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Violent unrest in Kosovomarker, a Serbianmarker province under United Nations administration, broke out on 17 March 2004. The Albanians' actions during the mass unrest were compared to ethnic cleansing, leading to the largest violent incident in the province since the Kosovo War of 1999.

Events in Kosovo

Ethnic tensions and territorial dispute have been a major problem in Kosovo for many years and sparked the Kosovo War of 1999. Since the end of the war, the province has been administered by the UN under the auspices of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), with security provided by the NATOmarker-led Kosovo Force (KFOR).

Between 150,000–250,000 Serbs and Roma fled the province in the immediate aftermath of the war. Those that remained organized themselves into enclaves guarded by peacekeeping forces. Low-level violence continued after the war. Serbian minorities in Kosovo claimed to have been subjected to "persistent intimidation and harassment" , though the level of violence is reported to have declined somewhat since the end of the war. There have also been repeated attacks on Serbian Orthodox churches, shrines and other cultural monuments, with over a hundred being destroyed or damaged. Clashes have also broken out between Serbs and Albanians in the somewhat Serb-inhabited north of Kosovo, with Albanians having been harassed by Serbs and have been chased out of their homes and taken refuge north of the Ibar Rivermarker.

The latest unrest began on 15 March 2004 with the drive-by shooting of an 18-year-old Serb, Jovica Ivić, in the village of Čaglavica in the central region of Kosovo. Local Serbs from the village staged demonstrations and blocked traffic in protest at the shooting.

On 16 March, three Albanian children drowned in the Ibar River in the village of Čabar, near the Serb community of Zubin Potokmarker. A fourth boy survived. It was speculated that he and his friends had been chased into the river by Serbs in revenge for the shooting of Ivić the previous day. The truth behind this incident is completely different. It is now confirmed that a fourth boy was indoctrinated by his parents.

The following day thousands of Kosovo Albanians, protesting against the boys' deaths, gathered at the south end of the bridge across the Ibar at Kosovska Mitrovicamarker, which divides the Serbian and Albanian districts of the town. A large crowd of Serbs gathered at the north end to prevent the Albanians from crossing. Peacekeepers from the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) blockaded the bridge, using tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades to keep the crowds apart. However, gunmen on both sides opened fire with submachine guns and grenades, killing at least eight people (six Albanians and two Serbs) and wounding over 300. Eleven peacekeepers were also injured, of which two seriously.

The violence continued on 18 March with further demonstrations in many localities across Kosovo, notably at Čaglavica again and also in Kosovska Mitrovica, Lipljanmarker, Obilicmarker and Pristinamarker. The casualty toll at the end of the day was 28 and 600 people were injured, including 61 peacekeepers and 55 police officers. U.N. spokeswoman Isabella Karlowitz said 110 houses and 16 churches were destroyed. She also reported that around 3,600 people had been made homeless by the violence, including but not limited to Serbs, Roma, and Ashkali.

Attacks on Kosovo Serbs

Remains of Serbian Orthodox Church of Holy Salvation from XIV century, destroyed in March 2004.
The violence quickly spread to other parts of Kosovo, with Kosovo Serb communities and religious and cultural symbols attacked by crowds of Albanians. Some of these locations were ostensibly under the protection of KFOR at the time. During the riots and violence, eight Kosovo Serbians were killed.

The sites of violence included :

  • Belo Polje – Serb returnees attacked
  • Čaglavica – 11 Serb houses set on fire,5 Serbs killed. 17 Swedish soldiers wounded.
  • Kosovo Poljemarker – Serb houses and a hospital set on fire;
  • Lipljanmarker – gunfights between KFOR and Albanians,4 Serbs killed, remaining Serbs took refugee in Orthodox Church which was attacked;
  • Pećmarker – rioting in which UN offices were attacked; one Albanian killed by UN police.
  • Pristinamarker – all remaining Serbs evacuated or forced out
  • Gnjilanemarker – all remaining Serbs evacuated or forced out
  • Cernica, Serb village near Gnjilane – 3 Serbs killed
  • Svinjare, Serb village near Kosovska Mitrovica – 4 Serbs killed
  • Obilićmarker – Serb houses burnt, all Serbs chased out
  • Vitinamarker – Attack on church prevented by US Army KFOR troops, Orthodox priest injured, demonstrators threw rocks at US Army soldiers and set fire to many Serb homes
  • Drajkovce, village near Štrpcemarker – 2 Serbs killed
  • Grabac – Serbian village, most Serbians evacuated by Italian peacekeepers to Osojane Serbian village, some parts of Grabac attacked.


In a statement on 18 March, the Serbian Orthodox Church reported that a number of its churches and shrines in Kosovo had been damaged or destroyed by rioters. These included:


Prizrenmarker:
*Our Lady of Ljevišmarker Cathedral (Bogorodica Ljeviška), 12th century was burned down on 17 March
*Church of Holy Salvation (Sveti Spas), 14th century
*Holy Hieromartyr George Cathedral (Sv. velikomučenika Đorđa), 1887 housing the 14th century icon of Mary and an 18th century iconostasis
*Monastery of the Holy Archangels from the 14th century
*Church of St. George Runović, 15th century with 16th century iconostasis gates
*Raška-Prizren Archdiocese
*Building of Sts. Cyrill and Methodius Orthodox Seminary, 1880, sacked
Peć:
*Church of St. John the Baptist (Svetog Jovana Preteče i Krstitelja) set on fire on 17 March in Pećka Banja village
*Belo Polje village church of St. Nicholas, 19th century
Đakovicamarker: Church of the Ascension of Our Lord (Uspenja Gospodnjeg), 19th century, torched along with the parochial residence on March 17. Reports of Albanians clearing the ruins of the Church of the Holy Trinity, destroyed in 1999
Uroševacmarker: Church of Tzar St. Uroš
Kosovo Poljemarker:
*Saint Nicholas in Kosovo Polje town, 19th century
*Bresje village church of St. Katherine, 19th century
Gnjilanemarker: Church of St. Nicholas, 1861
Pristinamarker: Church of St. Nicholas, 19th century, damaged and sacked
Vučitrnmarker: Church of St. Elijah, burned down
Southern Kosovska Mitrovicamarker: Church of Saint Sava set afire in the morning of March 18, adjoining Orthodox cemetery desecrated
Srbicamarker: Devič Monastery, nuns evacuated by Danishmarker soldiers, monastery pillaged and torched
Štimljemarker: Church of St. Michael the Archangel set on fire on March 19
Orahovac: Bela Crkva and Brnjak village churches burnt
Vitinamarker: Two destroyed churches, in town and in village of Donja Slapa?nica
Obilićmarker: Church set afire


Attacks on UN personnel

The March events include the attacks on UN personnel. Serbian media reported that one foreigner (along with local staff) had been killed, whereas Albanian media said that some internationals had been wounded alongside local police. Both media claimed to have seen snipers from both sides and grenades thrown in face-to-face in gatherings.

Serbian reaction

The events in Kosovo brought an immediate angry reaction on the streets of Serbia. On the evening of 17 March, crowds gathered in Belgrademarker, Novi Sadmarker and Nišmarker to demonstrate against the treatment of the Kosovo Serbs. Despite appeals for calm by Metropolitan Amfilohije of the Serbian Orthodox Church, the 17th century historic Bajrakli Mosquemarker was attacked and set on fire. Islam Aga mosque in the southern city of Niš was also attacked and set on fire, while demonstrators chanted “Kill, kill Albanians!” When police arrived the mosque was already burning and some media reported that the police didn't move the crowd, so they blocked the fire fighters access to the mosque, leaving them unable to extinguish the fire. Both buildings were extensively damaged but were saved from complete destruction by the intervention of police and firefighters. Also properties of Muslim minorities, such as Goranis, Turks or Albanians were vandalized in Novi Sad and other cities throughout Serbia.[292052]. Human Rights Watch has concluded that the Serbian State failed to prosecute violence in Novi Sad.

The Serbian government publicly denounced the violence in Kosovo. Prime Minister Vojislav Koštunica gave a speech blaming organised Albanian separatists: "The events in northern Kosovo-Metohija reveal the true nature of Albanian separatism, its violent and terrorist nature ... [The government will] do all it can to stop the terror in Kosovo". Koštunica strongly criticised the failure of NATO and the UN to prevent the violence, and called for a state of emergency to be imposed on Kosovo.

The Minister of Minority Rights of Serbia and Montenegro, Rasim Ljajić, himself a Muslim, said "What is now happening in Kosovo confirms two things: that this is a collapse of the international mission, and a total defeat of the international community."

Nebojsa Čović, the Serbian government's chief negotiator on matters relating to Kosovo, was sent to Kosovska Mitrovica on March 18 in a bid to calm the situation there. Serbian security forces also guarded the internal border between central Serbia and Kosovo in a bid to prevent demonstrators and paramilitaries from entering the province to foment further unrest.

The Serbs themselves, represented by the "Union of Serbs in Kosovo and Metochia", describe the endured ordeal as "genocide" in a touching letter sent to the Serbian and Russian patriarchs, to president Putin and the Serbian government, where, besides that, they quote the burning of 7 villages during the German occupation in the World War II to the "several hundreds" burnt "under the rule of the troops of christian Europe and America" and according to which the "occupation of Kosovo surpasses all we had to sustain under fascism." The spared Serbian villages are compared to "concentration camps" because of the missing liberty of moving, electrical current and heating. According to the letter after 1999 there were 8500 homicides or disappearances of non-Albanian people with no single accomplice tried. They consider a possible secession of Kosovo by the Serbian government an "unforgivable neither by God nor by the people state treason".

International reaction

The international community was taken by surprise by the sudden upsurge in violence. Kosovo had been fairly quiet since the end of 1999, although there had been occasional small-scale ethnic clashes throughout the past five years and an ongoing tension between Serbs and Albanians. This had, however, largely gone unnoticed by the Western media since 1999.

KFOR troops closed Kosovo's borders with the remainder of Serbia-Montenegro and the UN suspended flights in and out of the province. NATO announced on 18 March that it would send another 1,000 troops – 750 of them from the United Kingdommarker – to reinforce the 18,500 troops already there.

The United Nations and European Union both appealed for calm, calling on local leaders to restrain their supporters. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan urged both sides to cooperate with the peacekeeping forces but pointedly reminded the Kosovo Albanians that they had a responsibility "to protect and promote the rights of all people within Kosovo, particularly its minorities".

An OSCE official in Austriamarker called the events an orchestrated plan to drive out the remaining Serbs, while one anonymous UNMIK official reportedly referred to the event as Kosovo's Kristallnacht. The commander of NATO's South Flank, Admiral Gregory G. Johnson, said on 19 March thatthe violence verged on ethnic cleansing of Serbs by Albanians. On 20 March, Kosovo's UN administrator, Harri Holkeri, told journalists that "Maybe the very beginning was spontaneous but after the beginning certain extremist groups had an opportunity to orchestrate the situation and that is why we urgently are working to get those perpetrators into justice."

According to Amnesty International, at least 19 people died—11 Albanians and eight Serbs—and over 1,000 were injured while some 730 houses belonging to minorities, mostly Kosovo Serbs, as well as 36 Orthodox churches, monasteries and other religious and cultural sites were damaged or destroyed. In less than 48 hours, 4,100 minority community members were newly displaced, (more than the total of 3,664 that had returned throughout 2003), of whom 82 per cent were Serbs and the remaining 18 per cent included Roma and Ashkali as well as an estimated 350 Albanians from the Serb majority areas of Kosovska Mitrovicamarker and Leposavićmarker.

Russiamarker and Serbia-Montenegro called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, which condemned the violence. On 19 March, the Russian Duma passed a resolution (397 to 0) calling for the return of Serbia-Montenegro's troops to the southern province. Russia condemned KFOR and UNMIK's inabilities to stop the violence.

The government of Albaniamarker has "come out strongly against the violent actions of the Albanian side" and is aiming to calm the violence, according to Holkeri (Helsingin Sanomat).

Reactions by Kosovo Albanian politicians

Kosovo Albanian politicians such as President Ibrahim Rugova and Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi joined UN governor Harri Holkeri, NATO southern commander Gregory Johnson, and other KFOR officials in condemning the violence and appealing for peace in Kosovo (B92).

Hashim Thaçi, the former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) leader, "rejected ethnic division of Kosovo and said independence is a pre-condition for stability in the region." ( VOA). He has also said, "Kosovo, NATO and the West have not fought for Kosovo only for Albanians, nor for a Kosovo ruled by violence...Violence is not the way to solve problems, violence only creates problems" (B92).

Kosovo Police established a special investigation team to handle cases related to the 2004 unrest and according to Kosovo Judicial Council by the end of 2006 the 326 charges filed by municipal and district prosecutors for criminal offenses in connection with the unrest had resulted in 200 indictments: convictions in 134 cases, and courts acquitted eight and dismissed 28; 30 cases were pending. International prosecutors and judges handled the most sensitive cases.

See also



References

  1. Dangerous Indifference: Violence against Minorities in Serbia: March 2004 Violence Against Albanians and Muslims
  2. Full text of the lamenting letter in Russian, in the name of 120 000 Serbs in Kosovo and Metochia
  3. U.S State Department Report, published in 2007


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