|Words that open our eyes to the world are always the easiest to remember. - Ryszard Kapuscinski|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 119, Part II, 18 June 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 119, Part II, 18 June 1999 A daily report of developments in Eastern and Southeastern Europe, Russia, the Caucasus and Central Asia prepared by the staff of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. This is Part II, a compilation of news concerning Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe. Part I covers Russia, Transcaucasia and Central Asia and is distributed simultaneously as a second document. Back issues of RFE/RL NewsLine and the OMRI Daily Digest are online at RFE/RL's Web site: http://www.rferl.org/newsline xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part II * LATVIAN PARLIAMENT ELECTS VIKE-FREIBERGA AS NEW PRESIDENT * SERBS SET TO MEET WITHDRAWAL DEADLINE * MAJKO, THACI, MACEDONIAN ALBANIAN LEADERS REJECT "POLICY OF REVENGE" END NOTE: KOSOVARS RUSH BACK TO THE FUTURE xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE LUKASHENKA TO MAKE WEST BUY BELARUSIAN PRODUCTS. During his visit to the "Khimvalakno" plant of chemical fibers in Mahileu on 17 June, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka stressed that his country's main problem is finding ways to sell its products abroad. "The main thing is to sell, because we have a fight going on today," Belarusian Television quoted him as saying. He noted that Russia had opened its borders and could now buy its fibers from countries other than Belarus. Lukashenka added that Belarus can make the West buy Belarusian products. "If they do not buy our goods, we will keep them out [of Belarus]," he said. At the same time, he pledged to "sort out things" with Poland, Germany, and Turkey, and to "react adequately" to the anti-dumping taxes imposed by these countries on Belarusian goods, including chemical fibers. JM UKRAINIAN, HUNGARIAN DEFENSE MINISTERS DISCUSS KOSOVA. Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksandr Kuzmuk and his Hungarian counterpart, Janos Szabo, discussed the Kosova crisis in Kyiv on 17 June, MTI reported. Szabo and Kuzmuk agreed that Russia has played a major role in securing the Kosova peace agreement. They stressed, however, that the process of stabilization and democratization of Kosova and the rest of Yugoslavia will take a long time. The ministers agreed that Ukrainian and Hungarian military experts will continue talks on setting up a joint battalion. In other news, British Defense Secretary George Robertson said in Kyiv the next day that NATO will welcome Ukrainian troops as part of the Kosova peacekeeping force. JM UKRAINE TO SELL 50 PERCENT OF SHARES IN LVIV BUS PLANT. The State Property Fund on 17 June announced a tender for the purchase of a 50 percent stake in the Lviv Bus Plant (LAZ), the country's monopoly bus-manufacturer. According to Interfax, the sale is one of the World Bank's conditions for granting Ukraine a $100 million loan to develop its enterprises. The fund set the starting price at 11.54 million hryvni ($2.92 million). In addition, prospective investors must promise to provide LAZ with $5.3 million in cash within a year and to invest $15 million within four years. JM ESTONIAN PM IN AUSTRIA. Prime Minister Mart Laar on 17 June met in Vienna with Austrian Chancellor Viktor Klima and Foreign Minister Wolfgang Schussel to discuss bilateral relations and EU enlargement. Laar stressed Estonia's desire to see Latvia and Lithuania included in EU accession negotiations, but he also expressed concerns over Latvia's import duties on pork, according to BNS. MH LATVIAN PARLIAMENT ELECTS VIKE-FREIBERGA AS NEW PRESIDENT... The Latvian Parliament elected Vaira Vike- Freiberga as Latvia's new president on 17 June. Vike- Freiberga received 53 votes in support of her candidacy from For Fatherland and Freedom, a member of the governing coalition, as well as from the Social Democratic Workers' Party and People's Party. Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs of Latvia's Way gained 20 votes, while Economic Minister Ingrida Udre of the New Party won nine votes. Vike-Freiberga was able to run for president after she received confirmation on 16 June that she no longer possesses Canadian citizenship. The multi-lingual Vike-Freiberga is a linguist and psychologist. Since 1998, she has headed the Latvian Institute. MH ...AFTER FIRST ATTEMPT FAILS. The parliament failed in its initial attempt to elect a new president on 17 June. The first bid was canceled after five rounds of voting. In the fifth round of voting, composer Raimonds Pauls of the New Party defeated People's Party parliamentarian Vaira Paegle by a vote of 33-24. However, a minimum of 51 votes are required to secure victory. Pauls then withdrew his candidacy after it became clear that he would not receive 51 votes even if he ran as the only candidate. Latvia's Way candidate and Transport Minister Anatolijs Gorbunovs was eliminated in the fourth round. In the later rounds, several parties announced that they would not cast votes for the remaining slate of candidates. MH LATVIAN SHIPPING COMPANY PRIVATIZATION FAILS? The Latvian Privatization Agency announced on 17 June that the two bids for the Latvian Shipping Company were "inadequate," according to BNS. Two companies ó Tufton Oceanic Investments Limited and Eastwind Maritime S.A. ó presented bids for the shipping company before the 15 June deadline. The board of the privatization agency declared both bids null and void because they had failed to provide sufficient documentation. The issue now goes back to the government. Several months ago, Finance Minister Ivars Godmanis stressed the importance of the shipping company's privatization for the 1999 state budget. MH POPE WINDS UP 13-DAY TRIP TO POLAND. Pope John Paul II concluded his visit to Poland on 17 June with a mass at Wawel Castle in Krakow, a visit to Jasna Gora sanctuary in Czestochowa, and an unexpected visit to Gliwice where he was greeted by some 500,000 people. The visit to Gliwice was originally scheduled for 15 June but did not take place because of the pontiff's flu. "[Your visit] was a great gift, an exceptional historic event which concerned all of us, regardless of faith, political views or nationality," Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski told the pope at the good-bye ceremony. "I have another home. You sent me there. I'm going back to the Vatican," the pope told a crowd chanting "Stay with us!" at the Krakow airport. JM CZECH SENATE APPROVES CHAMBER DECISION ON KFOR FORCE. In a 49-3 vote, the Senate on 17 June approved the Chamber of Deputies' decision of earlier this week to send up to 800 peacekeeping troops to Kosova. Seven out of the 14 Senators from the ruling Czech Social Democratic Party who were present abstained from the vote. Also on 17 June, UN Human Rights Commissioner for Yugoslavia Jiri Dienstbier said that the same criteria must be applied to all Balkan countries, including Serbia, for a "comprehensive approach to a Balkan renewal." Dienstbier said it would be "wrong" not to extend help to Serbia simply because Slobodan Milosevic is in power. In an interview with the daily "Pravo" on the same day, Dienstbier said the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) should be "immediately disarmed," adding that any toleration of an armed UCK presence "would amount to the utmost political failure and the complete discrediting of the West". MS CZECH TOWN COUNCIL BACKS FENCING OFF ROMA. The Usti nad Labem city council on 17 June approved a resolution stating that the decision of one of the town's districts to build a fence partitioning Roma off from other local residents was not an infringement of Czech law, CTK reported. Local residents argue that the ceramic fence is aimed at protecting them from the noise and rubbish created by the Roma. The city council meeting was called at the request of the government, which opposes the construction of the fence. Of the 25 city councilors, only one Social Democrat and one Communist opposed the decision. The government's human rights commissioner, Petr Uhl, described the city council decision as illegal, adding that the Chamber of Deputies will now have to decide on the issue. MS SLOVAK FOREIGN MINISTER CALLS FOR 'CONSISTENT DISARMING' OF UCK. Eduard Kukan, who is also UN special envoy for Kosova, on 17 June called for a "more consistent disarming" of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK). Kukan said that there are "differences" of opinion between the UN and NATO. He said the UN is opposed to allowing UCK members to keep light personal arms and wear uniforms, CTK reported. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda refused to confirm or dismiss media reports that Bratislava has not permitted Russian planes to fly over Slovakia on their way to Kosova. "The cabinet has discussed the issue at a closed session and that is why I will not comment on it," he said. MS SLOVAKIA TO ENLARGE KFOR CONTINGENT? NATO Secretary General Javier Solana on 17 June said that Slovakia would show it "shares the same values" as other NATO members if it decides to expand its KFOR units. He said that "adherence to joint values and objectives will undoubtedly create conditions for Slovakia to become part of this organization," CTK reported. Earlier on 17 June, Justice Minister Jan Carnogursky called for a larger Slovak contribution to KFOR. Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda said the government has not decided on the issue yet. MS SLOVAK NATIONALIST PARTY TORN BY CONFLICT. Slovak National Party (SNS) leader Jan Slota on 17 June called former Education Minister Eva Slavkovska "an obsolete Bolshevik" who "spreads rumors and misinformation in the SNS," CTK reported. Slota was reacting to Slavkovska's criticism of his behavior in a Bratislava pub, where, according to a report in the tabloid "Novy cas," he was drunk during President Rudolf Schuster's inauguration ceremony. Slota said in reaction to the report that he could not be expected "to drink soda water" in a pub. He also called SNS deputy chairwoman Anna Malikova "an unsatisfied spinster" who has "failed to get married and give birth to a Slovak boy... [and now] seeks compensation in politics". Malikova had earlier criticized Slota's behavior. MS SERBIAN OPPOSITION POLITICIAN MEETS HUNGARIAN TOP OFFICIALS. Hungarian Foreign Ministry state secretary Zsolt Nemeth on 17 June told visiting Yugoslav opposition politician Zoran Djindjic that President Slobodan Milosevic "must go in order for Serbia to have democracy." He said the Hungarian government supports Serbia's rapprochement with Europe, but he added that this is conditional on restoring democracy, including freedom of the press, human and minority rights, and autonomy for Vojvodina's Hungarians. Djindjic said the opposition in Belgrade is urging the population to engage in civil disobedience, as "Milosevic can only be forced to leave through massive street demonstrations." MSZ HUNGARIAN PRIME MINISTER PROMISES ACTION PLAN FOR ROMA. "A concrete action plan will be drafted every year to implement a medium-term package of measures aimed at improving the situation of Roma," Viktor Orban said on 17 June, after meeting with Florian Farkas, chairman of the National Gypsy Authority. The first plan will be drafted at the end of the year by Donchev Toso, chairman of the Office for National and Ethnic Minorities, in cooperation with the Gypsy Authority. Farkas said the meeting proved that "the government does not want a Hungary without Roma." MSZ MILITARY PERSONNEL CHANGES EXPECTED IN HUNGARY. Defense Minister Janos Szabo will initiate the dismissal of armed forces chief of staff Ferenc Vegh and one of his deputies, Nandor Hollosi, before September, "Magyar Hirlap" reported on 18 June. A government official speaking on condition of anonymity said that "the general staff must merge into the ministry and not the other way around," adding that "we shall run over anyone who opposes the government's plans." Szabo has reportedly put off major personnel changes until the fall because of the Kosova crisis. MSZ SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE SERBS SET TO MEET WITHDRAWAL DEADLINE. Serbian forces appear to be on course to meet the deadline of midnight on 18 June for their withdrawal from central Kosova, Reuters reported from Prishtina. A KFOR spokesman said that at least 26,000 out of a total of 40,000 Serbian forces throughout Kosova are now gone as part of a retreat slated to end at midnight on 20 June. NATO forces ó now numbering 15,000 ó continue to advance northward amid warm receptions from local ethnic Albanians, Sky News television added. A brief standoff between British peacekeepers and Serbian forces in Podujeva ended when the Serbs withdrew. The previous day witnessed long traffic jams on several roads in Kosova as thousands of refugees returned while Serbian civilians fled. One group of Serbs left under the protection of Greek troops, who were the only KFOR peacekeepers whom the Serbs said they trusted, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Some Kosovars said they saw Serbs driving stolen Kosovar vehicles, AP reported. PM UNARMED UCK SOLDIERS HELP KFOR REGISTER REFUGEES. Unarmed Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) guerrillas in civilian dress helped German KFOR soldiers to register refugees at the Morina border crossing on 17 June, Reuters reported. A German official said that the guerrillas help KFOR identify other guerrillas and also known criminals. The German troops did not allow non-UCK refugees to return to Kosova carrying weapons but permitted guerrillas to keep their arms if they had UCK identification. About 13,000 refugees crossed into Kosova on 17 June, according to UNHCR officials in Geneva. In Kukes, a gang of 20 armed Albanian villagers injured an Albanian guard during two attempts to loot a refugee camp, a spokeswoman for Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) told AFP. Albanian police arrested 16 assailants. FS WERE 10,000 KOSOVARS MASSACRED? NATO peacekeepers have learned of or discovered some 90 alleged mass grave sites since KFOR entered Kosova last weekend, the "International Herald Tribune" reported on 18 June. Additional evidence of Serbian atrocities is coming to light on a daily basis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June 1999). A British spokesman said that Serbian forces killed some 10,000 Kosovars with a savagery that "beggared belief" since March. British investigators at the recently discovered Serbian police torture center in Prishtina said they are hopeful that the documents found there will enable the Hague-based war crimes tribunal to link top officials in Belgrade to the systematic carrying out of atrocities in Kosova, the BBC reported. PM CHIRAC: ONLY DEMOCRACY WILL BRING BALKAN PEACE. French President Jacques Chirac said at a meeting with his U.S. counterpart, Bill Clinton, on 17 June in Paris that "democracy is the precondition for tolerance" and stability in the Balkans, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported. He repeated the warning of many Western leaders that there will be no reconstruction aid for Serbia so long as Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic remains in power. Chirac added, however, that humanitarian aid will be available for Serbs because the West does not want to punish innocent victims of Milosevic's policies. Clinton noted that if Milosevic "remains in Serbia...presumably he is beyond the reach of the extradition power of the other governments." The U.S. leader added: "I do not believe that the NATO allies can invade Belgrade to try to deliver the indictment" against Milosevic recently issued by the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. PM U.S. PROMOTING PLURALISM IN SERBIA. U.S. special envoy Robert Gelbard and other unnamed officials met last weekend on the Montenegrin coast with prominent Serbs and Montenegrins opposed to Milosevic, AP reported on 18 June. Among those attending were Serbian Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic, former Yugoslav Prime Minister Milan Panic, Montenegrin Deputy Prime Minister Novak Kilibarda, economist Dragoslav Avramovic, former General Vuk Obradovic, and several others. The U.S. officials stressed that they want to see greater pluralism in Serbia but added that Milosevic's eventual ouster is a matter for the Serbs themselves. The U.S. representatives added that Washington does not support or finance any one opposition politician or party. The officials noted that Clinton will show his support for Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic by meeting with him in Slovenia this coming week. Kilibarda quoted Gelbard as saying that Momir Bulatovic, who is Milosevic's leading backer in Montenegro, will soon be indicted by the war crimes tribunal. PM MAJKO, GEORGIEVSKI PLEDGE REGIONAL COOPERATION. Albanian Prime Minister Pandeli Majko and his Macedonian counterpart Ljubco Georgievski told journalists in Skopje on 17 June that they agree on the creation of a "new Balkans," an RFE/RL South Slavic Service correspondent reported. Majko said that "where there are Albanians in the Balkans, there is an interest in cooperation." He added: "We...aim for cooperation, not only with Macedonia, but also for the implementation of peace in Kosova and for cooperation with the [provisional UCK-backed] government of [Kosovar Prime Minister Hashim] Thaci." Majko stressed that Thaci, who met with Georgievski the previous day, "shares our opinion" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June 1999). He concluded that the three of them "will continue to work with our colleague from Montenegro, [President] Milo Djukanovic." FS MAJKO, THACI, MACEDONIAN ALBANIAN LEADERS REJECT "POLICY OF REVENGE." Majko and Thaci met with Arben Xhaferi of Macedonia's Albanian Democratic Party and Abdurrahman Aliti from the Party of Democratic Prosperity in Tetovo on 17 June, an RFE/RL South Slavic Service correspondent reported. Majko said that the meeting "sent the message that the Albanians in the future will not follow a policy based on revenge." Thaci disclosed that it was in Tetovo where his UCK began its illegal activities in the early 1990s. Thaci said that he is pleased that this meeting could take place there now in a much changed political climate. FS EXPLOSION NEAR NATO OFFICES IN SKOPJE. A powerful bomb destroyed a truck parked near NATO's headquarters in Skopje in the early hours of 18 June. No other details are available. A NATO spokesman said that an investigation is under way. PM HERZEGOVINIAN BRASS RESPONSIBLE FOR KILLINGS? British Colonel Bob Stewart, who commanded UNPROFOR peacekeepers in central Bosnia in 1993, told the war crimes tribunal in The Hague on 17 June that the leadership of Herzegovinian Croatian forces (HVO) must have known about the massacres of Muslims that HVO troops carried out in the Lasva Valley in 1993. Stewart was testifying at the trial of Croatian Colonel Tihomir Blaskic for war crimes in conjunction with atrocities committed by the HVO in the village of Ahmici. Stewart attracted attention in a BBC broadcast at the time in which he insisted on entering Ahmici despite an HVO roadblock. Stewart told the Herzegovinians: "I don't need the permission of the bloody HVO. I'm the United Nations." PM DID RADISIC ABUSE HIS OFFICE? Zivko Radisic, who is the Serbian member of the Bosnian joint presidency and who until recently held the rotating chair of that body, authorized his representative to the Hague-based court to inform the tribunal that Bosnia has dropped its case against Belgrade for war crimes, "Oslobodjenje" reported on 18 June. Alija Izetbegovic, who is the Muslim representative on the presidency, said that Radisic's move was illegal and constituted an abuse of his office. Elsewhere, Izetbegovic said he will resign if the international community's Jacques Klein can prove "even 10 percent of his charges of corruption in the Bosnian government," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Izetbegovic added that he regards Klein as "pro- Croatian." PM MORE REVELATIONS ON SHADY BANKING IN CROATIA. Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Borislav Skegro told Parliament on 17 June that 109 individuals illegally transferred some $150 million abroad recently from four Croatian banks, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM TUDJMAN WANTS DIASPORA TO COME HOME. In Johannesburg on 17 June, President Franjo Tudjman appealed to members of South Africa's Croatian community to settle in Croatia. "Come to Croatia! It may not be a land of milk and honey, but you'll do better there than anywhere else," "Vecernji list" quoted him as saying. Tudjman has often appealed to Croats living abroad to settle in Croatia as part of his policy of increasing the size of the population in general and of its ethnic Croatian component in particular. The Croatian economy, however, needs the hard-currency remittances of the Diaspora, which also wields political influence in many countries on behalf of Zagreb. PM ROMANIA DECLARES MILOSEVIC, CRONIES 'UNDESIRABLE.' The government on 17 June approved a decree banning Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, members of his family, Yugoslav cabinet members and other unspecified officials close to the "Milosevic regime" from entering Romania, declaring them "undesirable," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Simona Miculescu said the move was in line with EU restrictions on Yugoslavia and that "between Milosevic and the EU, we chose the EU," according to Reuters. On the same day, the parliament approved President Emil Constantinescu's request to permit the transit of NATO Polish and Czech peacekeepers through Romania. The legislature also decided to dispatch a 205-troop military unit to KFOR and to extend the mandate of Romania's 200 peacekeepers in Bosnia until the end of 2000. MS ROMANIAN TEACHERS END LABOR SANCTIONS. The government on 17 June approved an agreement signed with the teachers' unions and the unions announced they are ending their strike. One of the four teachers' unions, which objected to some provisions in the agreement, announced its members will return to work on 19 June and will resume the strike if the cabinet fails to implement the agreement. Also on 17 June, in an interview on Romanian television, Prime Minister Radu Vasile confirmed that the agreement with Bell Helicopters Textron for the privatization of the IAR Ghimbav aircraft company in Brasov has been scrapped, and that new negotiations are to be conducted with other investors, "most probably" the German-French Eurocopter consortium. MS TURKISH PRESIDENT IN MOLDOVA. Suleyman Demirel and Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi on 17 June signed an accord on Turkish technical assistance to Moldova. Demirel praised Moldova's willingness to grant autonomy to the Gagauz ethnic minority, which is of Turkish origin, but added that Ankara wants cultural ties to improve and cooperation to extend to education. The two presidents visited the Gagauz-Yeri autonomous region and met with its leaders. They also inaugurated a water supply facility system built with Turkish assistance in the region, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Security was tightened for the visit, according to a "Flux" report. Interior Ministry sources said the extra security measures were taken due to the large number of Kurds residing in Moldova. MS LUCINSCHI EXPLAINS DRIVE FOR PRESIDENTIAL SYSTEM. Addressing a meeting of European justice ministers in Chisinau on 17 June, Lucinschi said he did not want to establish a presidential system in Moldova "out of personal ambition" but rather because such a system would be in "the general interests of society." He said the present parliamentary system is "inefficient" and enables politicians to "shun responsibility" for governing the country, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Visiting Council of Europe Deputy Secretary- General Christian Kruger on 17 June told Lucinschi that the council is backing Moldova's drive to find an "acceptable form" of government. He said the 23 May referendum was "the choice [of Moldovans]" and "nobody may impose their point of view on you, " Infotag reported. MS MOLDOVAN GOVERNMENT BACKS TRANSIT OF KOZLODUY SPENT FUEL. Prime Minister Ion Sturza on 17 June said his cabinet is in favor of allowing Russia to transit spent nuclear fuel from the Bulgarian Kozloduy nuclear reactor through Moldova, Infotag reported. He said Moldova will gain $300,000-400,000 from the transit of three to five trainloads of the fuel and described the parliament's refusal to approve the transit last year as a "political game." MS BULGARIA LIFTS OIL EMBARGO AGAINST YUGOSLAVIA... Bulgaria on 17 June lifted a ban on oil exports to Yugoslavia, BTA reported. Government spokeswoman Stoyana Georgieva explained that the ban has been lifted because military operations in the neighboring country have ceased. MS ...SAYS IT WILL REACT 'FIRMLY' TO YUGOSLAV SENTENCING OF ETHNIC LEADER. Deputy Foreign Minister Konstantin Dimitrov on 17 June said Bulgaria will be "very firm" in its reaction to a Yugoslav military court's decision to sentence ethnic Bulgarian leader Marko Shukarev to eight months in prison for desertion, AP reported. Shukarev was drafted to a Yugoslav military unit during the war (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7,10, and 16 June). The parliament's Human Rights Commission, in a note sent to the Council of Europe and the OSCE, said the "verdict" was "a drastic violation of human and political rights" and the "Bulgarian public views it as an attempt to exert pressure on the...Bulgarian national minority in Yugoslavia." Some 300 protesters on 17 June marched on the Yugoslav embassy in Sofia, chanting "Autonomy" and "Death to Slobo" [Slobodan Milosevic]. MS LUKANOV'S MURDERER ARRESTED IN CZECH REPUBLIC?. Czech police on 17 June said it had arrested on 4 June a Bulgarian businessman in connection with the death of a Bulgarian member of parliament, CTK and AP reported. Angel Vasiliev, a business entrepreneur, was arrested after Bulgaria submitted an extradition request. A police spokesman refused to confirm reports in the Bulgarian media that Vasiliev is suspected of involvement in the murder of former Prime Minister Andrei Lukanov, who was killed near his home in Sofia on 2 October 1996. MS END NOTE KOSOVARS RUSH BACK TO THE FUTURE By Fabian Schmidt International aid agencies have been surprised at how quickly many Kosova Albanians have packed their things and headed back to their homes. They started doing so just days after NATO forces entered the region. However, the aid agencies have called on the refugees to stay in their camps for at least a few more weeks so that military experts can check roads, villages, and houses for mines and booby-traps, reinstall water and power supplies and make sure that there is a sufficient supply of food available. They have argued that the refugees are taking great risks in returning so early. But many refugees have not been prepared to listen to such arguments. Some of them have paid a heavy toll for their impatience: within only half a week, 20 people were injured and at least two killed by mines. Still the agencies have had to recognize that they will not be able to stop the Kosovars from returning ó even before the withdrawal of Serbian troops is completed. The fact that some 20,000 refugees have already returned home, despite the various dangers, indicates their eagerness to get started quickly with building a new future after more than a decade of discrimination in an apartheid-like system. They see Kosova as their liberated homeland rather than as the scene of some of the most vicious crimes against humanity committed since World War II. They are willing to embrace a land marked by the horrors of ethnic warfare in their search for a new democratic future. The example of the thousands of Kosovars who have joined the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) has contributed to the impatience of many of their compatriots to go home. Even though it was NATO that finally assumed control over Kosova and ensured the withdrawal of the Yugoslav forces, most of the UCK fighters view the recent turn of events as "their victory" as well. These fighters come from all walks of life in Kosova ó from villagers to university students, and including women's brigades. Many of these guerillas joined the UCK at the height of Serbian repression in 1998 or 1999 and are not likely to stay with the organization much longer. Essentially, they were "citizens in uniform," and now that the worst is over, they will probably return to their towns and villages. Thus the UCK will diminish in size very soon without any outside pressure. Furthermore, it will also undergo changes as a result of its scheduled demilitarization. In the end, the former fighters will be engaged in the effort to reconstruct their country. The urge of the Kosovars to go home has generated a vital momentum that the international community should not only respect but support. The initiative these refugees show today could be crucial for the success of Kosova's reconstruction and development in the long run. The more initiative the Kosovars take themselves, the more certain it is that theirs will be a success story. Many of those who have returned so far are not willing to wait because they are confident that they can cope with the challenges facing them at home quickly and efficiently by simply getting started. They do not want to wait for the permission and support that may or may not come from international organizations. Many refugees perceive these bodies ó which will have to cope with hundreds of thousands of remaining refugees ó as largely anonymous. In particular, self-reliant villagers from the more remote parts of Kosova do not trust the bureaucracy of government or international aid agencies. Many are prepared to simply drive their tractors home rather than waiting. They know that it is not too late to plant something that they can harvest before the winter. Many even prepared their fields before the beginning of the ethnic cleansing in March and April, and thus are eager to get home sooner rather than later to look after whatever remains of their crops. Similarly, the traders and craftsmen in the cities and market places will want to reopen their shops and businesses, another essential factor for rapid economic recovery. To this end, the international community and the new UN-led civilian administration should from the beginning focus on ensuring full freedom of movement, not only for people within Kosova, but also for goods and services between Kosova on the one hand and Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia, and Albania on the other. It is important that individual refugees be enabled to go back and forth between their homes in Kosova and the refugee centers. They need freedom of movement in order to create the preconditions for their families to follow later. Therefore, reviving and improving regional public transport ó primarily with busses and mini-busses ó is of paramount importance. Macedonia and Albania should be encouraged to conclude free-trade agreements with the Kosovar interim administration. This will serve all parties concerned. Mobility will thus generate prosperity. The international community could promote such efforts from the beginning in order to give Kosova's reconstruction a head start. It will serve everyone's interest to reduce customs formalities between the neighboring countries to a minimum in order to facilitate the quick and easy flow of goods and services. The UN administration should install a Western-trained customs administration to help the Kosovars and their neighbors apply liberal policies. During a meeting in Skopje on 17 June, Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski de facto recognized UCK leader Hashim Thaci as his counterpart from Kosova. Albanian Prime Minister Pandeli Majko's administration is the only other government to have done so. These three southwestern Balkan leaders have begun to show a willingness to develop a joint vision of future regional cooperation. They will now have to show that each of their countries can profit from a policy of cooperation. Kosova needs the two others for its own reconstruction and the two need Kosova as a partner to ensure that the still ongoing refugee crisis does not destabilize them. If it is sincere in wanting to build peace, democracy, stability, and prosperity in the region, the international community should encourage these trends. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1999 RFE/RL, Inc. All rights reserved. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx HOW TO SUBSCRIBE Send an email to email@example.com with the word subscribe as the subject of the message. HOW TO UNSUBSCRIBE Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the word unsubscribe as the subject of the message. 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