Serbs desert their KPS posts . . . Ridiculous

Today, in a show of solidarity, Kosovo Serb police abandoned their posts and demanded that they be put under the command of the United Nations. images2.jpg  This is absolutely ridiculous, absolutely irresponsible and absolutely sad that it has come to this.  It’s a blow to the rule of law and another win for ethnic nationalism.

It is one thing for a politician working within Kosovo to not recognize the Kosovar-Albanian majority government.  It’s a completely different thing when a group of professionals, like police, put politics over their oath to uphold the rule of law regardless of the situation.  It certainly makes me wonder whether the oath actually meant anything to them in the first instance.

Police officers, just like doctors, have a special duty to the population that does not and should not take into consideration either politics or other extraneous issues.  Police are sworn to protect the population fairly;  they are not politicians, and for very good reason. 

In the case of the Kosovar Serb Police, they were sworn to protect the Albanians, the Serbs, the Turks, etc.  But instead of following their oath and displaying commitment to their profession, the Kosovar Serb Police decided to put politics over what is right.

Sure, the Kosovar Serb Police can protest and make their complaints.  Hell, they could have first demanded that they be put under the control of the United Nations.  But to abandon their posts en masse and then to demand from the United Nations a change of command?  Who was in charge of this tactic?  Someone who clearly does not want to negotiate. 

This action by police not only betrays the population they were sworn to protect, but also degrades their profession as police officers as well.

A true shame, not only to the Kosovar Serb Police, but to everyone with a shield.

Kosovo Serb police deserted their posts en masse Friday, demanding to be put under the command of the United Nations rather than that of a newly proclaimed state they do not recognise. Serb officers serving in the southern Serb-populated enclave of Strpce joined those boycotting work in the central region of Gracanica, Kosovo police spokesman Veton Elshani said. “They are requesting to be put under the command of (the UN mission in Kosovo) UNMIK and not of the KPS as they have been so far.”

“These are exactly the same demands as the ones of Serb policemen in eastern Kosovo (a) few days ago” and hundreds in the north of the Serbian province which proclaimed independence on February 17, Elshani said.

In Gracanica, a Serb enclave 10 kilometres (six miles) from Pristina, all 126 Serb members of the regional KPS force — including those from the towns of Kosovo Polje, Lipljan and Obilic — had abandoned their posts on Friday. They gathered in front of the Gracanica police station, and demanded talks with representatives of the UN interim mission. None agreed to talk with reporters.

Earlier this week, 129 Serb officers working in the eastern Kosovo towns of Gnjilane, Kamenica, Novo Brdo and Vitina refused to show up for duty in protest against Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence.

That came as Infrastructure Minister Velimir Ilic said the Serbian government was “planning to have our local police in Serbian towns of Kosovo,” Serbian news agencies reported.

The above quoted article was published today by Agency-France Presse.

A War Of Words . . . But What Will Follow?

Kosovo’s Prime Minister, Hashim Thaci, finally broke his silence with regard to the recent inflammatory comments by government officials in both Serbia and Russia about Kosovo’s independence. thaci.jpg Thaci vowed that Kosovo will guard every “inch” of its territory — clearly referring to the heavily disputed area of North Mitrovica.  Obviously, though, that is easier said than done.  

Indeed, a showdown is in the making.  Will NATO and KFOR force the issue in North Mitrovica?  Or will the international community let sleeping dogs lie and let North Mitrovica essentially be a no-man’s zone?  As of now, the ball is in Serbia’s court.  If Serbia keeps the status quo, I think the answer will lie in the decision to make no decision about North Mitrovica.  However, if Serbia takes affirmative steps to establish itself in North Mitrovica, then a likely showdown between Serbia and the international community will come to fruition.  In the end, a test of diplomatic will and skill will be demonstrated . . . or not.

Serbia, for their part, promised to sue all countries that have recognized Kosovo’s independence.  Serbia’s Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica promised to turn the dispute into a legal “minefield” (interesting choice of words, Kostunica).   In light of their lawsuit, Serbia’s Branislav Ristivojevic warned the United States — and by extension all other countries — to annul their recognition of Kosovo’s independence.  I assume that if the United States and other countries annul their recognition of Kosovo’s independence, Serbia will withdraw the lawsuit. 

Good luck with that.  I’m on the edge of my seat. 

Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci vowed Tuesday to guard jealously every “inch” of its territory, as Serbia threatened to sue the United States for recognising a “phoney state.”  “We will never allow Kosovo’s territorial integrity, which has been internationally recognised, to be jeopardised,” Thaci told reporters on a visit to Racak, the scene of a massacre by Serb security forces in 1999 which prompted a NATO air war on Serbia in defence of the ethnic Albanian community.

The authorities were in “permanent touch” with the UN mission in the former Serbian province and also cooperating with NATO-led peacekeepers (KFOR) deployed in the territory, he said. With the rhetoric nearing fever pitch, an advisor to Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica threatened to turn the dispute into a legal minefield, the Beta news agency reported.” Since this outgoing US administration has recognized the phoney state of Kosovo, Serbia’s charges will follow,” Branislav Ristivojevic told Beta.

Ristivojevic said “it would be best for the (present US) administration to annul the decision to recognise the phoney state, or for the new administration to do it immediately” after America’s November presidential elections. “If the US does not annul this decision, than we will file suits against America before all international courts,” Ristivojevic told Beta.

Meanwhile, more than 1,000 Kosovo Serbs rallied on Tuesday in a 10th consecutive day of protests in the ethnically-divided northern Kosovo town of Mitrovica. Hundreds of Serbs also clashed with police outside the US consulate in their Bosnian stronghold of Banja Luka. Six people including four policemen were injured with a teenager suffering serious head injuries, a hospital official said. Police detained 20 of the demonstrators including 15 minors, spokeswoman Bojana Gasovic said.

After a five-hour National Security Council meeting, Serbian officials insisted “all those taking part in (all) violence must be identified with necessary justice measures taken.” However, Tanjug news agency said the meeting “praised” the police and “the way they conducted their activities during all protests in Serbia.”

Serbia’s Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic will come face to face for the first time with Kosovo representation in round-table talks on Wednesday and Thursday in Bulgaria.  Despite important energy deals with Russia, economic insecurity is beginning to bite, going by Economy Minister Mladjan Dinkic comments Tuesday.

“At the moment, foreign investors do not consider Serbia as a heaven for financial investment,” Dinkic told reporters.

Quoted article can be found here.

Russia and Serbia To Kosovo: We must break you!

In the last few days, both the Serbian and Russian government have seemingly taken a page out of the playbook of Ivan Drago.  Its message to Kosovo pretty much amounts to this:  We must break you!  ivan-drago.jpgThat’s too bad, because both Russia and Serbia’s statements, as well as their lack of statements, have revealed that history has not changed much.  Serbia is still enslaved by ethnic nationalism.  Russia is still motivated to make its presence felt on the international scene at any cost.  Put these two together, and you have a potent recipe for disaster.

For example, just recently, Russian’s top envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, warned the world that Moscow might have to use “brute military force” to maintain respect for the world scene.  Awesome.  Is that Russia’s way of not provoking tension and instability in the region?  Is that Russia’s way of not trying to intimidate other countries into silence?  Interesting display of diplomatic finesse, Russia. But, Russia assures, they are not planning any action for military confrontation.  So, if you’re not planning any military confrontation, why are you making both veiled and explicit threats of using force?  

The same goes for Serbia.  If Serbia is so against the “isolated” violent acts that are occurring in Serbia and in the northern part of Kosovo, then why is it explicitly inflaming the population with ethnic rhetoric?  There’s a severe disconnect between word and action. Under the circumstances, both Russia and Serbia’s attempt to minimize their inflammatory and irresponsible remarks fall flat.  It’s a bit like America saying they don’t torture, but in the same breath, claim they waterboard only once in a while.  

Are Russia and Serbia really kidding anybody? A country cannot simultaneously call for calm and peace when it actively calls for violence and instability.  When government officials in high positions act and speak like thugs, is there any surprise that certain segments of the population act like thugs, too?  “Isolated” acts of violence?  Isolated only in geographical location, but not for lack of trying. Russia and Serbia need to do a much better job in calming its population and reducing tension in the region.  

As I have said before, both Russia and Serbia certainly have their right to fight diplomatically against Kosovo’s independence.  But they need to do so responsibly.  Neither of them have done that.

Vladimir Putin has issued a sharp warning to the West about the consequences of recognising Kosovo’s independence, saying the decision would “come back to knock them on the head”. The comments, made during an informal meeting of leaders from ex-Soviet republics, were the strongest by the Russian leader since last Sunday, when Kosovo made its declaration of independence from Serbia.

They followed statements made earlier by Russia’s envoy to Nato, who warned the alliance against overstepping its mandate in Kosovo and said Moscow might be forced to use “brute military force” to maintain respect on the world scene. President Putin used the meeting of presidents from the Commonwealth of Independent States – a loose, Russian-dominated organisation of former Soviet states – to harshly lambast Western nations that have recognised Kosovo’s independence. Among them are the US, Britain, Germany and France. Those who have recognised Kosovo “are miscalculating what they are doing. In the end, this is a stick with two ends and that other end will come back to knock them on the head some day”, he said.

Moscow has heatedly protested the Kosovo declaration, which has sparked violent protests in Serbia and international disagreement over whether to recognise the fledgling nation. Earlier, Russia’s Nato ambassador, Dmitry Rogozin, said the Russian military might also get involved if all European Union nations recognised Kosovo’s independence without United Nations agreement and if Nato oversteps its authority in Kosovo. He couched his threat, however, assuring that Russia was not currently making plans for a military confrontation. Mr Rogozin’s comments sparked quick reaction from the US State Department, which urged Russia to repudiate them. The US ambassador to Nato said Washington was “very disappointed” by Russia’s hostility over Kosovo and Nicholas Burns, the State Department’s third-ranking official, called Rogozin’s statement “highly irresponsible”.

Quoted article was published by the Associated Press and can be found here.

To Serbia’s Government Officials: What are you guys doing?

As reported yesterday, two of Kosovo’s border posts were burned down by an angry Serbian mob.  The SRSG and Kosovo’s Prime Minister Hasim Thaci have already condemned the attacks.  The SRSG and Thaci have also appealed for calm.

But what about statements by Serbia’s government officials, like Tadic or Kostunica, that condemn the attacks and appeal to its people for calm? http://www.lib.hit-u.ac.jp/service/tenji/eu/kejseren.jpg As I unfortunately predicted, no such statements were uttered by either Tadic or Kostunica or any ranking government official for that matter about the border post burnings.  In fact, and inexplicably, Serbia has officially endorsed the attacks on the border posts.  Completely irresponsible.

After all, Serbia’s Kosovo minister, Slobodan Samardzic, commented yesterday that the burning of the border posts was “in accordance with general government policies.” Are you kidding me?  What kind of government policies are designed to intentionally to provoke and inflame a population?  What kind of government policies explicitly condone violence?  What kind of government policies are created to destablize a region? 

I thought that perhaps Samardzic was a maverick and was saying something off the top of his head.  And, obviously, if Samardzic’s comments were not correct, surely Serbia’s higher government officials, such as Tadic and Kostunica, would have said something by now, rebuking Samardzic’s comments.  Samardzic’s comments were uttered more than 24 hours ago.

No comments or rebuke at all by either Tadic, Kostunica, or any high ranking government officials.  A stoney silence by Serbia’s ranking government officials.  Without question, then, Sebia’s government has endorsed these attacks.  Of course, Serbia certainly has the right to be frustrated and to take any diplomatic measures it sees fit against Kosovo independence.  But to explicity endorse this type of violence is disturbing.  Serbia’s position also undermines the status of Serbia’s government as a rational and compassionate body. 

Guys, what the hell are you doing?  What planet are you from?  Is this your idea of moving Serbia forward into Europe? Perhaps Tadic and Kostunica should read the book by Hans Christian Anderson, “The Emperor Has No Clothes.”

Kosovo’s honeymoon as an independent state was rudely shattered yesterday when hundreds of Serbs converged on two border checkpoints separating Serbia from the newly free state and destroyed them with plastic explosives. United Nations peacekeepers evacuated by helicopter the police officers manning the checkpoints, and the vandals then used a tractor to push the metal sheds that functioned as checkpoint buildings down a hill and into a river.

The checkpoints were at Jarnije and Banja, 20 kilometres north of the divided city of Mitrovica. Serb authorities in the four districts implicitly endorsed the attacks, calling on Belgrade to “urgently take steps” to protect Serbia’s territorial integrity – in other words, to take military action to prevent the writ of the newly independent state extending to Serb majority areas. The Serbian Kosovo minister, Slobodan Samardzic, said “today’s action is in accordance with general government policies”.

It was widely predicted in the run-up to independence that the four Serb-dominated districts contiguous with Serbia in the north-west corner of Kosovo might issue a counter-declaration of partition from the Albanian-majority Kosovo. That has not happened, but some Western officials in Pristina said that the border attacks brought de facto partition closer.

Last night, French and American troops belonging to the KFOR peacekeeping mission were said to be attempting to seal the vandalised crossing points. The top UN official in Kosovo, Joachim Ruecker, condemned the attacks. “Any violence is completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” he said.

The violence extended to Mitrovica north, the Serb quarter of the city, where for a second day thousands of protesters marched through the town to the bridge that separates the two communities. Monday’s demonstration had been peaceful, but yesterday they used rocks and sticks to vandalise UN vehicles as they marched. The previous night several loud explosions were heard in town, one of them damaging several cars near a UN building.

Kosovo’s Prime Minister, Hashim Thaci, insisted that there was no cause for alarm. “Everything is under the control of the Nato authorities, Kosovo police and the United Nations,” he said. “Kosovo is integral, inseparable, and Kosovo territory is recognised internationally.”

The above article was published on February 20, 2008 in the Independent. Author of the quoted article is Peter Popham.

The Border Posts, The Border Posts, The Border Posts are on Fire!

Breaking:  In a twisted form of political expression, Serb mobs (which included Serb officers) opposed to Kosovo’s independence torched not one, but two Kosovo border posts. http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://blog.ning.com/files/Wildfire%2520Small.jpg&imgrefurl=http://blog.ning.com/2007/06/how_to_spread_a_network_like_w.html&h=326&w=520&sz=94&hl=en&start=4&tbnid=kzqXYa9FPe6X8M:&tbnh=82&tbnw=131&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dwildfire%26gbv%3D2%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DX The situation became so bad that NATO peacekeepers were called in to restore order and evacuate the police officers manning the posts. 

While it is fine to take out your frustrations on the current state of affairs, torching border posts with angry mobs certainly is not the best expenditure of energy.  In fact, taking such actions not only undermines the protestor’s very arguments, but underscores the very reason why Kosovo’s independence from Belgrade was necessary.

The recent flashpoint has raised two obvious questions. First, will NATO have to increase their presence from 17,000 troops?  Second, will the Serbian government say anything publically to condemn these actions by Serb mobs?

As for the first question, NATO will likely have to increase their presence, at least for the short term.  These types of coordinated actions are designed to provoke and inflame — both of which are recipes for disaster.  

As for the second question, it has been over one hour since the incidents and still not a squeak by anyone in the Serbian government.  I would ask Serbian government officials like Mr. Tadic and Mr. Kostunica to appeal for calm, but given their fighting words and Balkan posturing in the last few days, I sincerely doubt that any such words will be uttered.   I also hope that PM Thaci says something to the Kosovars to remain calm as well.  

Sparks in this region quickly turn into wildfires. 

NATO peacekeepers in newly independent Kosovo intervened on Tuesday as Serb mobs opposed to its secession attacked border posts and police fled.  Serbs burned down one border post and were attacking a second, a Kosovo police spokesman said. Police manning the post called for help from the NATO peacekeeping force, KFOR, which said it was stepping in.

KFOR is going to intervene now,” a force spokesman said. He declined to say which troops of the 35-nation, 17,000-strong force were being deployed.

“We are inches from partition,” said a Western official. He said he believed it was “only a matter of time before KFOR closes the bridges” that cross the River Ibar in the flashpoint city of Mitrovica, dividing Kosovo Serbs from Albanians.

A spokesman for the EU’s International Civilian Office, whose Dutch leader Pieter Feith is expected in Kosovo any day, said there was no plan to withdraw a small advance EU team from the north side of Mitrovica. They would stay on and carry out their mandate, he told Reuters. KFOR forces in the district include French, Danish, Belgian and American units.

“The border crossing post at Jarinje is on fire and the mob has dispersed,” one eyewitness said. Albanian officers of the Kosovo police retreated and Serb officers crossed over into Serbia proper, police sources added.

Angry Serb demonstrations and two nights of vandalism against vehicles and symbols of the international presence in Kosovo have thrown down a gauntlet to the incoming “EULEX” mission. NATO had said on Monday conditions on the ground in Kosovo were quiet after its declaration of independence and there was no current need to reinforce its peacekeeping force.

Article can be found here.

Serbia Takes Its First Official Step Toward Isolation

While the U.S., England, several EU countries and other regional countries have recognized Kosovo’s independence, Serbia has vowed to prevent international recognition of Kosovo’s independence. http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.metroactive.com/papers/metro/09.08.04/gifs/covers-0437.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.metroactive.com/papers/metro/09.08.04/covers-0437.html&h=321&w=350&sz=53&hl=en&start=6&tbnid=uKRwAli8kooDkM:&tbnh=110&tbnw=120&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dtalking%2Bheads%26gbv%3D2%26hl%3DenSerbia has downgraded diplomatic relations with all countries that have recognized Kosovo’s independence, withdrew their diplomats from several countries, have demanded that the Secretary General of the United Nations annul Kosovo’s independence, and charged Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu, Prime Minister Hashim Thaci and Speaker Jakup Krasniqi with committing “a serious criminal act against the constitutional order and security of Serbia.”

One thing is certainly clear in all of this:  while international recognition of Kosovo’s independence grows with each passing day, the only thing Serbia is gaining is international recognition for their commitment to isolation.  One must ask whether this is fair to the majority of the Serbian people intent on joining the European Union.

Serbia’s inflammatory remarks by their government officials, as opposed to Kosovo’s declaration of independence, is now the main factor for instability in the region.  What happened to the promise several months ago by the Serbian government that cool heads should prevail in the event of a unilateral declaration of independence? 

I guess the likes of Kostunica, Nikolic, and Jeremic forgot, or perhaps the “cool heads” did not apply to them.  I also guess it’s much easier to return to the good old days of Balkan tough talk.  The difference is that what may have worked for Belgrade twenty years ago won’t work with an international community resolute on supporting Kosovo’s independence. 

Serbia has recalled its ambassador to the US in response to Washington’s recognition of Kosovo’s independence, Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said Monday. In retaliation for the proclaimed secession, Serbia also filed legal charges against Kosovo’s leadership and vowed to block the nascent nation’s attempts to join international community. Kostunica told Serbia’s lawmakers that his government had ordered ambassador Ivan Vujacic to “urgently” return to Belgrade. He lashed out at the US, accusing it of being behind Kosovo’s bid for independence.

“This decision by the United States will not turn the false state (of Kosovo) into a real one,” Kostunica told parliament. “The government has ordered the immediate withdrawal of the ambassador from Washington.” Kostunica said US recognition showed “the true face of America.”

He added Kosovo’s independence declaration was “unilateral, illegal and immoral, carried out under the protection of the brutal force of the United States and NATO.” “America violated international law for its own interests,” he said. Last week, Belgrade vowed to downgrade – but not break – diplomatic ties with all nations that recognize Kosovo’s independence.  Later Monday, the Foreign Ministry said ambassadors to France and Turkey also were ordered back to the country, following their formal diplomatic recognition of Kosovo. They were withdrawn for “consultation until further notice,” the ministry statement said.

“America and the European Union are stealing Kosovo from us, everyone must realize that,” said Tomislav Nikolic, the head of the ultra-nationalist Radical Party. “From this moment on, we must count the days until we liberate Kosovo.”  President Boris Tadic and the government already have rejected Kosovo’s independence as “illegal and invalid,” vowing to reclaim the territory which was the heart of medieval Serbian kingdom. Serbian lawmakers endorsed the government resolution.

Tadic, who is in New York to address the UN Security Council, said that Serbia would demand that the world body express its respect for the territorial integrity of member states.  “I will demand from (UN Secretary-General) Ban Ki-moon the immediate annulment of the independence proclamation by the nonexistent state in Kosovo,” Tadic said in an interview from New York broadcast on state television.

Earlier, the Interior Ministry said Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu, Prime Minister Hashim Thaci and Speaker Jakup Krasniqi had been charged with committing “a serious criminal act against the constitutional order and security of Serbia” following Sunday’s declaration by Kosovo’s Albanian-dominated parliament. Serbia also said it would seek to block Kosovo from gaining diplomatic recognition and membership in international organizations.

“The so-called Kosovo state will never be a member of the United Nations,” Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic said. “Serbia will use all diplomatic means at its disposal to block Kosovo’s recognition.”  Jeremic said Serbia would rely on Russia to block Kosovo’s membership to the United Nations, while Belgrade would block Kosovo’s access to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe. Every member of the two organizations must agree to newcomers.

“As long as Serbia is a member (of the two organizations), the so-called Kosovo state will not be,” he said.  It remains unclear whether the new nation will be able to join financial bodies such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Several thousand university students marched through the center of Belgrade to oppose an independent Kosovo with banners reading “It (Kosovo) Will Be Ours.” Separate groups of protesters stoned the Turkish Embassy and a nearby McDonald’s restaurant in a repeat of Sunday’s rioting, when Kosovo’s declaration sparked angry protests in several cities and clashes with riot police that left about 50 people injured.

Article can be found here.

A momentous occasion for Kosovo

flag_of_kosovo123.gif

I had the privilege of walking on Mother Theresa street yesterday amongst thousands of Kosovars witnessing history being made.  At 3:39 p.m., Kosovo officially took its first step as an independent country.  Whatever side you are on, you could not help but be moved by excitement and hope.  After years of struggle and active diplomacy with their international partners, Kosovo finally reached its goal of independence from Belgrade.

In many ways, the easy part is done.  Kosovo’s hardest road is ahead. 

Can Kosovo sustain their goal of being a democratic, European nation characterized by good governance, a solid economy, and the rule of law?  Can Kosovo leave the Balkanization and ethnic nationalism that has plagued other Yugoslav states?  Can Kosovo live up to the ideal of equal integration of the country’s six ethnicities?  These questions are still left unanswered and will certainly take years before we know.  But so long as no one forgets the hopes and dreams of Ibrahim Rugova, Kosovo is destined to succeed.  It has to.

Of course, there will be naysayers, both within and outside of Kosovo.  That is natural.  Kosovo needs to look past the criticisms, invariable roadblocks, and history itself, and continue to look forward toward European ideals.  That will take a solid commitment by the Kosovar government to put real practice and brave reform over rhetoric and inflammatory remarks.  That will take a solid commitment by the citizenry to put tolerance over ethnic nationalism and hatred.  And that will also take a solid commitment by the international community to do its best to empower and support Kosovars as they make their transition as the world’s newest country. 

Indeed, the world will be watching closely.