Thursday, July 28, 2005

Blood feuds? in Kosovo[Kosova] threaten final status talks

Journalist, family members of political figures shot dead in two months of violence

Peja- Kosova/Kosovo- A spate of ruthless assassinations in Kosovo[Kosova] is threatening to divide the Kosovo Albanian elite. As final-status talks loom - with most bets on late summer to early autumn - this could splinter it and weaken the Albanian side, should it develop into a renewed power struggle. With some form of hedged independence the most likely outcome of the negotiations, the stakes are high.

On June 3 Bardhy Ajeti, a journalist on the newspaper Bota Sot, was shot in the head near Gnjilane. He later died. Bota Sot is close to President Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) and Ajeti was a vocal critic of the post-war elite, most of whom were associated with the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK).

Then, on July 12, two members of the Musaj family were killed in a drive-by shooting near Pec in western Kosovo.

The killings fall into a pattern of feuds that run both on the family and clan level, and at the political level. The Musaj family was prominent in the so called Armed Forces of the Republic of Kosovo (FARK) during the late 1990s. FARK was allied to the LDK, and was a bitter rival of the UCK. During the 1998-99 conflict the Haradinaj family, also from the Pec area and influential in the UCK, became embroiled in a vendetta with the Musajs.

Ramush Haradinaj commanded the UCK's 'Dukagjini' Operational Zone and then founded the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) after hostilities ceased. In December 2004 he became prime minister after the AAK became Rugova's junior coalition partner. Four months later he was indicted by the Hague Tribunal and resigned his post.

The Haradinaj-Musaj feud became emblematic of wider FARK-UCK bloodletting. In 2000 Ramush Haradinaj was involved in a gun battle with members of the Musaj family at their home in Strelnik, western Kosovo. The Musajs allege that he ordered the murder of their brother and three others in 1999.

Then in November 2002 the hybrid international-local war crimes court in Pristina convicted Haradinaj's brother Daut of torturing and killing four people in the aftermath of the conflict in 1999 - including a member of the Musaj family. He was sentenced to five years in jail. Subsequently Musaj family members who testified at the trial were threatened and harassed. One of them, Sadik Musaj, was shot in Pec by unidentified gunmen on February 2 and died later from his wounds.

In March, days after Ramush Haradinaj surrendered to The Hague, his younger brother Enver was murdered by gunmen. According to a source in The Hague,in addition to the Serbian Government, former FARK members have co-operated in the indictment against Haradinaj. The indictment includes the following: "Ramush Haradinaj [and those under his command] did not tolerate the presence of any other Albanian factions fighting against the Serbs, such as the Armed Forces of the Republic of Kosovo ("FARK") in their territory. On July 4 1998, Ramush Haradinaj along with soldiers of his headquarters in Glodjane/Gllogjan beat, humiliated and seriously injured four members of these forces."

If FARK members did indeed assist The Hague, it will add further intensity to the conflict. Nevertheless, it appears so far to have been confined geographically and politically. According to Jeta Xharra, Kosovo director of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), "There is definitely a personalised, local vendetta in western Kosovo, but it does not affect Pristina. Although these are the military wings of LDK and AAK, the parties themselves remain in coalition and unaffected. This is a wild, thuggish and irrational war, and it doesn't matter to them what happens in Pristina."

For those watching the security situation as status talks approach (for which KFOR's intelligence capacity has been bolstered considerably) it is hoped that the conflict does not break out of its local confines and spread to civilian politics. For many, however, possibly including the local police, the vendetta is almost a natural phenomenon that must be allowed to run itself out. "This sort of thing happens in Kosovo," one seasoned Balkan diplomat told The Budapest Times.

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