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Balkans: One Funeral Away From Civil War
   

January 2, 2006: The head of UNMIK (UN operations in Kosovo) believes that 2006 will be an important year for Kosovo. That's because 2006 appears to be the year Kosovo's "final status" (either independence or an autonomous province of Serbia) is determined. Meanwhile, 17,500 peacekeepers remain on duty in Kosovo. Austria issued a statement asking that "the dignity of the Serbs" (ie, Kosovar Serbs) be respected as Kosovo's "new status" is resolved. This statement and several like it indicate that the UN and nations in the region believe Kosovo will become a separate country.

 

The illness of Kosovo's president Ibrahim Rugova complicates the diplomacy. Rugova is the "old man" of Kosovo's demands for autonomy and recognition of Albanian Kosovars' rights. Rugova was leading peaceful protests against the Yugoslav government in Belgrade in the early 1980s (as part of the "Albanikos" movement). Rugova is regarded as a moderate, especially when compared to the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) vets who form the hard-line anti-Serbia cadre in Kosovo. One report suggested that Rugova is "sinking fast" and that his illness is terminal. He refuses to give up power even temporarily. There is no moderate politician comparable to Rugova. If illness or death removes him from the scene the political fight among Albanian Kosovars will be ugly. Expect violence from the old KLA faction.

 

December 31, 2005: Islamic terrorists in Bosnia have been found cooperating with local criminal gangs. After the Cold War ended in 1991, the Balkans became the home base of some large criminal gangs. While Albanian gangs get most of the publicity, they have plenty of competition from Serbian organizations. In fact, Serbia has become the primary transit point for drugs, goods and people (including women forced into prostitution) smuggled between Eastern and Western Europe. The Albanian gangs dominate in Albania, Kosovo and Bosnia. Islamic radicals came to Bosnia during the 1990s to help local Moslems fight Serbs in the civil war, and many stayed behind after the fighting stopped. Some of these guys have gone to work with the Albanian gangs, to raise money for the cause of Islamic terrorism. This is not unusual, for much of al Qaeda's activities have been found to be financed by criminal activities. But getting open cooperation from criminal gangs is unusual. However, the Albanian gangsters don't see themselves as supporting terrorists, or if they do, it doesn't bother them. Many Albanians are Moslem. Increasingly, Islamic terrorists in Europe are found to have been smuggled in by the Albanian and Serbian gangs. Bangladeshi Islamic radicals have established themselves in Bosnia, along with older Arab crews. Bosnian police are trying to keep the al Qaeda groups off balance and unable to plan operations. If a large attack were traced back to Bosnia, it could have catastrophic repercussions, with cuts in foreign aid from angry West European donors. But Bosnia has become something of a rest stop for Islamic radicals, and that's bad enough.  

 

December 26, 2005: In northern Kosovo, two Serbs were shot by unidentified (but apparently anti-Serb) attackers.