Teenager's drive-by murder raises fears of turmoil in Kosovo

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The Independent Online

Hundreds of outraged Serbs gathered yesterday in the village of Gracanica in Kosovo to protest against the murder of a Serb teenager amid fears of more ethnic turmoil in the United Nations-governed territory.

Hundreds of outraged Serbs gathered yesterday in the village of Gracanica in Kosovo to protest against the murder of a Serb teenager amid fears of more ethnic turmoil in the United Nations-governed territory.

UN police announced they had detained two Kosovo Albanians in connection with the drive-by shooting of 17-year-old Dimitrije Popovic in Gracanica, near Pristina. Ms Popovic was buried yesterday.

The protesters demanded an end to random attacks on Kosovo's tiny Serb community, already trapped in isolated "enclaves", and threatened to resume road blocks of vital highways - a move bound to inflame tension with Kosovo's restive Albanian majority.

The latest controversy will play well in Serbia with the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party, whose candidate, Tomislav Nikolic, is on course to do well, and perhaps win, Serbia's presidential election on 13 June.

Moderate Serbian parties also used the incident to condemn the UN's administration of Kosovo - in place since Nato ousted Serb forces in 1999 - and to attack the retiring UN chief in Kosovo, Harri Holkeri.

Milan Ivanovic, the leader of the Serbian National Council for North Kosovo, a lobby group, told Belgrade's Radio B92 that the killing was "one more systematic and organised crime committed against Serbian children". The remark referred to the brutal shooting dead by an Albanian gunman of two young Serbs swimming in a river in the south-western enclave of Gorazdevac last August.

While protesters in Gracanica demanded that the UN take action to stop Albanian attacks, there is little they can do short of sealing off the remaining enclaves entirely behind barbed wire and watchtowers.

The Serb threat to resume road blocks on the main highway connecting Pristina to neighbouring Macedonia, meanwhile, is likely to raise tensions even further. After Serbs in nearby Caglavica blocked the main road in mid-March in protest against an earlier non-fatal drive-by shooting, Albanian nationalists stormed into the enclave to dissolve the road block by force.

The two days of chaos that followed saw Serb churches and houses burned not only in Caglavica but all over Kosovo. The riots dealt a severe blow to the UN's prestige in Kosovo, not to mention its stated goal of recreating a multicultural society. Mr Holkeri resigned shortly afterwards, citing ill health.

As well as drawing attention to the ailing state of the UN administration, known as Unmik, the latest killing will focus minds on the shadowy Albanian extremist groups which encourage random attacks on Serbs.

Rejecting the Kosovo Albanian establishment's deference towards the UN authorities, these hardliners, composed often of disgruntled veterans of the guerrilla war with the Serbs in the 1990s, have an interest in keeping the racial temperature high, to wean the moderate majority over to their views.

Mainstream Albanian leaders are aware that continued violence has damaged their credibility and delayed their chances of securing an independent state in Kosovo, the cherished goal of all the Albanians.

Keen to drawn a sharp line between themselves and the extremists, Bajram Redzepi, the Prime Minister of Kosovo, insisted on Saturday that all those responsible for the killing would be brought to justice.

On a similar note, President Ibrahim Rugova, veteran leader of the independence struggle against Serbia, warned that such acts "were directed against the future independence of our country".

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