When victims become killers

Clinton urges Kosovars to forgo revenge against Serbs.


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Laura Rozen
November 23, 1999 4:00PM (UTC)

When Serbian police and paramilitaries expelled hundreds of thousands of
ethnic Albanians from their homes in Kosovo last spring, they often jeered
at those they evicted: "Go to your Clinton," or "Is your Clinton
going to help you now?"

On Tuesday, President Clinton came to a Kosovo that is under the protection of
thousands of well-armed NATO troops and U.N. police, and urged the Kosovar
Albanians -- almost all of whom have returned from refugee camps in
Macedonia and Albania -- to resist the impulse for revenge against the
province's dwindling Serbian and non-Albanian population.

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"You can never forget the injustice that was done to you," Clinton told a
crowd of cheering Kosovar Albanians gathered in an unheated school
gymnasium in the central Kosovo town of Urosevac. "No one can force you to
forgive what was done to you. But you must try."

The crowd stopped smiling when Clinton added: "You cheered for us when we
came in, because when you were being oppressed we stood by you. We won the
war, but listen: Only you can win the peace. The time for fighting is passed."

It's a message not everyone in Kosovo wants to hear.

In the five months since a NATO-led peacekeeping force for Kosovo --
known as "KFOR" -- moved into Kosovo and Serb forces withdrew,
well over half the province's Serbian population has fled, often chased out of
their homes by ethnic Albanians threatening to kill them if they remained.

International aid agencies say they believe that only around 50,000
Serbs remain in the province, down from over 200,000 before the war. Romas (or Gypsies),
Muslim Slavs and other non-Albanians have also been terrorized into leaving
by ethnic Albanians who accuse them of collaborating with the Serbs.

Trying to protect Kosovo's ethnic minorities "is one of our most difficult
tasks," said Paul Ghedini of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in
Pristina Tuesday. "I think ... the exodus of non-Albanians has stopped at this point."

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"But incidents still occur, too frequently," Ghedini added. "We are still
seeing a great deal of movement of the population, non-Albanians going to
towns like Gjilane (in the American sector in the southeast of Kosovo) and
Mitrovica, where they feel there is an already established community of
Serbs and Romas."

Although the international community has committed some 45,000 troops,
1,700 international police and billions of dollars to Kosovo, it has so
far been unable to halt almost daily acts of violence, arson and threats
against the province's remaining ethnic minorities. Nor has it been able to
stop a tide of petty crime, organized crime, and smuggling that seems to
have increased since control of Kosovo's provincial borders was transferred
to the United Nations and KFOR.

Some analysts point to the United Nations' excessively bureaucratic operating and
hiring procedures as one reason the agency, charged with policing and
administering the province, has been so slow to deploy and take control.

"Say someone gets beat up on the street," says Fron Nazi, an Albanian
expert and the Pristina director of the Institute of War and Peace
Reporting. "The only place you can find a police officer is at a pizzeria.
No one is sure where to go. The U.N. has spent more time setting up mini-U.N.
stations rather than actually taking advantage of the goodwill of people --
to provide them secure lives."

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"Here we are, it's practically winter," Nazi continued, "and [the United Nations]
has still failed to set up the structure to implement their program for
development of society and failed to provide a structure where Albanians
can turn if they have a problem."

But others, including President Clinton, say ethnic Albanians and their
political leaders must take greater responsibility to stop those within
their own community from attacking non-Albanians.

"One of the main messages from President Clinton today was that the
international community is very much interested in helping Kosovars, but can
help them only if they help themselves," said Veton Surroi, publisher of
the Albanian-language daily Koha Ditore. Surroi was recently threatened
by a publication linked to the Kosovo Liberation Army for an article he
published urging an end to the revenge attacks.

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"Non-Albanians don't feel safe, except in a few places where they have
created enclaves," said Marcus Pushnik, an analyst with the International
Crisis Group, a think tank and advocacy group in Pristina. "Who has created
the atmosphere where minorities don't feel safe? We know that politicians
have used such a mechanism in other parts of the Balkans. The atmosphere of
fear helps their reign of ethnic cleansing. Is the violence against minorities orchestrated? Very many people think so, and there are strong indications that it is."

International officials, still struggling to better understand Kosovars'
insular culture, are trying to investigate possible links between the KLA,
which was officially disbanded in September, and organized crime groups
working in the province; investigators are also looking at KLA ties to other seemingly coordinated efforts to evict the province's remaining Serbs.

Father Sava, a leader of Kosovo's Serbian minority and an Orthodox priest,
says Albanian extremists are not just trying to evict remaining Serbs, but also are destroying their cultural and religious monuments. Father Sava, sometimes called the Cybermonk, publishes a list of Orthodox monuments and churches he claims were damaged on his Web site.

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"The president said that the churches must be rebuilt, the Serb refugees
must be brought back, that we all have to work in finding the missing and
kidnapped people," Sava said after meeting with Clinton Tuesday. But
"we would have been much more pleased if the political support and
financing were conditional on more active involvement of Albanian leaders
in preventing violence."

There's some dispute about how much damage has been done to Orthodox religious sites, however. Andras Riedlamyer, a scholar of Balkan art and architecture at Harvard
University who recently returned from a trip researching damage to Kosovo's cultural heritage and monuments, says he didn't see much evidence of recent attacks on Serbian monuments.

"Going by Father Sava's rhetoric, one might be justified in thinking that
attacks on Serb churches are increasing," Riedlmayer says. "As far as I can
determine, however, the bulk of such attacks occurred in the first half of
the summer; there have been only two reported since early September. That
does not mean that these sites are no longer endangered -- just that KFOR
is in fact doing a good job of guarding them. The notion that [Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic] needs to send his police and troops in order to save medieval cultural treasures from destruction is pure propaganda."

In a speech to some of the 6,000 U.S. troops serving in Kosovo, Clinton said the ethnic hostilities that still plague Kosovo define the nature of the conflicts and security threats the United States and its allies face all over the world.

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"The biggest problem in the world today is the oldest problem of human society," Clinton told troops based at Camp Bondsteel, near the southeastern Kosovo town of Gjilane -- the biggest base the United States has built since Vietnam. "People tend to be afraid of people who don't look like them. The No. 1 problem is racial and ethnic and religious hatred."

Looking over the troops gathered in front of him, Clinton said, "But our military is a stunning rebuke of that. All of you come from all different races, walks of life, religions. You can appreciate differences. You realize your common humanity is more important than your differences."


Laura Rozen

Laura Rozen writes about U.S. foreign policy and the Balkans crisis for Salon News.

MORE FROM Laura Rozen

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