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Authorities Should Protect Vulnerable Communities

Brussels, 7  September 2009 – Kosovo and international authorities should act in concert to halt the recent wave of attacks and harassment targeting Roma communities, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said today. The action should include both speedy investigations leading to identification and prosecution of the perpetrators and measures to prevent any future attacks.

The attacks were initially reported in the Kosovo Roma media in mid-August, 2009. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, in cooperation with Roma nongovernmental organizations, have worked since then to document the incidents and the responses made by the authorities.

“These incidents underscore how vulnerable the Roma in Kosovo remain,” said Wanda Troszczynska-van Genderen, Western Balkans researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The only way to stop these attacks is for both Kosovo and international police and prosecutors to make it clear that they will bring the perpetrators to justice.”

A Roma language television program (Yekhipe) on Radio Television Kosovo, the state broadcaster, reported on August 13 that a flurry of attacks against Roma by ethnic Albanians took place in Gnjilane (Gjilan) in the last week of July. At least four Roma, including a community leader, were physically assaulted and injured in separate incidents, the program reported. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Mission in Kosovo said that the victims had reported the assaults to the police and that investigations have been opened.

The Yekhipe program reported that additional attacks had taken place at that time but that they were not reported to the police because the victims feared retaliation. Sources at the OSCE Mission in Kosovo also confirmed a burglary of a Roma house in Gnjilane the same week.

Another series of episodes was reported on August 25, when 20 Roma families from the Halit Ibishi neighborhood in the town of Urosevac (Ferizaj) submitted a petition to the Urosevac Municipal Community Office saying that the families had been verbally and physically harassed on a number of occasions between August 17 and 22 by “unknown perpetrators.” They sought protection from the Kosovo Police Service (KPS) and the municipal authorities. The police are investigating the allegations.

International organizations mandated to monitor security and conditions for minorities in Kosovo – including the UN mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), OSCE and the EU rule of law mission in Kosovo (EULEX) – initially did not respond to the reports. The organizations have since been looking into the incidents, and they currently lack sufficient information to determine whether they were ethnically motivated.

Kosovo and local police in Gnjilane and Urosevac have reportedly increased patrols in tense areas in response to the incidents. But no arrests have been made and neither the Kosovo government nor international authorities in Kosovo have issued any official statements condemning the attacks.

“It is not enough to react when an incident occurs,” said Sian Jones, Balkans Researcher at Amnesty International. “A proactive response is needed, including expanded police patrols, to protect the rights of the Roma community, as well as outreach to these communities to encourage people to report incidents to the police, who should promptly and impartially investigate all such allegations.”

Over the last decade, the Kosovo and international authorities have routinely failed to protect minority communities from violence and intimidation. This has left the Roma vulnerable to repeated attacks, including a series of ethnically motivated attacks in March 2004.

Human Rights Watch has documented these shortcomings in its reports, including “Not on the Agenda: The Continuing Failure to Address Accountability in Kosovo Post-March 2004” and “Kosovo Criminal Justice Scorecard” See also Amnesty International’s Annual Report 2009: Serbia, including Kosovo,

Source: Human Rights Watch

Kosovska Mitrovica, 8 July 2008 – The construction of a water network in the village of Suvi Do, near Kosovska Mitrovica, has been stopped on Tuesday.This came after another day of violence yesterday between ethnic Albanians and Serbs, when one Serb suffered serious injuries. UNMIK chief Lamberto Zannier is reported to have demanded a halt to the works there.

Mayor Bajram Rexhepi, who controls the southern part of the divided town, said today that he talked to Zanner and asked for assistance in reaching an agreement to continue with the construction, but also when it came to future cooperation.

The Serb villagers, in a statement to state broadcaster RTS last night, were calling the works on the water pipeline “an attempted land grab”, designed to pass through their land although they say this is not necessary.

At the same time, although the pipes are planned to be laid in their land, the Serb villagers would not be able to use the water from this system.

Today, Rexhepi confirmed that Zannier asked for the works to be stopped “for the next four or five days” in order to find a solution and enable the project to be realized.

The Albanian official said that he agreed to this, but also asked that the issues of construction of a school and reconstruction of the Doktorska Mahala neighborhood in northern Kosovska Mitrovica be solved at the same time.

Ethnic Albanians and Bosniaks live in the northern, Serb-dominated part of town, but no Serbs live in its southern, Albanian half.

Rexhepi today called on Suvi Do residents to maintain peace, so that the water project could be finalized.

He at the same time said the Serb reaction was organized by “illegal parallel Serb structures” that came as a result of the May 11 elections, that are “attempting to be indirectly recognized by the Kosovo authorities and international community”.

Zannier meets Serbs

UNMIK chief Lamberto Zannier met Tuesday with representatives of Kosovo Serb political parties during his first visit to northern Kosovska Mitrovica.

Zannier expressed his wish to cooperate with Serbia, Coordinator of G17 Plus for Kosovo-Metohija Stojanka Petković said.

The Italian diplomat at the helm of the UN mission in the province “realized that no lasting solution can be found without involvement of Belgrade and the Serb community”, she said, adding that Serb party officials informed him they do not consider Kosovo status resolved.

Serbs do not accept Kosovo independence and expect resumption of negotiations on a lasting compromise solution within the framework of the UN Security Council and its Resolution 1244, Petković said.

“Serbs will continue to work to that end and the Serbian government made this commitment as soon as it was constituted, in keeping with the constitution,” according to her.

Agreement was reached on future cooperation and on holding frequent meetings to resolve specific problems troubling the Serb community, she said, adding that Zannier promised he would brief Kosovo Serb representatives on any contacts with Belgrade.

The meeting with the UNMIK chief was also attended by representatives of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), Democratic Party (DS), New Serbia (NS), Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), and Serb Radical Party (SRS), as well as of the Serbian Orthodox Church dignitaries.

Source: B92/BETA

Pristina, 27 April 2008 – Three people were injured in a blast overnight in northern Kosovo, which is populated mostly by the Serb minority, Kosovo police said Sunday.

“A blast occurred around 2:15 a.m. (0015 GMT) in the centre of Leposavic,” a Serb-populated town, police spokesman Besim Hoti told AFP.

Hoti said an “explosive device, apparently a hand grenade, was thrown from a moving vehicle,” adding that an investigation was underway.

The blast took place just hours after the start of the celebration of Orthodox Easter.

The three injured were taken to hospital in nearby Kosovska Mitrovica.

Around 40,000 mostly Orthodox Christian Serbs live in the northern part of Kosovo, bordering Serbia, out of the 120,000 who remain here.

Kosovo proclaimed unilateral independence on February 17 that was soon recognized by big Western powers, including the United States, despite strong opposition from Serbia and its traditional ally Russia.

Kosovo Serbs also fiercely oppose the move, especially in the Serb-majority north where it has triggered violent incidents.

A special team of investigators from the United Nations arrived in Pristina this weekend to examine the one of the worst clashes, on March 17, in which a Ukrainian police officer was killed and 150 other people injured.

Also Saturday, Kosovo police seized three kilos of plastic explosives, several automatic rifles AK 47 and a large amount of ammunition in a house in Kosovska Mitrovica, Hoti said.

Three young Serbs, aged from 17 to 21, were arrested, he added.

The incidents occurred as Serbian pro-Western President Boris Tadic arrived to Kosovo to attend Easter celebrations in an Orthodox Serb monastery, making his first trip here since the breakaway territory proclaimed independence.

Source: AFP


Kusce/Kosovo, 28 February 2008 – Dozens of Serb officers have deserted the Kosovo police force since the new state declared independence, police said Thursday, snubbing ethnic Albanian leaders and shattering the only institution in which real cooperation existed between the two ethnic groups.Some 170 of the force’s 800 officers have either quit or not shown up for work since the Feb. 17 declaration, police officials said. Dozens of others have also threatened to follow suit.

The defections will delight authorities in Belgrade, who have been encouraging Kosovo’s Serbs to boycott the fledgling government’s institutions. However, it will come as a blow to Kosovo’s U.N. mission, which has poured millions of dollars (euros) and years of effort into creating and training the force.

“We have enough police to handle anything,” said Luis Cisneros, a spokesman for the U.N. police. “But we want everybody to be happy, both Serbs and Albanians. That’s the main point.”

The 7,000-strong multiethnic force had been praised as one of few successful stories of Kosovo’s Serbs and ethnic Albanians working together. But the police have been under particular pressure since the declaration, which was followed by violent protests by Serbs that raised fears of a wider conflict.

An explosion Thursday evening shattered the uneasy calm in the northern city of Kosovska Mitrovica, damaging two U.N. vehicles. No one was hurt, police said.

Serbia intends to take legal action against governments that recognized Kosovo’s move. The government voted Thursday to form a team to determine which international courts would have jurisdiction.

Making good on its pledge to try to block Kosovo from joining international organizations, Serbia’s foreign minister walked out of a meeting of his counterparts in Sofia, Bulgaria, when a delegate from Kosovo took the floor to speak.

“Kosovo will not be a member of the United Nations; it will not be a member of the OSCE. And as such, it will not belong to the world community of sovereign nations,” Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic told delegates at the meeting.

But the groundwork for greater international integration was being laid in Vienna, Austria, where the International Steering Group for Kosovo — representatives from countries backing Kosovo’s independence — held its inaugural meeting. The group will help guide the new nation.

Serbia’s government, meanwhile, postponed discussions on the divisive issue of whether to stop servicing Kosovo’s international debt.

Serbia has been paying off Kosovo’s US$1.2 billion debt, although it has not had any authority over the province since the 1999 war, when NATO launched airstrikes to force Belgrade to end a crackdown against Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian separatists. Nationalists argue that Serbia must keep paying to retain its claim on Kosovo.

The estimated 100,000 Serbs who remain in Kosovo have ignored Kosovo’s declaration and threatened to set up their own institutions in Kosovo’s northern tip, where most of the minority Serbs live.

The vast majority of Kosovo’s population is ethnic Albanian. Serbs represent just 10 percent of the region’s 2 million people, but they view Kosovo as the cradle of their culture and Orthodox Christian faith.

The wave of dissent is particularly evident in southeastern Kosovo, which consists of several Serb enclaves. Take the village of Kusce, some 60 kilometers (40 miles) southeast of the capital, Pristina, where dozens of Serb officers in Kosovo police uniforms crowded around a table drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes.

Capt. Stojan Denic, 44, the local commander, said Kosovo’s declaration touched off a crisis in confidence with the Serbs they protect.

“They see us as traitors,” Denic said. “So we decided to end cooperation with the regional command.”

Reshat Maliqi, an ethnic Albanian and senior police official, said he hoped those who walked off the job will change their minds.

“We expect at least a part of them to continue with their work,” Maliqi said. “But, even that would be optimistic.”

Denic, though, was convinced more Serbs would opt to leave the force.

“I think all the Serbs, in all the territories will leave (the force),” he said.

Source: Associated Press

Kosovska Mitrovica, 17 February 2008 – An explosion occurred in Kosovska Mitrovica this evening, local police has confirmed for B92.

UNMIK’s judiciary building has been the target in the northern, mostly Serb-inhabited part of the divided town. No injuries were reported.

Kosovo police spokesman Besim Hoti also said that two UN vehicles were damaged in the blast that occurred around 18:00 CET.

According to him, another unexploded device was discovered in the area.

The bridge over the Ibar River, which separates the town in two, has been heavily guarded by NATO troops today for fear of incidents.

Kosovo’s Albanians today unilaterally declared independence, but the Serbs in the northern parts of the province reject it.

Source: B92

Kosovska Mitrovica, 15 February 2008 – Kosovo police late Thursday reported an explosion behind a building housing the advance team for the European Union mission at the flashpoint town of Kosovska Mitrovica.”There are no injured,” Besim Hoti, the police spokesman in the town, told AFP by phone. Two windows of a nearby house had been smashed in the blast, he added.

The building is in the northern, Serbian part of the town, which is divided between Serbs and ethnic Albanians. Hoti said investigation for possible reasons behind the blast was underway.

An AFP correspondent in the town noted that the building housing the preparatory team for the EU mission had not suffered any damage.

The ethnically divided town, where 20,000 Serbs live in the north and 80,000 Albanians in the south, symbolises the ethnic tensions of Kosovo, the Serbian province that is expected to declare independence as early as Sunday.

Many feared this flashpoint town could be a scene of tensions and violence between the two rival communities.

The blast came just days ahead of the expected declaration of independence of ethnic-Albanian majority province, a move strongly opposed by Serbia, and Serb minority living in Kosovo.

Tensions over the bitterly contested issue, between Serbia and Russia on one side and the United States and many western European countries on the other, have been rising in recent days.

Serbia and Russia bluntly told the UN Security Council Thursday that the expected unilateral declaration of independence from Belgrade by Kosovo’s Albanian majority was unacceptable and a violation of international law.

Serbia said it would “annul” Kosovo’s decision to declare independence, deeming it “null and void.”

Kosovo, technically still a province of Serbia, has been run by the UN and NATO since the end of a 1998-1999 conflict that ended after a NATO bombing campaign to stop a Serbian crackdown on the Albanian majority.

Source: AFP

Priština, 21 January 2008 – Authorities in Kosovo arrested two policemen and a member of an emergency force Monday over an explosion that left two dead and 11 injured last year, officials said.

The three, who were not identified by name, are suspected of planting an explosive device targeting a coffee shop in a central shopping mall in the provincial capital, Pristina.

One of the suspects is a member of the Kosovo Protection Corps, a civil emergency force mostly made of former guerrillas that fought Serbia in the 1998-99 separatist war. Police said more arrests were to follow. No motive for the attack was given.

The September blast, one of the most powerful in Pristina since the war, destroyed four shops and brought down part of the building. It followed the killing of a policeman in a nearby parking lot.

After the blast, police ransacked one of the shops in the mall and arrested several ethnic Albanians suspected of involvement in the shooting.

The area was also a site of a 2002 car bomb targeting a local entrepreneur with alleged links to organized crime.

Kosovo is formally part of Serbia, but has been under U.N. and NATO control since 1999, when the alliance bombed Serb forces and ended the troops’ brutal crackdown on separatist ethnic Albanians.

Source: AP

20 January 2008 – Talks between Belgrade and Pristina over the future status of Kosovo have failed to bring a solution

Four people were injured in an explosion in the Kosovo capital Pristina on Sunday, police said.

Police spokesman Agron Borovci told AFP that the blast occurred around 7:30 pm (1830 GMT) in the city’s Dragodan district, close to an area popular with a number of Western diplomats. But Borovci brushed off fears that the blast could be politically motivated.

He said shooting was also reported from the area. The incidents were being investigated.

Kosovo, technically still a province of Serbia, has been run by the UN and NATO since 1998-1999 after a NATO bombing campaign to stop a Serbian crackdown on the province’s ethnic Albanian majority.

Talks between Belgrade and Pristina over the future status of Kosovo have failed to bring a solution, with Serbia insisting it must remain autonomous within its borders and Kosovo Albanians demanding independence.

Source: Javno/AFP

Pristina, 14 January 2008 – Four people were seriously injured Monday when a grenade exploded under a Kosovo government vehicle in the southern part of the U.N.-run Serbian province, police said. “The car that exploded belonged to the ministry for work and social welfare, with a driver and four social policy advisers in the vehicle,” the police said.

A hand grenade had been hidden under the car in the town of Suva Reka, 60 kilometers south of the provincial capital Pristina, they said, adding no one had claimed responsibility.

The government of Kosovo strongly condemned the incident.

“Such acts are absolutely unacceptable and the culprits will face justice,” the government said in a statement.

Kosovo has been administered by the U.N. since mid-1999, when a North Atlantic Treaty organization bombing campaign ended a Serbian military crackdown on the independence-seeking ethnic Albanian majority.

The government of Prime Minister Hashim Thaci is expected to declare independence in the coming months following failed negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina.

Serbia, backed by Russia, rejects independence, which has the support of the European Union and the U.S..

Source: AFP

Dragaš, 2 January 2008 — An explosion last night shook a Komercijalna Bank branch in Dragaš, Kosovo; no casualties.

The blast, that took place at 10:25 p.m. Tuesday, caused extensive damage, not only to the structure housing the bank but also on the surrounding businesses and apartments that mostly suffered shattered windows.

This was confirmed today by the Kosovo police (KPS) command in Priština.

Police are securing the parameter around the site of the explosion, while its expert are conducting an investigation, a KPS statement said.

Regional police in Prizren say the device was placed under one of the bank’s windows, but did not specify which explosive was used.

KFOR however believes that about one kilogram of explosives was planted, but no traces of the device were recovered at the scene.

This is the second time Komercijalna’s branch came under attack since it opened in Kosovo in April 2004. The first explosion happened on February 18, 2006.

The bank’s sole purpose in Dragaš is to service pensioners who receive their monthly installments from Belgrade.

Local police did not reveal that they had any suspects in the bombing or any leads as to the motive of the attack, but did say that after interviewing one of the employees they were “unable to determine under what license the bank operated in Dragaš.”

Source: Beta/B92