AIM: start

WED, 20 FEB 2002 17:06:46 GMT

Demonstrations Against the Rule of Law

AIM Pristina, February 14, 2002

It seems that the fact that the new head of OUN Mission in Kosovo Michael Steiner arrived in Pristina on Thursday, February 14, on St. Valentine's Day, will not help restore the “love affair” between the people in Kosovo and the Mission he will head. At least, that is what seems to be the case after February 8 when for the first time Kosovo Albanian demonstrators showered with stones members of OUN police and the police of Kosovo. The stones marked the climax of the protest against the arrest of three Albanians indicted for war crimes against the civilian population. More than two weeks ago international officers arrested three persons, members of the former Kosovo Liberation Army, who are suspected to be responsible for violent arrests, beating up, torture and murder, committed in the period between September 1998 and June 1999 mostly in the region of Podujevo, to the north of Pristina. Their arrest provoked a wave of protests all around Kosovo at which speakers (mostly members of the War Veterans' Association, Kosovo Liberation Army - KLA veterans and families of the victims) demanded their momentary release. They accused UNMIK of "working by dictate of Belgrade" and demanded annullment of the Agreement signed by the former international administrator of Kosovo Hans Haekkerup and deputy prime minister Nebojsa Covic that ensured participation of the Serbs in general elections in Kosovo. They accused UNMIK of "trying to put on the same level the systematic crimes of Slobodan Milosevic's regime and the activities of the members of former KLA". The rage because of the arrest of ethnic Albanians at the time when, as they claim" "Serb criminals are freely walking not only all over Serbia but also in Kosovo", started to be manifested by slogans against the international civilian administration. One day in the beginning of February graffiti appeared: "UNMIK-Out of Kosovo". Its authors chose the monument to Skenderbej (Albanian mediaeval national hero) to write it on. However, as if they wanted to hide the "disgrace", as ordinary citizens assessed, somebody covered these slogans with white paint the next day...

However, this graffiti seems to have announced a storm. On February 8, what the people in Kosovo wished the least happened. A few demonstrators first listened to the "fiery" speeches of some of the former members of KLA (with a lot of mistakes in reading of texts obviously written by hands too skilful for their oratory) in which the arrests were mentioned only as examples "of the efforts to blemish the liberation war of KLA". Then the demands took a political turn. Apart from the demands that the police of UNMIK and KFOR begin assisting the Police Service of Kosovo and institutions of Kosovo", appeals were heard for reconsideration of the engagement of UNMIK Mission itself. The chief speaker presented the demand that "the delegation of Kosovo that participated at the conference in Rambouillet gather in order to schedule a referendum on the definite status of Kosovo and consider the role of UNMIK mission". After that they called the demonstrators to a peaceful march in the streets of the city. But, the march was not peaceful for long. A group of a few ten persons decided that the protest should "evolve". Stones, pieces of concrete and sticks (mostly remainders of placards) were thrown at a group of American, German and Albanian policemen. Officials seem to have carefully chosen the policemen who kept order so they were members of "the nations that are proven friends of the Albanians". This, however, had no influence on the "revolutionary" group. Seven policemen were injured and majority of them withdrew from the centre of the city later on. The next to pay the price of the "wrath" of the protesters were the citizens who were drinking coffee downtown at the time. The group injured with stones and beat up a number of citizens angry because they had not joined the protest, then they demolished Ilirija Hotel and a few cafes along the way, beat up at least two journalists and smashed up vehicles of a few citizens.

International officials and representatives of Albanian political parties in Kosovo immediately declared that these incidents would not affect the relations of the citizens of Kosovo with the international community. The head of UNMIK's information centre Simon Haselock declared: "We are convinced that these people are just a small part of the society in Kosovo. This is a demonstration of a group of people who are concerned about themselves and who use illegal and undemocratic means". Stating his stand about the fact that the protesters expressed discontent with UNMIK because of the lack of transparency on the occasion of the arrest of three persons suspected of having committed war crimes, Mr. Haselock said that "everybody who understands democracy in reality knows the significance of transparency during arrests. We were completely transparent when we announced the arrests and we told everybody that there was foundation for the arrest, but we can't publish details that would affect the process of investigation because that is the matter of the court, not the media or groups of people that decide about the guilt or innocence of those who should answer in court". Haselock said that he did not wish to minimize the seriousness of the protest in Pristina, but he also established that a group of people among the protesters intended to cause problems and that they have already done it. Like other officials he stated that these riots did not have a definite aim, but that they were pointless and caused damage to the property of the Albanians downtown Pristina. "It seems that it was hooliganism and bad manners", said, among other, Simon Haselock. Mr. Haselock declared that "protests were orchestrated by a group of people who are afraid that they might become part of the investigation". However, when journalists insisted that he specify who stood behind them, he just said: "One doesn't need scientific research to realize that"...

UNMIK has already ensured support of the most significant centres of decision-making. Diplomats of the USA, Great Britain, Germany, France and Italy, two days before the clash with the protesters stressed that establishment of the rule of law was one of the main priorities and the foundation on which democratic Kosovo was being built. Therefore, if Kosovo wishes to be a society founded on democratic ideals and respect of law, the Kosovars must be ready to condemn crime regardless of the perpetrators or victims. They offered full support to the arrest of three Albanians, stressing the following: "We as the friends of Kosovo wish to convince you that the arrests are not aimed against the former KLA but against individual actions committed by the arrested persons that are contrary to any acceptable norms of behavior or laws". Immediately after them, NATO Secretary General Lord George Robertson sharply declared that "there mustn't be any doubt: NATO and KFOR shall not tolerate any threats from anyone who doesn't wish to obey the law". According to Lord Robertson the principled element of democracy is that not a single citizen can be above the law and that this refers to the three arrested persons. They will have the right to defend themselves in court, and if there is not enough evidence against them, they will be released as Lord Robertson states in his special report.

"Violence of orchestrated hooligans" seems to have awakened the political leaders in Kosovo who condemned the actions of the demonstrators marking them as detrimental for Kosovo. But for the observers in Kosovo "silence of politicians" is equally detrimental, since they tried to use these protests for political purposes. To Democratic Alliance of Kosovo it brings votes and a much better position on the local and foreign political scene. On the other hand, with their silence, other parties that developed from the former structures of KLA are trying to evade having to lay the blame on anyone. Only after the incidents they hurried to stress that the street was not a solution, but did not have the courage to be more direct. One of the foreign observers said that it was "only natural. They can't abuse the demonstrators because the latter could identify those who issued orders"...