Saturday, August 13, 2005

Kosova: towards partition?

Kosova: towards partition?

By Michael Karadjis

The Trepca zinc, lead, cadmium, gold and silver mining and metallurgy complex in the north of Kosova has been described as the “most valuable piece of real estate in the Balkans” by Chris Hedges, the Balkan writer for the New York Times. It is valued at about US$5 billion. The Trepca complex goes way beyond raw materials. According to Hedges, “The Stari Tng mine, with its warehouses, is ringed with smelting plants, 17 metal treatment sites, freight yards, railroad lines, a power plant and the country's largest battery plant”.

Trepca explains why the regime of Slobodan Milosevic, which has been trying to construct an “ethnically pure” Serb state over the last decade, wants to hang onto a region where 2 million Albanians form 90% of the population. The wealth of northern Kosova means far more than medieval monasteries abandoned by the Serbs many centuries ago.

The northern city of Mitrovica, Kosova's second largest, is now firmly partitioned between a Serb-ruled north and an Albanian-ruled, completely destroyed, south. A river and a bridge solidify the border.

When Albanians, who previously formed the majority in the north, try to cross the bridge and return to their homes, they are confronted with two obstacles: Serb paramilitaries who physically abuse them, and their allies: French NATO troops, using armoured vehicles and checkpoints with barbed wire and cement blocks.

In the northern section of Mitrovica is the Trepca complex. The Serb paramilitaries have declared the whole of Kosova from their side of the river to the Serbian border, some 50 kilometres away, to be a “Serb zone”. The towns to the north, such as Leposovac, are overwhelmingly Serb in population, but northern Mitrovica and the Trepca region, before the war, were not.On August 7, 1000 Albanians tried to cross the bridge to return to their homes. They were driven back by French troops with armoured vehicles. Over the following days, hundreds of Albanians repeatedly confronted the French blockade.

Division long debated

Just before the latest war, David Owen, Britain's chief negotiator during the Bosnian war, proposed the partition of Kosova, with every square mile “lost” by Serbia to its Albanian population to be “compensated” by the same amount of territory in “Republika Srpska” -- the ethnically cleansed Serb area of Bosnia -- becoming formally part of Serbia. Leading Serbian nationalist intellectuals, such as Dobrica Cosic, had been pushing this view for years.

The idea of physically separating the two peoples was put up as a solution to the seemingly endless instability of the region, caused by the clash between an independence-seeking Albanian majority, and a Serbian regime determined to deny them even autonomy. The NATO air war and the corresponding Serbian attempt to empty much of Kosova of its Albanians has cemented ethnic hatreds to a level making separation inevitable.

For Milosevic, the aim of the war was to put “facts on the ground”, so that many of the region's ethnically cleansed villages could become the Serbian part of Kosova in such a partition.

However, NATO could not agree so blatantly, because the scale of the Albanian refugee problem threatened to further destabilise the southern Balkans. They clearly had to be taken back to Kosova. This was also necessary to NATO's credibility.

Despite US rhetoric that a Russian zone would partition Kosova, as Serbs would gather there and Albanians would not return, it is the French NATO troops who are carrying out partition. In reality, the US concern was with overall NATO control, not partition, and the deal that brings Russian troops into parts of the French, German and US zones will have the same effect anyway.

French imperialism has long had a special relationship with Serbia. Most Bosnian Serb leaders wanted by the Hague for war crimes, including Radovan Karadzic, live in the French sector in Bosnia. A joint French-Serbian international trade bank was established in Mitrovica on July 14.

Attacks on Serb minority

Since the retreat of the Yugoslav army and the entry of NATO troops, there have been nearly 200 murders in Kosova. A large proportion of these have been of members of the Serb and Rom (Gypsy) minorities. It is estimated that up to half the province's 200,000 Serbs have fled, fearing revenge attacks.

The Kosova Liberation Army, which is being disarmed by NATO forces, has vigorously condemned these attacks. Following the brutal murder of 14 Serb farmers in the village of Gracko, south of Pristina, Hashim Thaci, head of the KLA and its unrecognised provisional government, declared, “We strongly condemn this act has nothing to do with the progressive democratic forces in Kosova ...So we must cooperate closely with the international community to assist in the investigation that will lead to the capture of those who are guilty.”Thaci went on to call again for “a harmonious coexistence, tolerance and understanding between ethnic groups”.

The attacks on Serbs have a number of sources. In the main, they appear to be revenge by returning Albanian refugees, who have come back to mass graves of relatives, burned-down houses, their possessions stolen, their farm animals killed.

For example, Pec in western Kosova is a blackened hole -- Albanians, who formed 80% of the pre-war population, returned to find all their houses destroyed and only Serb houses standing. An element of revenge is hardly surprising.

Some Albanians are expelling Serbs from their homes because they themselves have none -- it is estimated by the UN refugee agency that up to 400,000 people do not have habitable homes, and they will not be repaired by winter. After spending billions on war, the Western powers have sent only a trickle of aid to help house rebuilding.

A UN Human Rights report has implicated units of the KLA in many attacks -- but did not find evidence of any support from the KLA leadership. On the contrary, to the extent that there is any political drive behind attacks, they may be directed by elements of the KLA trying to destabilise the Thaci leadership's moderate course, or even enemies of the KLA.

Another element is purely criminal. Such a shattered society creates a criminal element, and there is considerable evidence of organised crime crossing over from Albania, which remains in major instability since the 1997 uprising which looted the armouries and smashed the state apparatus. Increasingly, Albanian as well as Serb homes are being looted by criminal gangs with no particular ethnic bias.

According to Masar Shala, KLA-appointed mayor of Prizren, referring to the criminal gangs from Albania, “Girls are kidnapped, taken to work as prostitutes in Italy, cars are stolen or hijacked, houses are looted, and there are shootings at night”.

Serb paramilitaries

The revenge attacks and the poisoned ethnic atmosphere are creating the conditions for solidifying certain “Serb” areas, which would join Serbia proper in a future partition.

The key region is that to the north of Mitrovica containing the Trepca complex. Russian forces would patrol the southern part of the French sector in the north-west, which will de facto extend this “Serb” region.

Just south of that, in the northern part of the Italian sector, there are increasing reports of Serb paramilitary activity. The whole of Kosova's border with Serbia and Montenegro is wide open.

On July 27, Albanian television reported that Serb paramilitary units had laid siege to the village of Moistir. Just south of there is the patriarchate of Pec, a collection of medieval churches outside the town, which Yugoslav troops, according to the UN resolution ending the war, will return to protect.

This region then borders on the Russian zone in the northern tip of the German sector. On July 17, Serb paramilitary forces murdered four Albanian farmers in this region, outside of Klina. There could thus be a solid stretch of “Serb” zones along the north and north-west.

The other major region of Serb paramilitary activity is the north-east section of the US zone, along Kosova's eastern border with Serbia. While returning Albanians expelled many Serbs from the town of Kamenica, Serb paramilitaries have expelled many Albanians from villages to the east of Kamenica and Gninalje.

Moreover, thousands of Albanians who formed the majority in several districts in Serbia proper, bordering this region, are also being expelled, according to a UNHCR spokesperson on August 2.

Now the Russian forces are being based in the Kamenica region. This in turn would border on the region of the Gracanica Monastery just south of Pristina, to which Yugoslav forces will return, while, just to the north, Russian forces have a major base of operations in Kosovo Polje, a western region of Pristina heavily populated by Serbs. There is thus potential for another “Serb” zone in the east.On August 4, 2000 Albanians marched against the Russian troops in Kamenica, following many incidents of Russian roadblocks, including by masked men who reportedly spoke Serbian. In one case, Russian troops detained KLA commander Agim Ceku. US forces allowed the demonstration to proceed, but hovered threateningly above it in Apache helicopters.

Who is ruling Kosova?

The United Nations has set up a temporary authority in Kosova, UNMIK, which rules the province as an international protectorate. While it is supposed to prepare conditions for eventual Kosovan autonomy within Yugoslavia, in reality it is refusing to devolve any power to the Kosovan Albanian and Serb populations.The KLA and other Kosovan parties have already set up their “provisional government”, separate from the UN authority, but the UN refuses to recognise this authority -- though at the municipal level it provides the only basic services.

A UN police force of 3000 is being set up from troops from many countries, supposedly to ensure security for both Albanians and Serbs, which in reality could be done only by a Kosovan police force based on both populations.Outgoing UN “interim” governor Sergio Vieira de Mello declared that if the KLA mayors are not performing according to Western dictates, “You sack them, absolutely”, with the use of force. This attitude has led to clashes between KFOR and Albanian forces.

The fundamental question is “Who owns Kosova's resources and industries?”. Since Kosova is promised “autonomy” rather than “republic” status within Yugoslavia (like Serbia and Montenegro), Kosova's economic assets are still owned by the Serbian republic, as UN governor Bernard Kouchner recently made clear.

Therefore, partition may not even be necessary for Serbia to maintain ownership of Trepca -- but Milosevic is taking no chances with something so valuable.Furthermore, the Serbian regime has been trying to sell many of Kosova's assets. The Greek company Mytilinios has already bought a major share in Trepca, while Greek and Italian investors were sold the right to exploit Kosova's telephone system.

According to Yugoslavia's official privatisation law, the workers are entitled to shares when industries are privatised -- but all Albanian workers were driven out in 1989, 13,000 of them from Trepca. Giving workers their rightful shares would leave fewer for foreign partners and make it more difficult to sell the industries.In January 1998, the underground Kosova parliament denounced the “flagrant violations of the rights of Kosovar employees and citizens” and warned foreign governments and businessmen that these deals were “invalid” and that “the Albanian people will treat them as neo-colonialists and demand reparations”. It is thus in the interests of Western investors for Albanian workers to be deprived of their rights.

However, even a Kosova truncated by partition would be unlikely to be allowed independence by its imperialist masters, as everyone from NATO chief Javier Solana to Bernard Kouchner has insisted. For imperialism, independence or union with Albania of even a part of Kosova would hold the same dangers as if it were all of Kosova. Changes to international borders would encourage demands by other oppressed national minorities throughout the Balkans, above all the Albanians in Macedonia and Montenegro.

For the Kosovans, the loss of Trepca would doom economic independence. For imperialism, internal partition would be the best of both worlds: an internal separation of hostile forces, making the situation easier to control, while avoiding the destabilising effects of a change in international borders.

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