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

A Violent Peace Breaks Out In Kosovo

Grenade attacks, mysterious murders, bomb threats against US nationals and official warnings - all signs of deteriorating security in Kosovo.
By Garentina Kraja

Violence is on the rise in Kosovo, and after a spate of incidents, threats and official security warnings, Serbs, Albanians and members of the international administration all feel increasingly insecure.


A grenade attack this week in the busy market of Kosovo Polje, a few miles west of Pristina, caused the largest number of casualties of any single incident in more than a month.


In the late morning hours of September 28, in what is both a psychologically important centre for Serbs and one of the last remaining Serb majority areas, two people were killed and 34 wounded, four critically. All of the victims were Serbs.


Suspicion initially was focused on Albanian perpetrators, and at least two of four suspects apprehended by KFOR are Albanian. But, later on these suspects were released.


"NATO considers these incidents organized by those circles that don't want peace in Kosovo," said an official, after the meeting of the NATO's ambassadors in Brussels, referring to the incident.


Bernard Kouchner, the UN administrator in Kosovo, also condemned the attack in Kosovo Polje. "I am deeply unsatisfied with this crime that happened in a zone where our efforts in preserving a multiethnic community in Kosovo have been focused intensively", stated Kouchner during his visit to the wounded in Kosovo Polje.


Albanian political figures, for their part, have sought to suggest that the attack was the work of provocateurs.


"This is an act against the efforts for the stabilization of the situation. We have warned continuously people that in Kosovo there are still paramilitary and military forces that are interested to destabilize the fragile peace," Hashim Thaci, the head of the self-proclaimed provisional government, through a statement.


The incident in Kosovo Polje only capped a week of violence in which nearly 10 people were killed and many more injured in a range of murky incidents, unsolved murders of Serbs and Albanians, as well as kidnappings.


In the aftermath of the explosion, dozens of Serbs and Roma in the village of Bresja, near Kosovo Polje, blocked the main Pristina-Peja highway. This attempted blockade, which began last week in response to weapons being confiscated from the Serbs in Bresja by KFOR, included several attacks with stones and bottles against passing vehicles.


Serbs are not the only group feeling at risk. The deteriorating security situation has led Bernard Kouchner, head of the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), to request the doubling of the international police forces in Kosovo, originally planned to number 3,000.


On the same day as the Kosovo Polje incident, the US government issued a formal security warning to all US nationals, reporting that it was aware of a "potential terrorist threat against US citizens in Kosovo", both officials and representatives of non-governmental organisations and media.


The official statement urged all US organisations to reinforce their security practices. Setting the example, the US office in Pristina has, according to a source employed there, increased its security personnel, while two roadblocks are set up in the way to the office.


A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, also confirmed that the US had intercepted a "serious car-bomb threat," presumably directed against US personnel.


In a public statement, the US office in Pristina did not specify the nature of any threat. The US embassy in Tirana this year issued similar security warnings over Islamic fundamentalists.


But noting that the threat did not come from sources within Kosovo, the finger seemed to be pointed at Serb paramilitaries infiltrating the province. While some Serbs in Kosovo have looked to KFOR for protection, the general antipathy between them and NATO forces from the bombing campaign remains.


Americans are not the only ones being warned.


Over the past two weeks, KFOR and UNMIK have issued warned to some Albanian political leaders. "We received a number of bullet-proof vests and the officials were told to reinforce their security by increasing the number of their bodyguards," says a source close to the Kosovo Albanian provisional government. Albanian leaders were warned to avoid being seen in public at night.


Meantime, those few Serbs remaining in Kosovo, now estimated to be around 100,000, continue to press for better protection from KFOR and UN police. They say they will have to flee if their security cannot be improved. A Council representing them said they would establish their own defence system, in parallel to the civilian Kosovo Protection Corps to be created mostly through the transformation of the KLA.


Garentina Kraja is a journalist with Koha Ditore.