A car bomb has exploded on Bill Clinton Avenue in Pristina, capital of Yugoslavia’s Kosovo province, injuring 32 people, 9 seriously.
U.N. spokesman Barry Fletcher called the event on Friday a “terrorist act.”
“If somebody sets off a car bomb in a busy commercial street on Friday evening knowing they were going to hurt or kill a lot of people, that is a terrorist act,” said Fletcher, as reported by Agence France-Presse.
No one has claimed responsibility thus far, although witnesses claim to have seen two people escaping the scene in an Opel Vectra automobile.
The nine hospitalized victims are in stable condition and out of danger, stated Zeke Zekaj, an official at the Pristina hospital.
Bill Clinton Avenue was christened by Albanian officials as a gesture of gratitude to the former U.S. president for his support to the province’s bid for independence, led by the Kosovo Liberation Army, or KLA, which led to a 78-day bombing campaign of Yugoslavia in the spring of 1999 and subsequent deployment of NATO troops in Kosovo.
The KLA has since transformed under U.N. supervision into the so-called Kosovo Protection Force, with a mandate to help in civil emergencies and natural disasters. Diplomatic and intelligence sources, however, have expressed repeated concern that the “transformation” has been only superficial and that the organization has continued with business as usual, controlling the province’s drug, illegal arms and white-slavery trade, in addition to continuing its campaign of terrorism and intimidation against Kosovo’s non-Albanian population.
Many are connecting Friday’s blast to the visit of a U.N. Security Council delegation that began on Saturday with the task of assessing the conditions in Kosovo three-and-a-half years after NATO troops were deployed to “keep the peace.”
“Something like this always happens ahead of some important visit to Kosovo,” said Bajram Rexhepi, Kosovo’s prime minister, in a statement made shortly after the blast.
Rexhepi, a physician and former member of the KLA, was installed in office in a deal brokered in January 2002 by U.S. officials in the province. Nebojsa Covic, vice-president of the government of Serbia, one of Yugoslavia’s two constituent republics, has connected Rexhepi to the beheading of a 19-year-old Yugoslav army recruit during the guerrilla war that raged in Kosovo from 1998-99, a charge that Rexhepi has denied.
Nevertheless, terrorism has not abated during Rexhepi’s tenure, and pressure on the remaining Serb Christian population has continued, despite the presence of the 30,000-strong, NATO-led force on the ground.
In his Dec. 14 letter to the visiting Security Council delegation, Kosovo’s Serbian Orthodox Bishop Artemije outlines the conditions in the province:
“More than three years after the conflict, Kosovo Serbs are still exposed to systematic human-rights violations, while the destruction of Serbian Orthodox holy sites still continues despite a strong NATO-led presence in the area. …
“In most parts of the province, Serbs can live in relative freedom only within their tiny enclaves and under deplorable economic conditions. Freedom of movement is restricted to Serb-inhabited areas and to some extent to major roads, while most urban areas (except in the north) are largely inaccessible for Serbs. This is the reason why Serbs still do not have normal access to medical, educational and other institutions in major Kosovo cities. Even Serb members of the Kosovo Parliament travel to their sessions in armored vehicles and cannot visit their constituency normally. Serbs still do not have Kosovo-wide media, and communication between enclaves is seriously limited. …
“The fate of more than 1,300 Serb civilians abducted after the conflict is unknown. In the same period, nearly 1,000 Serbs were killed by Albanian extremists and only some of their bodies have been recovered so far. An especially discouraging development for returnees is the continuing systematic destruction and desecration of Serbian Orthodox churches and cemeteries. Since the arrival of the U.N. Mission to Kosovo, 112 Orthodox churches and dozens of cemeteries have been destroyed or desecrated, and not one perpetrator of these crimes has been brought to justice. The remaining Serb monasteries survive thanks only to constant KFOR military protection. By attacking Serb holy sites, Kosovo Albanians seek to change the cultural, ethnic and religious identity of the province and thus discourage returns. …
“True intentions of Albanian leaders can be seen in everyday reality. Geographic names which had even survived Ottoman rule are now being replaced by newly invented Albanian names. The Serb language has been expelled from public life, while traditional Serb Cyrillic script is unacceptable even in the Kosovo Parliament. Ideas of intolerance toward Slavic peoples and the Orthodox Christian religion is strongly promoted in the education of young Kosovo Albanians and media, encouraging younger generations to take a leading role in attacks and provocations against Serbs, such as the recent attack against elderly Serb pensioners in Pec. The level of organized crime in the province is frightening, while the economic situation in general is deplorable despite substantial foreign investments. Former KLA members have not yet been fully disarmed, and they still continue with armed attacks against Serbs and dissenting Albanians jeopardizing the fragile stability in Kosovo. …”
Artemije has remained in Kosovo, which the Serbs consider to be the cradle of their civilization, and heads the Serb National Council of Kosovo and Metohija. Monks from his diocese began running a Kosovo Internet site in 1997, documenting human-rights abuses in the province and providing a historical background to the conflict and the present-day situation.
The Clinton administration received early warnings of the nature of its alliance with Kosovo.
A paper issued by the U.S. Senate Republican Policy Committee dated March 31, 1999, stated that “… among the most troubling aspects of the Clinton administration’s effective alliance with the KLA are numerous reports from reputable unofficial sources – including the highly respected Jane’s publications – that the KLA is closely involved with:
- The extensive Albanian crime network that extends throughout Europe and into North America, including allegations that a major portion of the KLA finances are derived from that network, mainly proceeds from drug trafficking; and
- Terrorist organizations motivated by the ideology of radical Islam, including assets of Iran and of the notorious Osama bin-Ladin – who has vowed a global terrorist war against Americans and American interests.
Western diplomatic and intelligence circles have pointed repeatedly to the fact that Kosovo has become a potential staging ground for future terrorist attacks aimed against the West and that the region has become a “black hole” in Europe, despite the presence of Western troops and administration.
Last December, NATO troops stationed in Kosovo raided the offices of a U.S. charity as part of an investigation that, according to the Bush administration, linked at least two large Muslim charities based in Illinois to fund raising for Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaida network.