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Kosovo: Explosive tensions

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by Fatmire Terdevci

Explosions continue to rock Kosovo as the international community prepares to assess the province's progress on security, human rights, and governance standards.

PRISTINA, Kosovo - Two weeks after three blasts rocked Kosovo's capital Pristina, nobody has claimed responsibility for the attack. The simultaneous explosions took place in the evening of 2 July. One bomb targeted the offices of the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), while the other two were detonated near Kosovo's government building and the Kosovo headquarters of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Three UN vehicles were set ablaze, but there were no injuries.

Police have been unable to name any suspects. "The case is still under investigation and according to the information I have there are no suspects yet," the Kosovo Police Service spokesperson, Refki Morina, told TOL earlier this week.

The explosions were almost simultaneous. They were targeted against the three most important institutions in today's Kosovo. UNMIK has been in charge of administering and policing the province since 1999, when NATO expelled Serbian institutions from Kosovo. The OSCE has organized all Kosovo's elections since and has been specifically tasked to monitor human rights and the rule of law. Both organizations aim to enable Kosovo's own institutions, which still have limited powers, to function on their own once the provinces status is determined.

Status talks may begin as early as September if the international community judges that Kosovo has made significant progress in meeting a set of UN-approved standards on security, human rights, and governance.

The bombs were either discovered immediately before they detonated or there was a warning.

"I was on the balcony of my apartment and could see three police vehicles blocking the road between the OSCE and the cinema. Police officers very rapidly evacuated people and shortly after there were explosions," a local newspaper quoted a witness who wanted to remain anonymous.

A local television channel interviewed an eyewitness, who claimed to have seen a couple leaving a bag near the OSCE building.

But the police spokesperson could not say how the police got the information about the bomb. "I don't have information about this," Morina said.

The blasts were condemned by local and international officials.

"Such acts, which are not supported by the Kosovar people, will not be allowed to damage the democratic process in Kosovo," said the head of UN Mission in Kosovo, Soren Jessen-Petersen. He said that the violence will not influence UNMIK's determination to support Kosovo's institutions and people in building a peaceful, democratic, and multiethnic Kosovo.

For the head of the OSCE mission in Kosovo, Werner Wendt, it is very worrisome that such explosions are taking place in the heart of the capital, but as he said, "it is one reason for more for us to convince the Kosovars that the future of Kosovo can only be determined in a political way."

For local officials, the explosions are dangerous acts aimed at destabilizing the province.

"They took place at a time when it is expected that there will be a positive assessment of the standards, at a time of progress in Kosovo which will bring closer the recognition of Kosovo's independence," said Kosovo's president, Ibrahim Rugova.

MORE BOMBS

Another bomb exploded on 4 July near the premises of the Ministry for Returns and Communities, which also houses the offices of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDP). The Returns and Communities Minister is the only ethnic Serb in the Kosovo government, Slavisa Petkovic, who is also the chairman of the SDP.

No one was injured, but the building was damaged. Police have no suspects yet in this case either, but in a press conference in Pristina two days after the blast Petkovic publicly accused the Serbian National Council (SNV) and one of its leaders, Marko Jaksic, of being behind the bombing.

Petkovic also demanded that UN police proclaim the SNV a terrorist organization. The SNV is a hard-line Serbian party based in the northern part of the divided city of Mitrovica.

The motive of the attack, according to Petkovic, was the drop in the level of support for the SNV, while his party, the SDP, was growing each day.

"Another motive is related to my statements that the [Kosovo] Serbs should seek their future here and not somewhere else," said Petkovic in a reference to the SNV's close links with the government in Belgrade. The SNV boycotts Kosovo's institutions.

In the same press conference, Petkovic did not spare UNMIK chief Jessen-Petersen, whom he blamed for not communicating with his party, but with Belgrade instead.

Some observers related the explosions to the recent visits of Serbian officials in Kosovo.

Vuk Draskovic and Prvoslav Davinic, the foreign and defense ministers of Serbia and Montenegro, visited the province recently and met with UNMIK representatives, as did Serbian President Boris Tadic. The Kosovo Action Network, a student organization, held protests during Draskovic's visit. Twenty-two people were detained for throwing eggs at the convoy of vehicles escorting Draskovic.

Last month, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan appointed Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide as his special envoy to Kosovo. Eide is to evaluate the implementation of the UN-approved standards and report his findings by the end of summer.

Talks to determine Kosovo's future will start later this year if the standards are met. There has been much anxiety among Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority about the outcome of this exercise.

According to reports published in the local media, in his second visit to Kosovo earlier in July, Eide was much more focused on the Serbian minority than on the ethnic Albanian majority. His agenda included visits to Serbian enclaves to establish if there has been enough progress on the freedom of movement of the Serbian community.

Meantime, foreign diplomats keep calling on the Albanian majority to work on fulfilling the standards.

One of them, former U.S. secretary of state Madeleine Albright, visited the province in early July. In the late 1990s, Albright was perhaps the highest profile international official supporting Kosovo Albanians. She and her close aides masterminded the 1999 Rambouillet peace accord, which Belgrade then rejected, paving the way for the 1999 NATO intervention against Serbia. Addressing the parliament of Kosovo, Albright said that Kosovo should become a society guided by the rule of law and providing equal opportunities for all its citizens.

"This year 2005 is crucial for Kosovo. There are many things which need to be done," Albright told the lawmakers. She called on them to do everything in their power to ensure the return of all internally displaced persons, regardless of their ethnicity.

The lack of return of Serbs and other minority groups who fled the province since 1999, as well as problems related to their freedom of movement, have been major impediments to handing over more powers to Kosovo's own authorities.

Bomb threats, often targeting UNMIK, have intensified, especially after the resignation of former prime minister Ramush Haradinaj in March and his surrender to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to face war crimes charges.

On 15 March, a bomb exploded in the vicinity of the vehicle carrying President Rugova and on 17 April a heavy explosion devastated the premises of the youngest Kosovo Albanian party, Ora. Another explosion took place in May in the heart of Pristina, near UNMIK headquarters.

Police have so far failed to find the perpetrators.

Despite the frequency of the explosions, there has been no panic among the people of Kosovo. "People have come to see the attacks as part of the local scenery," the director of International Crisis Group, Alex Anderson, told TOL.

According to him, extremist elements are likely to repeat such acts. "The following months will be uncertain in Kosovo," said Anderson.

Observers think that in the run-up to possible status talks the very different expectations of the ethnic Albanians, who advocate full independence, and the Serbs, who prefer Kosovo to remain part of Serbia, are at the core of rising tensions.

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