17 March 2006

Ex-Albanian Gunmen Oppose Rugova's Burial In Martyrs' Cemetery

SERBIANNA (USA), January 24, 2006


PRISTINA, Serbia-Montenegro (AP)--While thousands of ethnic Albanians filed past the coffin of Kosovo President Ibrahim Rugova on Tuesday to bid farewell to the leader who stood at the forefront of their demands for independence, a Kosovo veterans group voiced opposition to his burial next to their fallen comrades.


Bulldozers and workers were clearing a space Tuesday for Rugova's grave overlooking Pristina in the Martyrs' Cemetery, a memorial complex initially dedicated to the victims of World War II. It has since become a graveyard for members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, the ethnic Albanian rebel force that fought Serb troops in Kosovo's 1998-1999 war.


But, in a sign of simmering division between ethnic Albanians, the war veterans association voiced opposition to the decision to bury Rugova, a symbol of peaceful resistance, alongside their fallen comrades.


"The decision to bury him at martyrs' cemetery is unacceptable for us," said a statement issued by the group. They charged that Rugova and the province's institutions neglected the former fighters and their families after the war.


Rugova was known for his peaceful resistance to the repressive policies of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, and he was frequently at odds with the rebel group over its violent campaign.


Rugova died Saturday of lung cancer after serving 16 years as the leader of Kosovo's ethnic Albanians, was to be buried Thursday.


Rugova's death did prompt many of his rivals to praise him for his dedication to Kosovo's liberation and to call for unity within the disputed province.


Among those paying homage Tuesday was former rebel leader Hashim Thaci, Rugova's main political rival.


A 15-day mourning period was being observed throughout Kosovo, with flags flying at half staff.


Mourners stood in long lines in subzero temperatures for a chance to enter parliament's main hall, where Rugova has lain in state since Monday. His wife, Fana, and two sons and daughter received condolences by the wooden casket.


With no one in line to take Rugova's place, Kosovo's political scene has been thrown into disarray as the province prepares for talks on its final status. Those talks, which had been due to begin in days, have been postponed to February.


Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority leadership wants full independence, while officials in Belgrade and the province's Serb minority want it to remain within Serbia-Montenegro.


Kosovo has been run by the U.N. since a 1999 NATO bombing campaign ended a Serb crackdown.