Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 159

The standoff between a Russian KFOR contingent and ethnic Albanian protesters near the city of Orahovac has continued into a second week. Negotiations between leaders of the Albanian protesters–including representatives of the Kosovo Liberation Army–and Russian, Dutch and German officers have thus far failed to win entry for a Russian battalion slated to take over for Dutch peacekeepers in Orahovac. Well-organized ethnic Albanian protesters began blockading the main roads into Orahovac last Monday (August 23). They accuse Russia of having backed Belgrade’s bloody crackdown in Kosovo and charge that Russian mercenaries took part in ethnic cleansing operations around Orahovac. Ethnic Albanian leaders have insisted that they will maintain their blockade for as long as it takes NATO to reverse the decision sending Russian troops into Orahovac.

But officials from both NATO and Russia have said that the Russian deployment to Orahovac is part of an international agreement reached earlier by the two sides, and will be carried out as planned. They have also said that no force will be used to achieve that result, however, and provided little information regarding what options they might have to overcome the Albanian protests. Recent reports have suggested that the Russian soldiers might patrol Orahovac in tandem with the Dutch and German peacekeepers already in the area. That proposal has apparently run into problems on both the NATO and the Albanian sides. Another option reportedly under consideration is one in which Russian troops would patrol Orahovac but actually be stationed outside the city. A Russian officer said in Kosovo on August 27 that KFOR officials are negotiating a mutually acceptable variant with representatives of both the Albanian and the Serb populations in Orahovac (Itar-Tass, August 27).

But the ongoing talks apparently ran into a speed bump yesterday when a scheduled meeting was canceled. According to KFOR officials, the Russian officers who were to participate decided not to attend when they learned that Brigadier General Wolfgang Sauer, the German general who commands the sector in which Orahovac is located, informed participants that he would not be present at the talks. According to KFOR, it is hoped that high-level negotiations will resume today, but in Pristina and not in Orahovac. Military chiefs would then be in a position to meet protest organizers tomorrow (Reuters, Itar-Tass, August 30).