In Kosovo, mass violence by ethnic Albanians against Roma continues
7 December 1999
Despite the presence of international armed forces and administration in the Kosovo province of Yugoslavia, violence towards Roma in the province continues unabated. One incident documented by the Alternativna informativna mreža news network on August 21 involved a 78-year-old Romani man named Azem Azizi who was burned to death when ethnic Albanians set fire to his house in the Rasadnik district of Kosovska Mitrovica, northern Kosovo. The Belgrade-based Beta news agency quoting KFOR reported that a Romani family of four was shot in the village of Gornji Dragoljevci, south of Istok, northwestern Kosovo, on September 1. The ERRC could not obtain information on the status of the investigation. Uniformed men thought to belong to the officially-disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army shot and killed a 65-year-old Romani woman on September 8 in the village of Suva Reka, near Prizren, southwestern Kosovo, according to the Associated Press on September 10.
On October 2, Serbia-Info, the news agency of the Serbian Ministry for Information, reported two cases of rape of Romani women in Gnjilane, eastern Kosovo, that took place on October 1. One of the victims, a 76-year-old woman, died in a hospital; the other victim, her daughter-in-law, reportedly fled to Macedonia. On October 2, an unknown person threw a bomb into the house of a Romani family in Priština, reported the Belgrade daily Blic on October 4; the bomb did not explode, and it was deactivated by KFOR troops. In an undisclosed location, a hand grenade was thrown into an apartment of a Kosovo Romani family around 11 PM on October 6, according to KFOR spokesman Roland Lavoie, quoted by Free B-92 radio station in Belgrade. One Romani woman was killed and another one injured in the explosion. The same source reported that three unknown assailants stabbed a Romani man in Prizren, also on October 6; the injured man was transferred to a local hospital. The ERRC is not aware of the status of his injuries. According to the Priština-based Serbian non-governmental organisation Center for Peace and Tolerance (Centar za mir i toleranciju) on October 15, two unidentified Romani men were assaulted in Gnjilane by ethnic Albanians. The Roma were taken to the American military hospital in Uroševac, and their injuries were considered life-threatening.
A joint report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Organisation for the Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on the situation of ethnic minorities in Kosovo, published on November 3, noted several cases of anti-Romani violence. One was a case of a fifty-year-old Romani man who was murdered in mid-October in Suva Reka. The report also stated that during the same period, two Roma went missing from the Dušanova district in Prizren, and two bodies, presumed to be Roma, were also found in Prizren. Additionally, KFOR reported that two Romani houses were set on fire on October 23.
Ms Sadžida Demirović and Ms Zumbula Ajvazi, Romani women from Gnjilane, reported that their houses were plundered on October 30, according to the Yugoslav state news agency TANJUG. On November 6, KFOR reported that two grenade attacks on Roma houses took place on the evening of November 5 and the morning of November 6, in the vicinity of Lebane, approximately fifty kilometres northeast of Priština, and in the village of Mali Alaš, approximately twenty kilometres southeast of Priština. One woman was reportedly slightly injured. On the same day, KFOR discovered the body of an unidentified Romani man south of Dečane, eastern Kosovo. UN police reported finding a body of a dead Romani man shot several times near the village of Beleg, western Kosovo, according to The Independent of November 9.
Mr Sead Kerić, a Romani man from Kosovo Polje, was severely beaten in the center of the town on the evening of November 9, according to Blic of November 11. He was transferred to the local medical centre for treatment. Four Roma houses were plundered on November 11 in the Ivo Lola Ribar Street in Gnjilane, according to the statement of Mr Tefik Aguši, president of a local Romani organisation, quoted in a press release by the TANJUG news agency on November 15. A group of seven men who claimed to belong to the Kosovo Liberation Army kidnapped, beat up, robbed, and then released three Romani men in Kosovo Polje on November 13, reported Blic quoting KFOR on November 15.
The UNHCR estimates that around 11,000 Roma remain in Kosovo. The Brussels-based International Crisis Group reported on November 2, that the majority of these live in several enclaves with the local Serbs. In a provisional camp in Obilić, near Priština, around 700 internally displaced Roma still lived in squalid conditions in tents on October 22, according to the Romanian Roma association Romani Criss. The Kumanovo-based Macedonian Roma organisation Drom reported on November 8 that the camp will be closed after the completion of preparatory works on houses in the village of Prepelica, near to Obilić, to which the refugees will reportedly be transferred.
Another tent camp for internally displaced Roma is located in an abandoned brick factory in the village of Žitkovac, 6km north of Kosovska Mitrovica. There were 286 Roma in the camp on November 13, according to Blic. Most of them had been expelled from the Rasadnik district of Kosovska Mitrovica, which is inhabited predominantly by ethnic Albanians; less than twenty Roma lived there at the time the Blic article was published. Before the war, around 6000 Roma lived in Rasadnik. The Roma in the camp had no documents except freshly issued membership cards of the Association of Roma in Kosovska Mitrovica. With the coming of cold weather, the numbers of the ill persons in the refugee camp rose, with children particularly affected. There is no electricity in the camp, according to Blic, and the Roma complained of insufficient numbers of stoves and blankets, and low quality of food. In addition to the Žitkovac camp, as of November 13, more than 300 Roma from Rasadnik had been placed in another camp in the village of Leposavić, 25 km north of Kosovska Mitrovica.
Although no place in Kosovo is safe for Roma, the situation seems to be most critical in Orahovac, southwestern Kosovo, where approximately 400 Roma remain together with approximately 2,300 Serbs, as estimated by the UNHCR/OSCE report on Kosovo minorities. These are all that remain of the 12,000 non-Albanians who lived in the town before the war. Since August, Roma and Serbs in this town have been kept in "a ghetto, surrounded by barbed-wire fence, in a space comprising of a street with a church and the village café", according to an article published by the Alternativna informativna mreža on October 24. There was no electricity, heating or food in this part of town, wrote the Agence France-Presse on October 30, and Serbs and Roma were reportedly not allowed to leave the town. The article quoted KFOR representatives saying that only those who are not war criminals are permitted to leave. This restriction is in response to claims by ethnic Albanians that some local non-Albanians committed atrocities during the war. According to KFOR, until these accusations are investigated the entire area will be kept under surveillance.
(Agence France-Presse, Alternativna informativna mreža, Associated Press, Beta, Blic, Center for Peace and Tolerance, Drom, Free B-92, The Independent, International Crisis Group, OSCE, Rromani CRISS, Serbia-Info, TANJUG, UNHCR)