MON, 10 FEB 1997 23:53:51 GMT
AIM Pristina, February 6, 1997
The police campaign of arrests, persecution and searches of Kosovo Albanians, which has been going on for over a week in these parts of the country, resembles the one organized in autumn 1992 which lasted until the following summer. However, according to the number of arrested this is by far the most extensive operation after the persecution campaign in autumn 1994 when over 200 former Albanian policemen were arrested. The Serbian authorities have not yet disclosed the identity of the majority of arrested, while the Albanian sources estimate that about 100 of their people are behind bars.
As it was subsequently officially stated, the present police campaign started as an action of discovering and apprehending the leading men and members of the Albanian illegal organization "National Movement for the Liberation of Kosovo". As the public was informed allegedly the leader of this organization Avni Qlinaqu (32) and a number of organization's members were arrested in the first wave. Although the official MUP (Ministry of the Interior) statement labels this organization as illegal and terrorist, emphasizing that during the search of the arrested the police found arms, ammunition, sketches and plans for attacks on facilities, as well as materiel for terrorist raids, the arrested are not directly accused of terrorism or specific terrorist acts. It is only said that they have "organized terrorist groups with the aim of attacking individuals and vital facilities and preparing armed revolt" and that the police is still working in "shedding more light on their incriminating activities"...
The police never discloses its intentions, and neither is the Serbian, especially when it comes to confrontations in Kosovo. It is therefore, interesting that only in connection with the killing of three Albanians near Vucitrn on January 31, the MUP of Serbia states its true intentions and the extent of the present campaign. It says that during the arrest of one of the leaders of the so called Liberation Army of Kosovo, 35 year-old Zahir Pajazit, someone fired, allegedly at the MUP authorities, from a vehicle which was moving from Vucitrn towards Pristina. On that occasion, apart from Pajazit, who was in the car, the driver Hakif Zejnulahu and a passenger Edmon Hodza, a student, lost their lives. One policeman was also lightly wounded, and two were seriously injured. From the statement of the MUP of Serbia it is possible to conclude that Hodza and Zejnulahu were accidental victims for whose murder no one will answer, and this is the first time that concerning such accidents no mention is made of the names of the wounded and injured policemen, nor weapons from which the murdered had (allegedly) fired.
Consequently, in its statement concerning the conflict in Vucitrn, the MUP of Serbia stated that activities have been initiated for "discovering and stopping the illegal and terrorist activities of the Albanian extremists in Kosovo", and that the MUP authorities "have recently arrested a number of members of illegal and terrorist organizations such as the so called "Liberation Army of Kosovo", "National Movement for the Liberation of Kosovo" and "National Movement of Kosovo", as well as that "direct participants in the terrorist acts have been discovered and apprehended" with further measures and activities being undertaken for tracking down other perpetrators of terrorist acts". It may sound like hair splitting, but as regards possible assumptions on the prevailing situation and further course of the campaign, the fact that difference is made between "direct participants in the terrorist acts" and "perpetrators of terrorist acts" is not without relevance. It is also important that the names of the arrested are not disclosed so that some families no nothing of the fate of their closest relatives, and lawyers are being denied contact with some of their clients.
Lawyers who had inspected a part of investigation documentation say that acts on the opening of formal investigation are based on three main points: associating with the aim of hostile activity, endangering the territorial integrity of FRY and terrorism. Up till now, the Albanians were convicted to shorter or longer prison sentences precisely on account of "associating" and "endangering". As far as it is known, in recent years they have been charged for terrorism in only two cases. In the first, the Serbian court rejected the charges and acquitted the accused, while the second case (the group from Srbica arrested in late September and early October last year) is still under investigation.
In all hitherto tense situations in Kosovo it was hard or almost impossible to make a clear distinction between criminal and political activities. Judging by the way in which the Serbian media comment the current campaign of arrests and torture in Kosovo, it seems that this time a broad repressive action, with primarily political objectives, is in question. This is to some extent confirmed by the fact that among the arrested and persecuted are mostly the activists of the Democratic Alliance of Kosovo (DSK), the Pristina Committee for the Protection of Human Rights, the Parliamentary Party of Kosovo (PPK), and even of the Red Cross. Many of them are students and several are journalists. Zahir Pajazit, whom the police named as one of the leaders of the so called Liberation Army of Kosovo, was an activist of the Parliamentary Party of Kosovo.
Some other facts are no less important for the assessment of this campaign. All Albanian sources state that, despite thorough search, not a single piece of fire arms was found in the first wave of arrests. Even those who only occasionally follow the developments in Kosovo in the last 15 years could observe that the film made in the premises of the MUP of Serbia in Pristina, which was shown to a broad audience, about the confiscated arms and other allegedly compromising material (paper clippings, book titles which can be freely bought in shops, different photos) is nothing but, a poor forgery. The capturing of suspects was carried out mostly during day, with strong full-packed police forces with an obvious intention to show force.
Some lawyers also speak about brutal physical harassment of the arrested and other apprehended, about gross violation of investigation norms, interrogations which last day in and day out in violation of the 72 hours deadline from the moment of the arrest. But, this is normal investigation procedure in Kosovo, so that it is already now estimated that the forthcoming trials will be nothing but a judicial farce.
The Serbian campaign has notably increased tension in Kosovo. It is interesting that for several months now, mostly outside Kosovo, there had been rumours of dramatic increase of tensions and even of a direct danger of a broader conflict. Such drastic elements are more or less present in the latest statement of the Presidency of the Democratic Alliance of Kosovo, which in all strained situations in Kosovo till now, insisted on restraint, appeasement and reasonable behaviour. But in its latest statement it assesses the situation as tense and highly charged.
Repeating earlier estimates that qualifications of terrorism are aimed at justifying and legalizing violence against the Albanians, this statement also says: "The announced scenario of Milosevic's attempt to shift not only the attention, but the conflict itself, to Kosovo as well as information on the arrival to Kosovo of special para-military and military groups for conflict organization are now only confirmed...The DSK Presidency warns of the fact that Albanians alone cannot preserve peace in Kosovo and that only the Serbian regime can provoke a violent conflict...The DSK Presidency upholds the idea of convening of an urgent meeting of Albanian political factors in Kosovo in order to review the newly emerged situation and coordinate the actions it requires".
Presently, it is hard to predict how will the things develop and what may come out of this situation if the Albanian side decides that it is becoming unbearable. Still, much will depend on the future course of the current campaign of the Serbian police. The statement from the last meeting between President Milosevic and the top leadership of Serbian police says that "the anti-terrorist operation lasted from January 22 to 29, 1997 and that 66 members of terrorist organizations were arrested in that action". However, a question remains whether the campaign is over. The conflict in Vucitrn happened on January 31, but the Albanian organizations inform that every day people are still being arrested and brought in for questioning.
For the assessment of situation and future trends it is interesting to known that simultaneously with this police campaign the first round of negotiations for the implementation of the Agreement on the Normalization of Albanian Education was held in Belgrade. Also, it was agreed to hold the second round of negotiations this week in Pristina (it was unofficially announced for February 5). However, having in mind the past experiences with the Serbian regime, especially with Slobodan Milosevic, the Albanian side speaks of this with much caution. In favour of this is the statement of the leader of Kosovo Albanians Ibrahim Rugova, who in his most recent address to journalists said that despite repression which the Serbian regime is implementing in Kosovo, the "three plus three" group will, nevertheless, meet.
Why has Milosevic simultaneously embarked on the "retaliation" action in Kosovo and the police action against peaceful protesters in Belgrade? Either to attract attention to Kosovo so that the job in Belgrade could be finished in peace, or he has started against Belgrade in order to be able to continue his plotting in Kosovo. How can he congratulate the members of the MUP of Serbia on arrests of people who have not been proven to be terrorists, without mentioning the killings, and at the same time not congratulate them on "successfully concluding the action" against walking protesters in Belgrade. Are these "brilliant and dirty" moves of his connected in any way with the implementation of the Agreement on the Normalization of Education in the Albanian Language and announced return of first Albanian asylum-seekers from Germany, so as to warn that the situation in Kosovo is critical and that their return should be postponed? Or, perhaps, this was his last trump card in showing everyone who is in charge and who owns the police and arms? His future biographers might be able to fathom the workings of all dark pores of his gray matter.
Fehim Rexhepi AIM Pristina