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Signs of Normality in Kosovo

January 24, 2000

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (AP) _ In signs that some normality is returning to Kosovo, a licensed bank started operating Monday _ the first to open since last year’s conflict _ and more than 100 judges were sworn in to tackle a backlog of criminal cases.

Those taking office included Supreme Court of Kosovo judges and lay judges, who sit on the jury, for municipal courts in Pristina, Podujevo, Lipljan and Urosevac.

Another 137 legal officials were selected by a committee of local ethnic Albanians and approved by international law officials serving with the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, based on their academic backgrounds and assessment of problems.

A backlog of thousands of unresolved criminal cases, left over from when a three-month mandate for the previous group of U.N.-appointed judges ran out, awaits the new justices.

Many of the cases are ethnically motivated violent crimes, mostly against Serbs by ethnic Albanians seeking revenge for the violent Serb crackdown that began nearly a year ago.

The local judicial system hasn’t functioned since NATO-led peacekeepers entered the province in June.

International efforts to re-establish peace in Kosovo ``have been hampered by the absence of courts to prosecute those who commit crimes,″ Tom Koening, a senior U.N. administrator, told the judges at a swearing-in ceremony. ``Your job is to restore the rule of law in Kosovo without regard to ethnicity, language or political affiliation.″

In the past decade, only Serbs and ethnic Albanians sympathetic to the Belgrade regime were allowed to hold judicial posts.

The opening of the Micro Enterprise Bank was also a sign of recovery for the troubled province. The bank is backed by several international financial institutions and investment companies and is funded largely by the German and Dutch governments.

While the bank’s president and director are both internationals, the chairman of its board of directors is a local Albanian economic expert, Ajri Begu.

``We’re going to have to try to win back the lost faith of the citizens in the banking system,″ said Begu. ``It’s going to be a big battle and it won’t be easy.″

The bank will have an initial equity holding of $2.3 million and will provide accounts, money transfers, loans and cashless payment transactions to micro and small enterprises as well as individual customers.

Within the next three years the bank is expected to have seven branches across the province.

During the opening ceremony held in Pristina’s National Theater, thousands of Kosovo Albanians held a silent protest outside, appealing to international leaders in the province to aid in the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners jailed in Serbia.

Serbian authorities claim that some 1,800 ethnic Albanians are being held in Serb jails, but international authorities in Kosovo and human rights officials say the numbers could be as high as 7,000.

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