Thursday, December 01, 2005

Albanians Celebrate Tribunal Ruling

Belgrade, Pristina, Hague, London, Washington -- Thursday - Albanian youth in Presevo defy police ban on a meeting of support to Ljimaj and Musliu, Hague indictees freed from war crimes charges by the Hague Tribunal.

Although the police in Presevo banned a march of support to Fatmir Ljimaj on grounds that it was not officially announced, B92 has learnt that a group of youngsters gathered in the centre of Presevo anyway. The police had previously encountered youth who plastered the city with announcements calling citisens to join the march, which lead to an urgent meeting with Albanian political leaders in South Serbia.

Our reporter in Presevo says that a group of 200 youth started their march towards the town centre carrying Albanian flags, photographs with of Ljimaj and Musliu and chanting support to the Hague Tribunal. Political leaders tried to simmer down the organizers of the march this morning.

Previously, ethnic Albanians in Pristina, Prizren, Malisevo and southern Kosovska Mitrovica celebrated what they called a just decision by the Judiciary Council of the Hague Tribunal, firing gunshots in the air and hailing the names of their two compatriots, who have just been cleared of charges they stood trial for at the international court.

President of Kosovo Ibrahim Rugova welcomed the Tribunal’s decision and expressed hope that there still existed some legal options for the third indictee, Haradin Baljaj. “The trial has confirmed the rightness of the liberation struggle against Serbian occupation, the fight for the freedom and independence of our country and our belief in international justice and the Hague Tribunal”, Rugova said.

Kosovo Prime Minister hailed the release of Ljimaj and Musliu. “This is more proof that Fatmir and his comrades in battle had just one goal in life – the struggle to liberate Kosovo”, the Government of Kosovo said in a press release.

The Serbian President’s advisor on relations with the ICTY, Jovan Simic, told Beta agency that the Tribunal’s ruling left a bad impression and opened the door to criticism of its work, adding there would probably be much debate on this issue.

Ljiljana Smajlovic, a pundit on the Tribunal’s activities, says the verdict will fit perfectly into the image of the Hague’s double-standards that exists in Serbia. “It seems that the limits for proving guilt are much higher for those who aren't Serbs. We could say that there were not sufficient testimonies against Ljimaj, but witnesses in Belgrade were rounded up in a different manner. Insiders were persuaded to testify with threats that they would face charges in the event they declined to provide testimonies. One is left with an impression that different means and methods are employed for providing evidence and making verdicts at the Tribunal”, Smajlovic concluded.

Analysts on release verdict

British and US analysts observing events in the Balkans differ in their opinions on the effects of the Tribunal’s verdicts that exempted Ljimaj and Musliu from charges. Associate of the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations, William Nash, told BBC that claims accusing the Hague Tribunal of anti-Serbian attitude were ungrounded. Commenting on the verdicts that freed Ljimaj and Musliu from charges, Nash said that trials against other KLA members were in schedule and that we should wait for their outcomes.

Lecturer in Modern History at Oriel College in Oxford Mark Almond presumes that, regardless of the reasons that lead the Tribunal’s judges to reach their verdicts, the dominant impression will be that Serbs accused of the same kinds of crimes will not have equal treatment. “This is an essential deficiency. An international court with genuine international recognition, which is accepted by all sides, would probably be deplored by all parties involved. If one side congratulates it and the other does not, it means the court is not doing a good job. Basically, this is the key problem when a politicised process for punishing war crimes essentially fails to gain trust.

Ljajic: Hard to convince anyone in coincidence

The President of the National Council for Co-operation with the Hague Tribunal, Rasim Ljajic, told Beta agency it would be hard to convince the Serbian public that there was no political connection between the Tribunal’s rulings to release Ljimaj and Musliu and the request to hold a separate trial for Slobodan Milosevic’s involvement in Kosovo. “While not wanting to comment on the verdicts themselves, I believe there was no political connection, but it will be hard to convince anyone in Serbia that it was pure coincidence. This will lead to a step or two back in the process of building public confidence in the Hague Tribunal”, Ljajic said, adding that proponents of conspiracy theories and those hostile to the idea of co-operating with the Hague will gain a significant argument for their claims.

Ljimaj and Musliu out of jail

Fatmir Ljimaj and Isak Musliu were released from custody at the prison in Scheweningen after being freed from charges before the Hague Tribunal. It has been reported from the international court that Haradin Baljaj has been sentenced to spend 13 years in prison after being found guilty by the Judiciary Council of murdering nine prisoners in Lapusnica near Glogovac.

The Hague Tribunal has not issued any statements regarding the verdict, hence there is speculation that the defence will lodge an appeal.

Ljimaj is the seventh and Musliu is the eighth indictee released from charges, while 40 have been found guilty so far. Beta, B92

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