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Rugova Aide Shot Dead

LDK politicians are being targeted following their recent local election victory
By Llazar Semini

Xhemajl Mustafa, an adviser to Kosovo Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova, was shot dead in broad daylight outside his home in Pristina on Thursday, November 23.


The gunmen struck at 3 o'clock in the afternoon, shooting Mustafa six times in the chest and head as he and a friend climbed the stairs leading into his apartment building in the Dardania district of the city, a densely populated area packed with bars, cafes and high rise blocks.


K-For troops immediately sealed off the area while police began an investigation. Unconfirmed reports from the United Nations Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK, claim two suspects have been detained.


Mustafa, 47, was a founding member of Rugova's Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, and information advisor to the party's leader. He was also a well-known publisher.


His murder is the latest in a spate of violent attacks against LDK politicians following their victory in the October 28 local elections. The party won control of 21 of the province's 30 local administrations.


The elections, the first to be held since the end of the Kosovo war, were hailed as a spectacular success. There was little in the way of political violence in the build-up to the poll - and election day passed off without any major incidents.


But a series of fatal attacks on members of the Ashkali, or Gypsy, minority and LDK politicians immediately after the ballot has set Kosovo politics and democracy back considerably and has damaged the reputation of local Albanians abroad.


Earlier in the week, a car bomb exploded outside the residence of Yugoslav representative in Kosovo Stanimir Vukicevic, killing his driver and injuring his bodyguard.


Meanwhile, Belgrade claims four Serbian police officers have been killed in clashes with Albanian guerrillas in the Presevo valley along the Serbia-Kosovo border. NATO sources said the gun battle continued throughout Wednesday.


On the same day K-For troops stopped a group of ten people as they tried to evade a checkpoint outside the border village of Dobrosin. The group wore black uniforms and carried radios, but no weapons.


But later on Wednesday, K-For troops seized a truck loaded with rocket propelled grenades, mortars, a heavy machine guns, 5,000 rounds of ammunition and anti-personnel mines as it headed towards the same village.


The violence places a considerable obstacle in the way of the international administration's efforts to create a functioning local government to which it can devolve powers in the future.


The attacks also undermine Kosovo Albanians' hopes and dreams of an independent country, especially as the international community is currently falling over itself to welcome Yugoslavia, under President Vojislav Kostunica, back into the fold.


The violence coincides with the European Union Balkan summit in Zagreb, which opens on November 24. UNMIK chief Bernard Kouchner is attending, but Kosovo Albanian politicians were furious at not being invited.


Every Albanian political party has condemned Mustafa's murder. The LDK said his death was "a grave attack on our efforts for freedom, independence and democracy".


The Progressive Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, led by former Kosovo Liberation Army leader Hashim Thaçi, has called on the police to find the killers quickly.


"The killer should be found as soon as possible to assist peace and avoid speculation," said the PDK's Fatmir Limaj, hinting his party feared being blamed for organising the violence in retaliation for its election defeat at the hands of the LDK.


It would be easy to brand the attacks on the LDK as politically motivated. But few, including Kouchner, think the explanation that straightforward.


Another victim of the recent violence, Shkelzen Hyseni, a local LDK politician from Peje, put the attacks down to politics, but did not point the finger at anyone in particular.


The PDK and other parties defeated in the local elections have accepted the results and now seem focused on improving their showing in general elections, expected next spring. To resort to violence when defeated at the ballot box would be naïve and counter-productive.


But some former guerrillas and extremists do remain outside the control of the province's political leaders and could be acting on their own. In the minds of most Albanians, however, is the deep-rooted suspicion Serbian secret agents are deliberately precipitating violence to destabilise the province and discredit Kosovo Albanians at this crucial moment.


Llazar Semini is IWPR's Kosova Project Manager.


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