CBC In Depth
Kosovo: A Protectorate in Trouble
Paul Workman, CBC News | May 25, 2004

Paul Workman This spring marks five years since NATO forces moved into Kosovo. Billions of dollars have been spent to reconstruct the former Yugoslav province. For a while it seemed to be working – until last March, when a deadly series of riots threatened to destroy the whole process.

It was an ugly and shameful moment for the United Nations, for the soldiers who were sent there to protect the population – but failed.

Ljubinka Kovacevic doesn't like coming back. The path through her springtime garden leads to an ugly and abrupt shock – the burned out, blackened shell of her once-comfortable home near Pristina.

The Kosovo Force (KFOR) is a NATO-led international force responsible for establishing and maintaining security in Kosovo. This peace-enforcement force entered Kosovo on June 12, 1999, under a United Nations mandate, two days after the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1244.

Source: KFOR website

"Look at this, everything is broken," her grandson says.

"Yes, everything," Kovacevic says. "Don't touch."

Nine Serb houses were destroyed in her village, besieged by a mob of Albanians, the other ethnic group that shares this troubled province. Some might even have been her neighbours.

They broke through a police and military cordon as Kovacevic and her family ran for their lives.

"I love this house," she says. "My family was created here in this house and now you see what happened, what it looks like."

The rioting started in Pristina and then spread to all of Kosovo. Two days of burning, killing, hatred and vengeance. All of it under the watch of 17,000 NATO soldiers – Kosovo's so-called "protection" force.

The scale of the violence simply stunned the United Nations; the people who took over the affairs of Kosovo five years ago after NATO bombers had expelled Slobodan Milosevic's brutal Serb army and ended the last conflict in the Balkans.

In some places the protection simply collapsed.


KFOR Headquarters

HQ: Pristina
KFOR HQ reports to the NATO commander-In-chief, Allied Forces Southern Europe (CINCSOUTH) - Naples, Italy. Has soldiers from all contributing nations.

Multinational Specialized Unit

HQ: Pristina
The Multinational Specialized Unit (MSU) is a police force with military status, with an overall police capability.

Lead Nation:

Contributing Nations:

1. Multinational Brigade Centre HQ: Pristina
Responsible for: Podujevo, Kosovo Polje, Lipljan, Obilic, Glogovac and Stimlje.

Lead Nation:

Contributing Nations:
Czech Republic
United Kingdom

2. Multinational Brigade Northeast

HQ: Nova Selo and Mitrovica
Responsible for: Northern Kosovo

Lead Nation:

Contributing Nations:

3. Multinational Brigade Southwest

HQ: Prizren
Responsible for: Southwest Kosovo

Lead Nation:

Contributing Nations:

4. Multinational Brigade East

HQ: Urosevac
Responsible for: Eastern Kosovo, border security

Lead Nation:
United States

Contributing Nations:

Source: KFOR website.

"They could have prevented everything that happened," she says. "The cordon was 500 metres away and slowly they gave in to the pressure of the crowd. I think the soldiers are here to protect Albanians, not Serbs."

The rampage in Kosovo left 19 people dead and 900 wounded, 31 Serb churches damaged or destroyed, and more than 4,500 people homeless. The Serbs call it a pogrom or use that other horrible phrase first applied to them during another Balkan war – ethnic cleansing.

We're driving into a village called Svinyareh with Derek Chappell, a Canadian who for three years was Kosovo's police spokesperson.

The only access road to the village runs between two military bases, one French, the other Belgian. House after house after house is burned and looted, possessions destroyed, pets and livestock slaughtered.

A mob of about 400 Albanians, many of them young people, marched down the road, right past the two army bases, and set fire to more than 100 Serb properties.

It was rationalized as the madness of revenge, sparked by a report that two Albanian boys had drowned after being chased by Serbian men. It was entirely false and fatally sensationalized.

Now the French patrol the village road. But on the night of the riots, they sat back in their hillside base and watched it happen.

"We threw up a small line of police but they swept past us and went into the village destroying it in an orgy of violence," Chappell says. "I find it hard to understand why the military did nothing."

The French were watching and taking photographs, he says.

Derek Chappell is no longer Kosovo's police spokesman. He was fired after the riots after reporting that some of the violence was organized, and not simply uncontrollable mobs venting their anger.

"Shortly after it happened my many Albanian contacts started calling and giving me information that there was a degree of organization and not entirely spontaneous, as many were saying, and I think my comments ran counter to the political wishes of Albanian political leaders and maybe some in the international community," Chappell says.

The NATO commander in the area, a German, refused our request for an interview and refused to make any spokesperson available.

One diplomatic source says, "Remember that NATO and the United Nations run Kosovo like a colony. They are the law here, the final authority."

We did speak with Carne Ross, a British diplomat, one of the UN's senior officers here.

"KFOR say they were overwhelmed by the scale and the volume of the violence. I'm not a military person and I can't offer analysis. All I can say is that collectively we didn't do enough. We failed to protect the people we were sent here to protect."

There is certainly festering rage and dissatisfaction among Kosovo's Albanian majority of 2� million.

Ask any of the men who survive by selling phone cards on the street. There's rampant crime, little work. And the unresolved question of independence creates fear and uncertainty in ominous proportions.

You can feel it crossing over the bridge in Mitrovica from the Albanian south to the Serbian north.

NATO forces guard the crossing and patrol the streets. But according to one independent study, the riots last March exposed a weakness and lack of resolve that nearly destroyed the UN's mission.

"What can I say, it's a real tragedy," Ross says. "I don't think there's any point in trying to gloss over the seriousness. More than a waste of money, people died and lives matter more than money. Old women were beaten up. Whole villages were burned. This was a real tragedy."

"It's now been a month and a half and I'm not sure that anybody has said 'I'm sorry.'" Chappell says. "I'm not sure if anybody has said. 'I didn't perform well, and could have done better.' Nobody has been held accountable.

"When I see the physical damage and hear the stories of people being beaten up and killed and hear ordinary Serbs and Albanians say they despair for the future, and when I think of all the money that's been put in here. Somebody should be held accountable."

German, French, American, British, Greek, Scandinavian: something like 25 armies are represented and spread over Kosovo's small landmass. The last Canadian soldiers left about four years ago.

An ethnic Albanian girl walks by the ruins of an ancient Serb Orthodox monastery in the southern Kosovo town of Prizren, Friday, March 19, 2004. The monastery was set on fire and heavily damaged on Wednesday, March 17, during an outbreak of ethnic violence in Kosovo's major towns. The writing at top, reads "Death to Serbs". (AP Photo/Pier Paolo Cito)

There is one overall commander but different countries have different rules of engagement. That was evident as the rioting swept across the countryside. Some armies responded vigorously, others didn't. Troop levels have also been reduced in recent years.

For Ramush Haradinaj, KFOR soldiers did the best they could. He's a former guerrilla fighter and now a leading Kosovo Albanian politician.

"No army, not even a national army, is formed to put down revolts," he says. "And when you have 100,000 people in the streets, no army can succeed and KFOR did a good job."

"I know of a lot of KFOR soldiers who were disappointed. I know a lot of soldiers who were frustrated, who wanted to get out there with the police. It was a structural and institutional failure," Chappell says.

In the picturesque town of Prizren, there is an odd and unsettling juxtaposition. You can sit in a pleasant riverside cafe gazing up at the blackened ruins of Serb houses and churches.

One man watched the rioting from his window. "KFOR intervened and fought them till 6 o'clock, using tear gas and rubber bullets," he says. "But they couldn't stop the mass of young people."

We walk up the hill with Prank Kapsoli, another neighbour. What happened was not good he says, all the citizens of Prizren condemn this. And what about KFOR's reaction? They could have done more to stop this, he says. I can't explain why they didn't.

And he has one more thought: "We are expecting recognition of our independence, but with this behaviour we are set back," he says. "Democracies don't do this kind of thing."

Prizren is under the control of German forces. The criticism has been withering, their lack of intervention described as shameful, even cowardly

On this day a group of German soldiers strolled like tourists past the burned-out ruins of St. George's Church – which their troops fled as the mob surged. "We're here to protect people, not buildings," said their commander, who praised their quick reaction and prudent behaviour.

And these soldiers are going home with the photographs to prove it.

"There's not much use guarding a church if you're going to leave when it's going to be destroyed," Chappell says. "A tactic in controlling crowds is intimidation. A crowd will not attack if there's a capacity to resist. And the police have to show force. Some of these people were teenagers. It wasn't a guerrilla army. A show of force probably would have prevented a great deal of this violence."

A few kilometres down the road, the monks of Holy Archangels monastery are saying morning prayers inside a green army tent. Their living quarters and chapel were destroyed during the riots.

A guard unit of German soldiers got them out safely but let the rest burn.

The monks are defiant about staying here. This is Serb land, they say, a claim that is both religious and political. In their view, the Germans could have done more to protect it.

"You saw the road from Prizren. Sixty demonstrators came here on foot. The road is three metres wide," says Brother Benedict. "They could have been stopped by two or three armoured personnel carriers. A hundred soldiers could have saved this place and the rest could have guarded the religious sites in Prizren."

The monastery is a good place to understand the fear and animosity that divide Serb and Albanian. The monks will never accept Kosovo independence and they still believe that one day a Serbian army will come back to save them and their land.

"My personal opinion is that 95 per cent of Albanians are extremists," Brother Benedict says. "And with what happened here, they are showing the world the hatred in their hearts."

And that's what the United Nations faces.

Time and money have neither cooled passions nor softened hatred. The conflict was suppressed but never resolved. One report has warned that Kosovo risks becoming Europe's West Bank.

"The violence was directed towards us as well as the Serbs," Ross says. "We're seen as the government and ultimately responsible for this place. Many of us were very upset it happened in our neighbourhoods and caused great disappointment in our task. But we're not giving up. We have a duty to perform and we're going to carry it out."

And what of Ljubinka Kovacevic and her burned out home?

There are plans to rebuild. And she wants to stay. But there's also a lot of anguish and uncertainty.

No one, she says, can compensate for the fear.


MAIN PAGE Timeline: 1999-present Timeline: 1389-1999 Timeline: Slobodan Milosevic Map
IN FOCUS: Kosovo Podujevo massacre Srebrenica massacre CBC Radio doc on Srebrenica Besieged Sarajevo Bosnia-Herzegovina elections

Don Murray: A success story

War crimes: Bosnia

May 22, 2006
Montenegro chooses independence in narrow vote

May 3, 2006
EU suspends trade talks with Serbia

April 30, 2006
Serbia misses deadline to hand over alleged war criminal

March 18, 2006
Milosevic buried in quiet ceremony in his hometown

March 14, 2006
Tribunal formally closes case against Milosevic

March 11, 2006
Milosevic dies in jail, leaving war crimes trial unfinished

Nov. 22, 2004
Milosevic war crimes trial hears from former Russian minister

March 17, 2004
Ethnic clashes kill 22 in Kosovo

May 11, 2003
Montenegro votes for looser ties with Serbia

March 12, 2003
Serbian prime minister assassinated

Feb. 12, 2002
Milosevic's history-making trial opens in The Hague

April 1, 2001
Milosevic arrested, jailed, sedated

Oct. 29, 2000
Moderate leader claims victory in Kosovo

Oct. 6, 2000
Chretien pledges aid to Yugoslavia

Sept. 29, 2000
Anti-Milosevic rallies spread in Yugoslavia

Sept. 24, 2000
Elections in Yugoslavia a 'complete mess'

April 30, 1999
Yugoslavia and NATO still far apart on proposals

March 26, 1999
NATO air strikes hammer Yugoslavia for third night

CBC does not endorse and is not responsible for the content of external sites. Links will open in new window.

Serbia and Montenegro

Statistical Office of Kosovo


UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo

Centre for Peace in the Balkans

UN International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia

Srebrenica report: Report of the Secretary-General pursuant to General Assembly resolution 53/35 (1998)

Print this page

Send a comment

Indepth Index