, another senior official was murdered in the apartment. Shortly after the 2000 ballot, campaign chief Xhemail Mustafa was assassinated in the doorway of his apartment. A few months later, Klina branch chief Ismet Rraci was felled on his way to work.


As political tensions rose last week, Naim Jerliu, party vice-president, found an intimidating letter in his assembly mailbox. He has since turned down the offer of round-the-clock police protection.


And significantly, the LDK's political rivals are also receiving threatening mail, for the first time. Xhavit Haliti, a senior member of the Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, led by Hashim Thaci, told the media last week that he had been sent a death threat, which directly accused him of involvement in Zemaj's murder.


Haliti told IWPR that he believes it was a direct result of a recent campaign against him by the pro-LDK Bota Sot. Two days after the Zemaj murder, the title published an article that implied Haliti's involvement in plotting the FARK commander's fatal ambush and other assassinations of Rugova's followers.


The author of the death threat, Haliti told IWPR, was "probably an honest and innocent patriot influenced by Bota Sot's campaign who, in the absence of any results from the investigation [into Zemaj's murder], decided to take the law into his own hands".


Haliti said that while he will not rule out the possibility of a political motive behind previous murders and threats, he dismissed the idea that they had been orchestrated by any of the official parties.


"It could be the work of an illegal group of frustrated extremists who are dissatisfied with their political and economic position in this post-war society, organised criminals who would prefer an unstable country, or secret services of unfriendly nations who are trying to give the impression that life is impossible here in Kosovo," he said.


The PDK and other political groups linked to the KLA have accused the LDK of "politicising" Zemaj's murder in order to score points.


Fatmir Limaj, PDK party spokesperson, said during the January 23 session of parliament that certain LDK statements were raising tensions among the public. But Edita Tahiri, an LDK member, said that "it would be unforgivable to keep silent" over the unsolved murders of party members.


Arben Qirezi is a political analyst and a regular IWPR contributor