Saturday, August 05, 2006

Kosovo Update

Reading the attached BBC News article about the future and issue of independence for Kosovo, I am struck with wonder that only a few months ago, I was living in the divided city of Mitrovica, a place they describe as filled with tension (Serb/Northern side) and hope (Albanian/Southern side). That I sipped lattes at Ex, shopped for fruit and vegetables, and passed the troops as I crossed over the bridge many times. That, during our trip in 2003, our team interviewed Oliver Ivanovic, the Serbian politician whom the writer describes as a "moderate," and whom we found engaging and well-spoken, later to find out that we had upset our Albanian hosts and friends, who knew him as an accused war criminal.

I knew tension was high with talks of independence, but reading the article, I am reminded again of what is at stake. A sense of hope. The safety of many friends, Albanian and Serb, who warmly invited me into their homes, their lives and their stories. I am caught between gut-wrenching fear and the realization that daily life continues - fires are built to cook flia, nescafe and caj (tea) are ever-flowing, and people want what we all want - a better and safer future.

Independence drive
By Nick Hawton

Pass the French troops stationed on the bridge over the River Ibar, that separates the Serb north from the Albanian south, and you enter a different world.

The place is humming: crowded, colourful, energetic. There is a sense of expectation.

Edmond Jolla, 32, is Albanian and the owner of the upmarket restaurant Ex.

"Everyone is expecting independence. In terms of my business, independence would enable me to invest for the future. Everyone will live better. I have two flats in north Mitrovica and when we get independence I hope to get them back. The war is finished," he tells me.

Drive 45 minutes south and you arrive at the air-conditioned, spankingly clean New Government Buildings in the capital, Pristina.

The former Albanian guerrilla leader-turned-prime minister, Agim Ceku, is sharp-suited and smiling when I arrive.

He tells me the government will accept nothing less than independence - and partition is out of the question.

"We are expecting full independence. We are sure it will be for the benefit of the region and for local Serbs. We are making a lot of commitments to them. They will benefit from positive discrimination. And Serbia will be free. They will have no enemies around, they will have no need to pay a lot of money to fund power structures and no reason to have large security forces."

Back in Mitrovica, it is no secret that both communities are well-armed and ready for a worst-case scenario.

"I will do whatever is in my capacity, physically and intellectually, to defend our right to live in peace and dignity and to live freely in our state. I, like most Serbs, will not accept being moved from one state to another," says Milan Ivanovic, one of north Mitrovica's most popular politicians.

Extra police

K-For recently reopened its base north of Mitrovica and close to the border with Serbia proper. Extra UN police have been deployed in the region. All in case it all goes wrong.

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