By Milica Andric Rakic
Negotiations in Brussels resumed after an 18-month long deadlock. The Kosovan and Serbian delegations discussed the issue of missing persons, internally displaced persons, and the economy. The details of the agreement are not known, however Serbia is announcing that it will investigate three locations Pristina suggested as possible mass grave sites. The issue of the return of displaced persons is marked by a negative campaign in the Kosovo media, while the economy – which Pristina, according to the Serbian delegation, refused to discuss in Brussels – will be discussed in Washington in two days.
„Serbs are returning to Kosovo“ – reads the title of an article published yesterday by the Pristina-based Gazeta Express, penned by the Kosovo public service broadcaster – RTK with the headline „Over 1,500 Serbs are returning to Kosovo in a few weeks“.
According to the data of the Kosovo Ministry of Communities and Returns, headed by Dalibor Jevtic, there were 226,418 refugees and displaced persons from Kosovo in 1999. Most of those displaced persons are in Serbia (187,129), Montenegro (30,289), and Macedonia (9,000). The number of IDPs is 25,000 while 20,000 persons expressed an interest in returning.
Approximately 28,500 citizens – including 12,500 Serbs – returned to Kosovo since 1999, Uros Staletovic, a spokesman for the ministry, confirmed for KoSSev.
The return process, especially in returnee communities in Metohija, has often been accompanied by numerous reports of compromised returnee security and an inadequate response by the Kosovo Police.
The rights of some of these Kosovo Serb returnees should have been discussed in Brussels. If the allegations of the head of the Kosovo Office, Marko Djuric, are to be believed, the Serbian delegation in Brussels asked for the Law on Returnees – a proposal rejected by the Kosovo delegation which requested „to stick to only some declarative statements“.
„For us not to mention a word on their property (cf. of the returnees) that should be returned to them, a word on their economic and social rights, the so-called Pinheiro UN principles that define the rights of refugees and displaced persons. For us not to define the law on returns, which would provide financial resources to those people so that they can renovate their houses and create new jobs. For us to simply say – we have resolved the issues of the displaced by the two sides giving a statement inviting people to return,“ Djuric said during his guest appearance on the morning program of Happy TV last Friday.
The Kosovo side gave no statements on this topic, therefore, it is impossible to compare demands and expectations. On the contrary, dissatisfaction with this topic is also noticeable among the larger Kosovo opposition parties.
One of the first reactions to the news on the negotiation topics in Brussels came from Enver Hoxhaj, a senior PDK official and former Kosovo Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister.
Hoxhaj assessed that Serbia „tricked“ Hoti by choosing topics, specifically the one related to returns, because, in his words, „Kosovo has fulfilled its obligations.“
„For the first time, the topic of displaced Serbs, closed 15 years ago, has been returned to dialogue. Kosovo has fulfilled its obligations towards displaced Serbs,“ he said.
At the end of June of last year, Hoxhaj, the then Deputy Prime Minister of Kosovo, described one of the projects for the construction of housing units in the settlement „Sun Valley“ in Zvecan as „colonization.“
Similar claims were also presented earlier, mostly coming from the Kosovo right-wing opposition, i.e. the Self-Determination Party (LVV), but also the Social Democratic Party – which is on the opposite side of the political spectrum. Hoxhaj’s statement marked the first time that the incumbent referred to the process of the return of displaced persons as „colonization.“
The same term was used again this weekend after apartments were distributed to 58 families, as the Kosovo Office announced, to mostly young married couples and socially endangered families, by the representative of the now largest opposition party in Kosovo and also former Foreign Minister, Glauk Konjufca (LVV).
„Vucic’s government built 58 closely spaced housing units in one settlement located in the strategically most important part of the north – where they had never been present before,“ Konjufca described what is, in his opinion, “typical colonization”.
Previously, the settlement „Sun Valley“ in Zvecan, but also projects for the construction of residential buildings in North Mitrovica stirred similar reactions.
At the end of July, PDK MP Valdete Idrizi expressed concern over the construction of „collective accommodation“ housing in the North, alleging that thus „quiet ethnic cleansing is being carried out“.
The President of the Assembly of Kosovo, Vjosa Osmani also expressed concerns about the construction of housing units in the north, announcing a report of the Commission that visited „this part of Kosovo to understand how to process the issue in the Assembly.
For the past two days, the media have also been reporting about the „returns.“ RTK reported that „with Serbian flags displayed on the balconies, 58 Serb families accepted the keys to the apartments and returned to the north of Kosovo.“ They went on to describe it as „just the beginning of Serbia’s plans to return Serbs to northern Kosovo.“
The subject of this article is the most disputed project so far – „Sun Valley“. This joint project of the Government of Serbia, the Municipality of Zvecan, and the Diocese of Raska-Prizren has been under construction since 2016. In the Kosovo public, it is often presented as illegal.
The work in the „Sun Valley“ is nearing completion and returnee families will move in by the end of this year, RTK journalist said, citing a statement by an ethnic Albanian from the north of Kosovo, Arsim Paqarada.
„The day after handing over the keys to 58 apartments to Serb residents in Leposavic, work continues in the area known as the Sun Valley, where Serbs will return in the north,“ the public service broadcaster wrote, adding that „due to such a situation, the lives of Albanians in the north is becoming intolerable.“
The KoSSev portal did not receive a reply despite sending numerous inquiries about the issue via telephone, SMS, and electronic messages to the president of PA Zvecan, Ivan Todosijevic, and officials of the Kosovo Office.
„Albanians, on the other hand, are suffering. They cannot live on their land without the permission of Serbs, facilities are being built without permission and soon they will come to live there,“ a resident of the village of Suvi Do said, RTK reported.
RTK added that while the investments of the Serbian government are not ceasing, the Albanian houses in the Brdjani settlement sit untouched even 6 years later.
„Brdjani“ is one of the four multiethnic settlements in North Mitrovica, where the return of expelled Albanians to the north first began in 1999.
This process, however, was followed by political tensions and protests by Serbs, and in 2008 an agreement with representatives of the Serb community concluded with UNMIK in 2000 was violated. This agreement defines the „yellow line“ that separates the northern and southern parts of the city outside of which construction was not allowed without the consent of both communities.
In 2008, Albanians, escorted by EULEX and KFOR, began building 72 family facilities outside the line, which the Serb side described as an attempt to change the ethnic structure of the settlement and „attempt to populate a non-native population“ without “the consent of the locals of the settlement.”
The protests were marked by incidents – dozen of Serbs were injured, while a Brdjani resident Sava Mojsic was murdered in November 2011. His murder was not directly connected with the protests, but eyewitnesses described it as ethnically motivated.
RTK asked the Kosovo government whether these projects in the north have a construction permit, no answer arrived however. On the other hand, the representatives of the local authorities of the municipality of North Mitrovica told KoSSev that everything is being built in accordance with the law and the necessary permits.
The Prime Minister of Kosovo, Avdullah Hoti had previously addressed this issue, stating that he will not allow the implementation of projects in the north financed by the Republic of Serbia, which are not in accordance with Kosovo laws.
While the Sun Valley settlement was described as a returnee settlement with a capacity of 225 to 300 housing units for about 1,200 inhabitants, other housing units distributed over the years in the north were handed out to families living in Kosovo or internally displaced persons from other parts of Kosovo.
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