Monthly update on ethnic minorities in Kosovo (March 2000)
The general situation for minorities in Kosovo, in terms of security, freedom of movement and access to public services, remains very problematic and has not improved during the month of March. Positive developments include the resumption of the UNHCR sponsored bus lines in the Gnjilane and Pristina regions in early March, the introduction by UNMIK of a Disciplinary Code for the Kosovo Protection Corps, and confidence building initiatives with Roma representatives. Towards the end of the month the tension in Mitrovica calmed down. There is concern that further displacement of ethnic Albanians from southern Serbia may provoke a backlash against minority groups. Reports have been received of Serbs leaving the Gnjilane area where most displaced persons from southern Serbia are hosted. Also, with the coming of the spring, as the weather improves, there is concern that members of minority groups will be more exposed to danger as they come out of their homes to tend their fields. Due to their lack of freedom of movement, many minority communities cannot pay their utility bills or apply for available exemptions without facing considerable risks.
Lack of Security
The following non-exhaustive list of incidents illustrates the ongoing widespread violence against members of minority groups:
1 March - a grenade was thrown at a busy Serb owned shop in Gnjilane, but it failed to explode.
2 March - an unoccupied Muslim Slav house near Prizren was attacked by a bomb; in Lipljan a grenade exploded outside a flat owned by both Albanians and Serbs.
5 March - six ethnic Albanian men armed with automatic weapons went on a shooting and grenade throwing campaign in the Roma village of Dubrava in Urosevac.
7 March - a dispute between ethnic Albanians and Serbs in north Mitrovica resulted in shooting and grenade throwing, which left 16 KFOR soldiers, 4 ethnic Albanians and 17 Serbs injured, two of them seriously. In the afternoon of the same day, a rocket was launched against one of the three controversial apartment buildings, where ethnic Albanians had recently returned.
9 March - an arson attack was carried out on a Serb owned house in Kosovo Polje and the local fire brigade fire engine which arrived at the scene initially refused to extinguish the fire because of the ethnicity of the owner.
10 March - a Serb farmer was attacked while working in his field.
10 March - 5 mortar bombs were launched at a cluster of Roma houses in Pec.
12 March - shots from an automatic rifle were fired and a grenade thrown at a Roma owned house in Dubrava village, Urosevac; three grenade attacks were also reported in Orahovac against Roma.
12 March - A Serb farmer was killed in rural Pristina while tending to his field.
23 March - one of the two railway bridges that connect northern Mitrovica with Leposavic was severely damaged by a bomb blast. An attempt to blow up the second bridge was foiled when KFOR discovered and defused an explosive device placed under the bridge. If both bridges had been destroyed, the Serb population in Mitrovica would have been isolated from Serbia.
26 March - five mortar bombs were launched at a Muslim Slav owned house in Donji Streoc area of Pec.
27 March - a Roma male was found strangled to death in Istok, Pec.
28 March - a 70 year old Serb female in Prizren was assaulted and found unconscious in front of her apartment with severe head injuries. A threatening letter was also found.
There was also an upsurge in arson attacks across Kosovo, one of which resulted in the death of a 50 year old Roma woman in Gusica in the Gnjilane region.
Lack of Freedom of Movement
Especially for Serb communities it continued to be dangerous to leave their guarded enclaves or even homes. On 3 March, two Serb convoys en route to Serbia were attacked by stone-throwing groups of ethnic Albanians as they drove through the Gnjilane region. Recurring attacks on the Kosovo Polje-Mitrovica railway line are a serious setback for UNMIK's efforts to increase the freedom of movement. The curtailment of freedom of movement has had an adverse effect on a multitude of other rights, especially socio-economic rights which may increasingly become a factor causing departures from Kosovo in addition to violent attacks. Thanks to additional security measures by KFOR, UNHCR resumed its bus service in the Gnjilane and Pristina regions.
Departures and Returns
There are no precise statistics for minority departures from Kosovo for the month of March. At the same time, the departure of minorities from Kosovo continues amidst some returns to a few areas. In the Gnjilane region, 37 Serb families are known to have left for Serbia during the month of March, of which 22 families in the last week of March. Their reasons for departure included: the killing of a prominent Serb doctor in February, increased number of IDPs arriving from southern Serbia, and continued threats from some elements within the ethnic Albanian community. It is worth noting that some 3,000 Serbs have departed from Gnjilane town to Serbia since June 1999. Also in Pristina and neighbouring municipalities a steady departure of Serb families to Serbia has been reported, albeit in small numbers, and more families have indicated an intention to leave the province. The continued dire conditions, security situation and lack of foreseeable improvement are cited as the main reasons for leaving. With regard to the Prizren region, an OSCE survey estimated that 500 Muslim Slavs/Gorani have departed from the Dragash region since the beginning of the year.
In Mitrovica, some 230 ethnic Albanians have returned to three apartment buildings in the northern part of the city. The return of the first families in early March was accompanied by violent protests requiring KFOR to transport them in armoured vehicles. The areas in which the returnees live are surrounded by barbed wire and heavily guarded around the clock. Any movement outside the apartment blocks, including shopping and trips to school, had to be undertaken under KFOR protection, until the installation of a footbridge across the Ibar river on 31 March which connects the area of the three buildings with the southern part of the city.
Demands are increasing from the Serb political leadership to engage in Serb returns to Kosovo and suggestions to start a Serb pilot return project in Istok are being discussed. Kosovo Albanian political leaders have, however, expressed reservations about such projects at this point in time, arguing, among other things, that they risk being counter productive in the current climate of ethnic intolerance and animosity.
Confidence Building with Roma Community Leaders
Dialogue with Roma leaders in Kosovo continued during the month of March. UNHCR facilitated a meeting of representatives of the Roma, Ashkalija and Egyptian communities who are now hoping to start a dialogue with the Albanian political leaders. UNHCR is preparing a roundtable discussion for this purpose.
KPC Related Issues
UNMIK introduced a Disciplinary Code for the Kosovo Protection Corps and a body of procedural compliance rules that would facilitate its enforcement. The compliance rules define procedures for receiving and processing complaints and reports on alleged offences and breaches of the Disciplinary Code. In addition to the first instance procedure, an Appeals Board has also been established. Although these procedures only became operational in March, they have already been utilised in disciplinary proceedings against some members of the KPC. This new development is likely to improve transparency and accountability within the KPC.
Incitement of Ethnic Hatred
The publication of articles and statements in local printed media that are prone to incite ethnic hatred, discord or intolerance against minority groups, especially against Serbs, was a serious issue of concern in March. Some of the articles, describing atrocities committed during the conflict in Kosovo, listed the names of the alleged perpetrators. Another article contended that all remaining Serbs in Kosovo may be war criminals. This type of publications would appear to violate UNMIK Regulation No. 2000/4 on the Prohibition Against Inciting National, Racial, Religious or Ethnic Hatred, Discord or Intolerance.
3 April 2000