Rising Body Count Threatens Elections

A recent spate of killings, politically related or not, is threatening to undermine Kosovo's October municipal elections.

Rising Body Count Threatens Elections

A recent spate of killings, politically related or not, is threatening to undermine Kosovo's October municipal elections.

The discovery August 6 of the decomposed boy of the well-known lawyer Shaban Manaj, in the mountains outside a deserted village, has fuelled claims by the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) that its members are literally under fire from political opponents.

Manaj, who was a prominent LDK activist in his hometown of Istog, in western Kosovo, and a member of the party's general council, had gone missing two weeks earlier. Evidence suggests his body was dumped in a ditch and set on fire. His violent death, combined with other alleged attacks on LDK activists, risks has marked an increase in inter-communal violence, and could even risk the postponement of Kosovo's municipal elections, scheduled for October 28.

Official sources and the international police have stopped short of pinning a political motive to Manaj's murder. But the LDK, the party of Ibrahim Rugova, which usually defers to the international authorities in such matters, has indirectly pointed the finger at political rivals.

Fatmushe, Manaj's widow, said in newspaper interviews that she believes two people driving a red BMW kidnapped her husband on July 23. She claims her husband left the family home with the two men, whom she had never seen before, of his own free will, apparently intending to go for a short talk in the nearby village of Klina. Manaj had been scheduled that day to attend a bridge-opening ceremony in the nearby village of Gjurakovc. The deserted village of Ozdrim, where he was found, is not far from where the men reportedly picked him up.

Police investigators, however, have dismissed the kidnapping theories.

So far, there has been no evidence that a rival political group was behind Manaj's killing, and the United Nations administration has stressed that any such claims remain unproven. While other parties have also reported attacks, the UN acknowledges that the majority of attacks have been against members of Rugova's party.

Indeed, a catalogue of recent attacks on prominent LDK activists by unknown assailants has added credence to the theory. At least five local LDK leaders have been attacked in recent days, including the wife of one party official, killed in an explosion at her home in the town of Dragash, in southern Kosovo, August 9.

Immediately after the war there were frequent predictions that Rugova's LDK would sink without a trace. The Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) had reaped huge emotional credit for fighting the Serb forces, and Rugova was widely discredited for his meeting with Slobodan Milosevic during the war.

But the party has remained a powerful political force at the grassroots level, especially because of its extensive network of local activists. Some observers argue the LDK's persistence has prompted former guerrilla commanders to launch a campaign aimed at intimidating and undermining the organisation.

Many of the attacks have resulted in only minor injuries. Some observers point to this as evidence the LDK is itself orchestrating the violence to increase publicity and generate voter sympathy prior to the October elections.

Another theory points to some LDK members' involvement in so-called "grey" business activities.

Manaj had worked on cases of Albanians detained before the war, and it is believed that he also represented Albanian detainees currently held in Serbia. On the day of his disappearance Manaj was said to be working on the case of an Albanian charged with minor offences in Peja.

The question of Albanian prisoners has remained at the forefront of Kosovo Albanian politics since the end of the war. So too have rumours that lawyers acting for them are doing good business. Several reports have claimed prisoners' families have handed over large sums of money to lawyers and others in the hope of securing the release of their loved ones - although their have not been any inappropriate suggestions regarding Manaj.

Opinion polls indicate that the LDK, the Democratic Party of Kosovo of former KLA commander Hashim Thaçi, and Ramush Haradinaj's Kosovo's Future Alliance are the most popular parties among Kosovo Albanian voters.

Haradinaj himself was wounded in an attack July 7, in controversial circumstances which appear to have involved a Rugova supporter. Regardless of any proof, some analysis suggest that Thaçi's party may in fact suffer if the war-weary population concludes that former KLA members are behind much of the violence.

Whoever is to blame, as the belief takes hold that politics is behind the violence, each new attack ratchets up the tension between the party and raises doubts about the conditions for the October elections.

Naser Miftari is a journalist with the Pristina daily newspaper Koha Ditore.

Serbia, Kosovo
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