Belgrade, March. 14, 2001

sorryserbia.com Border instability and NATO - Yugoslavia alliance

A bus full of Serbs was blown up my terrorists. 43 persons survived the attack, but 11 Serbs died, including a two year-old child.
A bus full of Serbs was blown up my terrorists. 43 persons survived the attack, but 11 Serbs died, including a two year-old child.
The Balkans is a pretty interesting place. Two years ago, the powerful NATO alliance launched a 78-day air strike on Yugoslavia, and today the old foes find themselves to be allies against ethnic Albanian rebels in Southern Serbia and the Republic of Macedonia. With Slobodan Milosevic out of office, some hoped for greater stability in the Balkans, but extremists find it useful for the region to remain unstable. Despite a massive international presence in Kosovo, ethnic violence is still a big problem. For Serbs, Kosovo is a dangerous place.

A couple of weeks ago, extremists decided to blow up a buss full of Serbs near the city of Podujevo north of Pristina. I was at the scene, and I find it amazing that 43 people survived that attack, but 11 Serbs died, including a two year-old child.

The United Nations Police in Kosovo (UNMIK Police) arrested to ethnic Albanians suspected of taking part in the attack, but KFOR and UNMIK are very careful about blaming Albanians for this terrorist act. Many Albanians refuse to believe that one of their own could carry out such a dreadful attack, and they think Serbian military units carried out the assault. The idea would be for the Albanians to lose support in the international community. However, in light of the recent ethnic violence in Kosovo and the areas surrounding the province, my gut feeling is that ethnic Albanians carried out this attack.

Further south on the border the Republic of Macedonia, we have seen the emergence of the National Liberation Army. The rebels have the same initials as the Kosovo style UCK, Kosovo Liberation Army: Ushtria Clirimtare Kombtare where Kombtare has replaced Kosovo. These Albanian rebels experience increased pressure from KFOR, Macedonian forces and the condemnation from the international community, but the rebellion is still spreading.

Hanife Bislimi, 40, a mother of six you has found refuge in Debelde with her husband and family.
Hanife Bislimi, 40, a mother of six you has found refuge in Debelde with her husband and family.
After the clashes in Northern Macedonia, over 1,000 refugees have crossed the border into Kosovo. I have been at the border village of Debelde at the Kosovo side, a couple of kilometers from the Macedonian border. Here I've talked to Albanian refugees. “Macedonian forces shot at us, and we were intimidated and harassed by them,” explained Hanife Bislimi, 40, a mother of six you has found refuge in Debelde with her husband and family.

However, I'm not convinced Macedonian forces are the most important reason for the stream of refugees. The Macedonian UCK have established rebel bases in some of the border villages on the Macedonian side, and they have urged the local population to leave. However, this is something no-one would admit to in the village of Debelde where family ties are very strong across the borders, and this is also a stronghold for Albanian nationalism. At Debelde, there is a wall of silence.

Bislimi pointed her finger on a map to different neighboring villages in the area. “That’s Albanian, that’s Albanian and that’s Albanian,” she said emphasizing that most of the villages in the area should belong to Kosovo and not to Macedonia. That is a view shared with the inhabitants of Debelde and with most the refugees coming there.

I did a piece about the situation in Debelde for the Institute for War & Peace Reporting in London. You can read the complete article at the IWPR website.

But that was Kosovo. At the time, I'm back in Belgrade and I've had a chance to take a look at the development in Southern Serbia. Last Friday, I spent the day with the Yugoslav army in the trenches facing the Albanian rebel positions. Here I found very self confident Yugoslav soldiers who were ready to move in again the rebels.

Capt. Dragan Kric of the Yugoslav army, VJ, points out the positions of the Albanian rebels a couple of hundred meters away. He is very confident of the ability of the Yugoslav army.
Capt. Dragan Kric of the Yugoslav army, VJ, points out the positions of the Albanian rebels a couple of hundred meters away. He is very confident of the ability of the Yugoslav army.
"The rebels are just piece of cake. We are professional soldiers," said Capt. Dragan Krtic in charge of a fortified infantry company. However, the situation could be more bloody than Capt. Krtic and his soldiers would appreciate. The Albanians rebels are well equipped and well trained. Most of these guys have fighting experience from the UCK in Kosovo. When I was there I saw some heavy attacks from the rebels with mortar fire and machine guns. Those of you who understand Norwegian can read the complete article in Aftenposten.

As I wrote in my previous newsletter, the Liberation Army for Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac, or the UCPMB in Albanian, holds positions in the Ground Safety Zone (GSZ). After the bombing campaign in 1999, NATO established this 5 kilometer buffer zone to prevent a Yugoslav surprise attack against KFOR. Only lightly armed police have been allowed to enter the GSZ, but now NATO has asked Yugoslavia for help to block the access of weapons and supplies to the Macedonian UCK from the UCPMB rebels in the GSZ in the south of Serbia on the border to Macedonia.

I’m quite convinced that there is a close connection between the Macedonian UCK and the UCPMB, and many observers think that the rebels are coordinated from Kosovo. The leading Albanian newspaper have accused former KLA commander Ramush Haradinaj for being the brain behind the rebel activities just outside the borders of Kosovo. Haradinaj is no longer a KLA commander, and he is now the leader of the third biggest pary in Kosovo, the AAK.

A Serb sniper in position watching the rebel positions of the UCPMB.
A Serb sniper in position watching the rebel positions of the UCPMB.
Only parts of the GSZ will be dismantled now, but the long term goal is for the entire GSZ to disappear. Certainly different times from those of Slobodan Milosevic. Now we’ll see if moderate Albanian forces are able to match the political changes in Belgrade to quell the extremism in Kosovo.

I'll stay in Serbia for a couple of more weeks now, but then I'll head back to Kosovo. The Norwegian Lt. Gen. Torstein Skiaker is taking command of the entire KFOR of 40,000 soldiers, and as a Norwegian I think there will be a lot of work for me in Kosovo for the next six months under Norwegian leadership. I'm quite sure I will not be unemployed.

And before I go, I'd like to give you an update of the Dutch sniper Qlirim I wrote about in my previous newsletter. He gave himself up to the American KFOR at Bondsteel, but they didn't have any evidence against him, and they let him go. As far as I know, Qlirim is back in Holland now. My gut feeling is that his Albanian fellow soldiers in UCPMB threw him out because he was talking too much. Among other things, he boasted that he had killed 72 Serbs in the GSZ alone. According to Serb authorities, the TOTAL number of fatalities in the GSZ was 34 the last year.

Sincerely
--
Kristian Kahrs, freelance journalist, Yugoslavia
Homepage: http://home.no.net/kkahrs
Norwegian mobile: +47 93 00 25 22
Yugoslav mobile: + 381 641 647 630

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