Muslim citizens of the Kosova town of Orahovac have since Monday been manning a blockade to stop the entrance of Russian troops. The peaceful demonstration, and a smaller Serbian protest in support of the Russian troops staged Monday in the town, is indicative of ongoing tensions in Kosova and raises questions concerning the best way to solve those tensions.
The Russian troops are part of a United Nations K-FOR peace keeping force in Kosova and are attempting to replace Dutch troops already stationed in Orahovac. But the Muslim majority in the town says Russian troops hired by the Serbs took part in genocide against Muslims. Concerning recent UN attempts to negotiate an end to the blockade, Muslim protest leader Agim Hasku said, "the Russians will only destabilize the situation. The Russians can be sent where there were no massacres committed by Russians. Why station them here where so many crimes were committed by Russians?'' Associated Press (AP) reported on August 24. According to the AP report, Kosova Muslims in the town blame Russian troops for at least two deaths before the arrival of international peacekeepers.
The Serbs of the town demonstrated in reaction to the blockade and called for the entrance of Russian troops. The Serbian population is reportedly apprehensive about reprisal attacks by returning refugees and trust Russian protection more than other international forces. But the Serbs in Orahovac are reportedly divided, and the Dutch Captain Mike Bos said many back the Muslim demand for Dutch troops to stay, according to the AP on August 24.
While a few isolated instances of violence against the Serbian minority reveal that the 20,000 Serbs in Kosovo perhaps have cause to fear the 99 percent Muslim majority, the blockade reveals that the Muslims of Kosovo have their own concerns that are perhaps not being met by the peace settlement.
The Kosova Liberation Army (KLA) has agreed to a comprehensive demilitarization and has so far met all deadlines for weapons hand over set by the UN and NATO, according to Reuters on August 24. But similar agreements designed to procure Serb-held weapons in Kosovo have not been successful. An August 22 BBC report says Serbs in Orahovac have been uncooperative with meeting a deadline for a weapon hand-over and Dutch troops have been forced to conduct house to house searches.
While Kosova Serbs are quick to denounce the KLA, a recent KLA release indicates the liberation force has toned down any anti-Serbian rhetoric and agreed to the principles of a pluralist and integrated Kosova. In an August 18 press release carried by the Kosova Press, the KLA distanced itself from the "uncivil" reprisal attacks on Serbs and said it was fully committed to the "establishment of peace and ethnic harmony in Kosova." But the Serbian government in Belgrade has capitalized on the few instances of reprisal attacks to demand separate Serbian cantons in Kosova. Such a move would, according to Bryan Hopkinson of the International Crisis Group (ICG) speaking to Reuters on August 24, place Serbia in control over Kosova's "valuable mines and mineral rights."
As more and more details surface concerning the level of atrocities committed by Serbs against Kosova's Muslims during the war, Muslims such as those in Orahovac are no doubt increasingly frustrated by support for what are to them Serbian criminals and their Russian compatriots. Mass graves of Muslims killed by Serbs are still being discovered and recent findings by UN expert A. Heindrickx indicate that Serbs used chemical warfare against the KLA.
The blockade in Orahovac, although peaceful, is indicative of the level of frustration that must be felt by Kosova Muslims whose attempts at peaceful reconciliation are being constantly taunted. The presence of Russian troops, Serbian refusal to hand over weapons, Serbian attempts to divide and maintain control of the province, and continued unearthing of Serbian atrocities are all factors in the frustration no doubt felt by Kosova Muslims.
The BBC on August 25 says that it will be difficult to secure an end to the blockade of Russian troops in Orahovac. The BBC's Duncan Kennedy, reporting from the crisis in Orahovac, says the Muslims are "in no mood for compromise."
If the international peace-keeping force is sincerely committed to achieving peace in Kosova, it should not undermine or nettle the attempts of the Muslim majority to peacefully reconcile with their former Serbian and perhaps Russian oppressors. While NATO and the UN cater to Russian demands for a larger role in Kosova, it is perhaps the justice of Kosova Muslims that first needs to be satisfied before any lasting peace can be achieved.