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Tirana Diary 14 June 1999

Tirana 14 June 1999

Back in the chaos of Tirana, sitting as always at Jerusalem in the morning enjoying my coffee and the waking up of the city. Two police guys on motorcycles, here they drive around without helmets, meet with a friend in front of the cafe. They stop like somebody going through a curve during a TT-race, kiss their friend, take a coffee on the table next to me and decide half an hour later that they'll put up a control point here in the middle of Tirana. The funny thing is that they seem to only stop their friends, since most of the time they stand there discussing apparently the quality of the cars passing by, since they both turn to look at every expensive car. Each time a familiar car passes one of them sticks up his stopping sign, the most important attribute of the Albanian police. Their friends stop, they slowly walk upwards and give them a kiss through the open window, have a chat for five or six minutes, share a cigarette and that is it.

Downtown they have cracked open the asphalt in some streets to work on it, of course they are doing it in the middle of the day on the streets with the heaviest traffic, so it's creating the biggest traffic jam I have seen since I came here, but the effect looks promising. Of course the cardrivers don't like to wait too long and so after 15 minutes they are already using the new asphalt, their tires leaving tracks behind in the still hot asphalt, I'm surprised that none of the tires explode. My friend says that in two months time the whole place will be as bad as it was before, two or three rainfalls, hot weather, a few hundredthousand cars and all the work is destroyed. Furtheron they forgot to mark the place where the sewerage can be reached. In a few days from now those sewerage guys will come and start breaking up the street since they need their entrance to the pipes. For the time being however this street is dangerous, the cars now drive three times faster as normal there.

I spend the day trying to find toys, books and other material for children.. Some organisations have brought it into the country in quantities sufficient to satisfy all the children of Kosov@ rumours have it, put nobody knows who and where it can be found. At the same time I try to find out which organisation is in charge of the six activity tents at the Olympia refugee camp, which have been standing empty there for almost seven weeks now. This type of searches brings you into contact with a lot of organisations and you find a lot of interesting things, but not the things you were looking for. But I don't give up, those toys must be somewhere. Some people tell me I'd better look in the toy shops in Tirana, most probably I can find the new toys there, just like you can find the humanitarian food aid on markets all over the country. But the rumours said that there was much, really much, and I am sure that there is somewhere in town a warehouse where at least a part of it is still lying.

In our search we went to Kombinat, which is a few kilometers outside of Tirana. Here almost 30.000 people used to live and work, now there are almost 60.000 living there and perhaps, let's be positive, almost 3,000 working there: all the factories here have closed down and are slowly falling apart. We are looking for the warehouse from Premiere Urgence, to see how many toys they have and luckily enough we have a kind of map. A very old one, since the railroad on it which we used as orientation point is gone, people have built houses on it, which doesn't make it any easier. But we find them. When we walk through the old factories, we see that in the half destroyed halls and constructions people are living, they just occupied it and built small houses in it. You look at a total ruin and then suddenly you see some new windows and flowers somewhere between rotting concrete poles and metal plates hanging down and this is where somebody lives, often there are also clothes drying between the leftovers of what used to be a construction hall of a machine factory or something. Maybe those who live here, used to work here. Sayid, who is with me says: "The most consistent thing here in Albania is its inconsistence".

The big question at the office, where the Kosovars are working, is of course what is happening in Kosov@. What is happening in Pristina, what are the Russians doing there. The newspaper describes it with a kind of sarcasm, there are 300 Russians in Pristina, in control of the northern part of the airport, they have no supplies with them, so they will run out of food and water by tomorrow, ending up probably getting humanitarian aid from one of the bigger organisations now arriving in Pristina from Macedonia. Since that is the only way NGO's are more or less allowed to enter Kosov@ at this moment. From Albania they implore you NOT to go in, its suicide, only mad men would do it, that is the official stance of UNHCR, you are NOT a hero, you are basically plain stupid. Like the two German journalists who were killed yesterday. They should have known better, if you want to be the first, you probably will end up being the first one killed as well.

Translators of the German army, which is now in Kosov@, who have returned in the evening to Kukes are explaining the people there that they have to stay in Kukes for a while. It is not safe in Kosov@, not only are there snipers everywhere, the different NATO troops shot 3 of them yesterday (after fire was opened on them), but the whole country is mined. And also, this was explained by the commanding NATO AFOR general yesterday, there's a lot of unexploded NATO bombs lying about. He explained that of the cluster bombs they have used normally 5 till 10% of the clusters is not exploding. He says that they have been using many of them above Kosov@ and that the country is full of nice small little metal foot- and tennisballs, which are absolutely safe as long as you don't move them around. Since they are nice and shiny especially kids will be attracted by them. A bit like the Serbian forces in Bosnian used to throw the so called butterfly bombs around, nice toy-like small little bombs, just powerful enough to destroy your hands and underarms if they explode. Clusters will do more damage by the way.

The NATO general (I forgot his name, I know that the one in Kosov@ is called Michael Jackson, that's somehow easy to remember) in Albania had been UNPROFOR commander in Bosnia before, some 5 years ago, he had brokered the peace agreement between the Croats and the Muslims at the time. He is very active if you hear him talk. He is building 600 km of motorway, flying hundreds of helicopter rides a day, runs six small hospitals, drives hundreds of trucks, seems to be a really busy guy. He was explaining what NATO is doing in this country, using "I am" all the time instead of "we are".

He also arranged that the UCK is now advicing men who want to cross the border at Kukes into Kosov@, there were twohundred yesterday, 1100 today, to go back, as long as it is not safe there. Suprisingly NATO hasn't been confronted with starving IDP's (internally displaced people) in Kosov@ yet, they had been expecting thousands of them, who must have been up in the woods and forests for months now. But so far they haven't found any in none of the territories in which they overtook control from the Yugoslav army. But so far they haven't taken control over the Northern zone in which most of these IDP's are supposed to be. What they did already find are mass graves. The British batallion for example found one of over 100 yesterday. And that is just the beginning of it, it seems.

From Macedonia already 18 bigger NGO's moved into Kosov@, from Albania only World Vision, and some small ones, UNHCR is not really happy with this jumping on the bandwagon of small NGO's. They are afraid that it will take some unnecessary casualties before people start to understand that this type of heroic behaviour is not really helping anybody, only satisfying the human need for thrills, and if you are up for something like that you can better go in a safari-park without a car. Since in Kosov@ you are also endangering other people's lives, plus that you are holding up the work of the boys who are going in now with a specific task. Not at all helpful, not even in estimating the needs since in two or three weeks, when the first refugees will start to arrive, the needs will be totally different again.

With television and radio campaigns and posters refugees are called upon to stay put in Albania until it has become safe. There is no water, no protection and a lot of mines, stay in Albania, is the basic message. But if this will stop the returnees nobody knows, everybody just hopes.

Criticism was again expressed at UNHCR about how they still haven't gotten the registration campaign on the road. But they said that they had finally got it up and running and had done the registration and production of ID cards for those in the two camps at the swimmingpool in the last three days, and that next week they will start in Kukes. The big excuse was and still is that the situation in Albania is chaotic and not in any way comparable to the situation in Macedonia, where you drive 20 minutes out of Skopje and you find 60.000 or more refugees nicely sitting in a huge refugee center not moving at all. By the way those people in Macedonia are also the first refugees to be able to go back into Kosov@ is the rumour, so in reaction we have now a double movement in the country, some people want to go up north to Kukes to go in and some people start to move south to the Macedonian border in order to enter Kosov@ through Macedonia. We will see what the coming weeks will bring us, first we have a week ahead in which NATO will take over the control of Kosov@, by monday next week the Yugoslav army has to be out, until now there weren't any major clashes between NATO and Yugoslav Army, some little incidents but that was all. Let's hope it stays that way.

wam :-)