Congress Urged to Pay More Attention to Suffering in Kosovo

By Sherrie Gossett | July 7, 2008 | 8:16 PM EDT

Washington, D.C. ( - The U.S. Congress should send observation teams to Kosovo to witness first-hand the deplorable plight of minorities whose suffering over the past six years remains largely ignored by the world, according to a proposition delivered this week by a spokeswoman for the Serbian government.

Dr. Sanda Raskovic Ivic, a psychiatrist by profession, is the new head of the Kosovo-Metohija Coordination Center, a non-partisan panel in charge of pooling state, political and social resources to solve problems in the troubled province. She previously served as the refugee commissioner for the united republics of Serbia and Montenegro, part of the former Yugoslavia.

Kosovo, the southern province of Serbia and Montenegro, has been the site of ethnic cleansing of minority groups for several years, with ethnic Albanians, most of them Muslim, targeting Serbs, Muslim Slavs, Turks, Roma (gypsies) and Ashkali. Eighty-eight percent of Kosovo's population is made up of ethnic Albanians.

Prior to this violence, forces from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) bombed Yugoslavia between March and May of 1999 to compel then-Serbian President Slobodan Milosovic to withdraw his forces from Kosovo. At the time, it was widely reported that Serbs were engaged in the ethnic cleansing of Albanians.

Since June 1999, Kosovo has been governed by the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) under the authority of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1244. The United Nations recently authorized final talks on the status and future of the troubled province. Yet even with this international presence, including the stationing of 7,000 troops, ethnic cleansing and oppression of minorities continues, Raskovic Ivic said. (Click here to view maps of ethnic population changes. Powerpoint required.)

She was in Washington, D.C., this week to discuss Kosovo's status with members of Congress and the Bush administration's National Security Council. The province should have "more than autonomy, less than independence," according to Raskovic Ivic, who called this a "fair compromise" that will not include "victors and vanquished, winners and losers."

Accompanied by diplomatic personnel, Raskovic Ivic told Cybercast News Service that she was in the U.S. "to convey the real situation of minorities," in Kosovo. "Basic human rights are breached and there is no freedom of movement," she said. "The intimidation and shootings continue."

Schools in minority enclaves are overcrowded, Raskovic Ivic said, but students cannot attend other schools because of attempted hijackings of school buses, beatings and harassment.

Serbs are also said to be unwelcome at the majority of hospitals now run by ethnic Albanians, she said. "Some pregnant women who went to Albanian-run hospitals to give birth did not return alive."

Property rights of minorities are reported to be almost non-existent. "Sixty-two percent of the land in Kosovo is owned by Serbs, but in many instances buildings have been erected on that land without a permit" according to Raskovic Ivic, who added that in her judgment, "at least there should be some form of compensation to the owners."

"UNMIK (The United Nations Mission in Kosovo) has made over 70,000 decisions in favor of Serb property rights, yet there is no enforcement," said Raskovic Ivic. "Thousands of more claims are waiting to be processed."

Raskovic Ivic is also pushing for an effective security package to be implemented in the region, to address organized crime and potential terrorism.

"When a mobster is arrested he wraps himself in the Albanian flag," said Raskovic Ivic. "Then riots ensue amid complaints of human rights violations."

Raskovic Ivic also pointed to the heroin and cocaine that pass through the region. Kosovo is right in the middle of the narco-trafficking path that begins in Afghanistan and after Kosovo, extends to Western Europe and the United States.

Raskovic Ivic confirmed information that Cybercast News Service received last month, alleging that there are three major heroin laboratories operating in Kosovo, under protection of paramilitary soldiers or former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army. The information was received from the International Strategic Studies Institute in Washington, D.C.
"There are a smaller number of labs working undercover as well, but they are all networked together," Raskovic Ivic said. "Like a cancer, these things are going to spread. Everyone is turning a blind eye to this."

Raskovic Ivic expressed concern over the law enforcement follow-up to the March 2004 attacks on churches in Kosovo. Albanian mobs allegedly attacked and destroyed 34 churches, monasteries and bishop residences. Since international forces took power in 1999, approximately 150 church properties have been attacked. The churches contained priceless Byzantine frescoes and other religious artifacts dating as far back as the 13th century. Many of the sites were reduced to rubble. (Click here to read the center's report on church destruction.)

"There have been no indictments, even though 23 of the perpetrators were caught on film," she said. Under pressure from the international community, the 23 were fired from their jobs.

Those who promote independence for Kosovo don't realize that the violence and lawlessness will not stop with that change in status, she said. U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) and U.S. Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) are among the American politicians supporting independence for Kosovo, she said.

Despite the ongoing crisis, Raskovic Ivic complained that the international community remains apathetic. "This is not treated as an issue, not only in the press but in the international community. No one asks about it. If international officials neglect the rule of law and the righteous position, this is saying that minorities are second-class citizens.

"No one even notices their suffering," she added. "If you suffer and no one notices, no one cares. It is a terrible thing."

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