Monday, October 31, 2005

Holbrooke: Montenegro and Kosovo should become Independent

US Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, one of the creators of the Dayton Accords,
has stated that Montenegro and Kosovo should become independent. It is
“important that Montenegro becomes an independent state like all other countries
of the former Yugoslavia.”

Holbrooke considers that “Kosovo should also be an independent state” under the
condition “that firm guarantees are given for safety, property, cultural heritage and
all other rights to Serbs.” He assessed that stories that an independent Kosovo
could threaten stability in the region and that Republika Srpska could secede are “nonsense.”
Vecernje Novosti

Serbs to get 15 percent of Kosovo?

Belgrade- Serbia-
The international community should once again examine its blanc refusal to divide Kosovo. It would be good to hint at the readiness to accept it if Pristina and Belgrade agree on this. This proposal has been brought forward by Charles Kapchan, professor of international relations at the Washington Georgetown University and member of the influential American Foreign Relations Council.

“North of the Ibar River to the border with Serbia proper, Kosovo is inhabited almost exclusively with Serbs. The region represents around 15 percent of the territory of Kosovo and is inhabited with one-third of the Serbs. Pristina has no pretensions for ruling over the region that is functionally part of Serbia. Giving northern Kosovo to Serbia, while the rest of the province becomes independent, will free Pristina from vane attempts of establishing rule over the region that intends to keep connections with Belgrade,” he said. F.F
Vecernje Novosti

National Albanian Army wants Presevo Valley to join Kosovo

Prishtina-Kosovo- Kosovo daily Koha Ditore reports on the creation of a new Albanian army in the territory of
Presevo Valley. According to the paper, the National Albanian Army has issued the first communiqué calling for
Presevo Valley to join Kosovo. “We don’t recognize negotiations and decisions by Belgrade or Pristina if
Eastern Kosovo[Presevo Valley] remains in the hands of the Serbian invader, because this too is Kosovar land,”
said the communiqué.

The NAA also said the reason for its creation was the fact that the UCMPB in Presevo Valley had been betrayed
by the international and Albanian political factors. Zëri says two hand grenades exploded near a police station in
Bujanovac on the same night that the NAA issued its first communiqué. Epoka e Re reports on an increased presence
of “professional soldiers of the Union of Serbia and Montenegro in the border between Kosovo and Presevo Valley”.F.F

KPC and KPS: We are ready to provide security for Kosovo

Prishtina- Kosovo-Kosovo daily Lajm reports that the Kosova Protection Corps and the Kosovo Police Service say they are ready to provide security for Kosovo. KPC chief General Agim Çeku and KPS chief colonel Sheremet Ahmeti say their institutions are ready to take on the responsibility to provide security for the country as they have full trust in the institutions they are leading. F.F

The Plus – Minus of the week

Koha Ditore’s Plus – Minus of the week
Kosovo daily,Koha Ditore chose KPC[Kosova Protection Corps] for the Plus of the Week column under the headline ‘Praises for KPC’. It recalls the visit of the NATO delegation to Kosovo and their good words for KPC and General Çeku, and writes that this is very important for the KPC. Disrupted unity, is the headline for its Minus of the Week, this time attributed to the Negotiations Team of Kosovo. “No one accepts the opinion of the other. Everybody makes a proposal. Tolerance is zero.” It is everything else but a team of unity, the paper says. F.F

Kosovo should change its name?

Skopje- Macedonia-Kosovo daily Express carries an interview with head of the Albanian Democratic Party in Macedonia, Arbën Xhaferi. According to the paper, among other issues, Xhaferi says Kosovo cannot be a functioning state with two million inhabitants. It should unite with Albania. Kosovo's name is a Slavic notion, therefore the name should be changed in ‘Dardania’.

Black Shadow appears in "East Kosovo"

BUJANOVAC -- Monday – A statement from a group calling themselves the Black Shadow released on an internet site threatens both the Serbian and Albanian officials in the South Serbia.

According to the statement, which maintains that the group is working under the wing of the Albanian Nationalist Army, the unit will not accept discussions between Belgrade and Pristina that do not include the question of South Serbia, or as it is referred to in the statement, “East Kosovo.”

The Black Shadow unit “for the first and last time” is calling on the Albanian leaders to start using the term “East Kosovo” instead of “Presevo Valley” when referring to the region, and to put aside their personal interest. The Albanian leaders of the region are also being asked to “demand from the Serbian occupiers to have all of the members of the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac released from prison immediately,” and are asking the international community to not make the same mistakes it made in Kosovo in between 1997 and 1999, which led to the war in Kosovo and “in East Kosovo in 2000 and 2001.”

Albanian police officers were advised that they will be answering to the people of the region if they continue to work in the interest of the Serbs.

The Serbian political leaders in the region are being asked to have their troops and police forces retreat from South Serbia. The final message in the statement to the Serbian Government advises them to “take their hands off of Kosovo, because we are prepared to defend it in blood.”

Is the unit real or not?

Sources close to the Liberation Army of Bujanovac, Medvedja and Presevo claim that the Black Shadow unit does not exist. The sources say that the statement which appeared on the internet represents yet another chapter in the political battles going on in Presevo and Bujanovac.

Commenting on the threats made by the Black Shadow unit, the Forum for Ethnic Relations’ Coordinator, Dusan Janjic, said that he cannot state for certain who is behind the appearance of this group.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Albania to stop using MiG fighter jets

TIRANA, Albania-Albania will stop using MiG fighter jets by the end of the year because of high maintenance costs and the planes' unreliability, the country's top military official said Friday.

Albania's military uses 125 Soviet- and Chinese-made MiG-17, MiG-19 and MiG-21 jets. It also has used MiG-15s for training.

The country's "financial reality and the efficiency" of keeping MiG planes in the air have obliged the military to put them out of use, army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Pellumb Qazimi said.

Last year, a MiG-19 crashed during takeoff, killing the pilot.

Albania now relies on helicopters for military and humanitarian purposes. Tirana also plans to use military surveillance planes after 2007.

Albania, which is reforming its military in hopes of joining NATO in 2008, has small peacekeeping units in Iraq, Afghanistan and Bosnia.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Presevo Valley seeks special status

BUJANOVAC- Serbia-Presevo [Presheva] Valley should have a special status and Albanians in this region should have the same rights that Kosovo Serbs are asking for, said Nagip Arifi, the head of Bujanovac municipality. According to Kosovo Pubic Television he said he was unhappy with the work of Coordinating Body, created by Serbian government for the region, of which he is a deputy. Arifi said he will inform the relevant international institutions about, what he termed, this “appropriate demand”.

Presevo Valley is a region in Serbia proper that borders eastern Kosovo. There was a brief armed conflict in 1999-2000 between the Serbian army an ethnic Albanian fighter who were complaining about mistreatments and second class status. European Union representatives brokered an agreement which lead to secession of hostilities. Albanian parties have been complaining that the Serbian government has not been implementing its end of the bargain.

There has been suggestion in recent years that Presevo Valley should be swapped with northern Mitrovica when an eventual agreement is reached between Kosovo and Serbia about the status of Kosovo. Most Kosovo Albanians and European Institutions oppose such a swap of land, but Serbian politicians have been ambivalent about such possibility. F.F

NATO should retain Kosovo role

HELSINKI, Oct 29 (Reuters) - NATO should retain its security role in Kosovo regardless of the disputed province's future status, the man expected to lead talks on whether Kosovo remains part of Serbia or becomes independent said on Saturday.

Former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, slated to become United Nations special envoy to lead talks on Kosovo's status, said he favoured no particular model for solving its problems.

In an interview with Finnish national broadcaster YLE, Ahtisaari, 68, declined to speculate on what the eventual solution would be, or how long it would take to achieve it.

"Time will tell whether it will be a compromise, and what kind of a compromise it could be," Ahtisaari said.

"It is a difficult situation, as there are still some armed groups that are not under control and it is important that NATO retains its security role, no matter what the solution."

Military alliance NATO, which has a 17,100-strong peacekeeping force in Kosovo, acknowledged earlier this month that an armed group in western Kosovo was stopping and searching cars at night, but dismissed them as bandits.

Local newspapers said a group calling itself "The Army for the Independence of Kosovo" had threatened U.N. officials and was demanding immediate recognition of independence for the province, whose population is 90 percent ethnic Albanian.

Kosovo has been a U.N. protectorate since NATO ended the 1998-99 guerrilla war by bombing Yugoslavia to compel Serbia to withdraw its forces, which had been accused of ethnic cleansing.

Kosovo's Albanian majority increasingly wants independence, but Serbia -- which says the province, home to scores of Orthodox religious sites, is sacred land -- is opposed.

The U.N. Security Council earlier this month embraced its Secretary-General Kofi Annan's recommendation that international talks be launched to decide whether Kosovo gains independence or remains a Serbian province.

"(Finding a solution) has to start from first listening to the different parties, even if their views are fairly well known. Then we need to discuss with them how these problems could be addressed," Ahtisaari said.

"There is still a lot of basic work to be done before any kind of specific discussions can begin," he said, adding it was important to first create a working group for the task.

Ahtisaari, 68, made his mark in international diplomacy as point-man for the European Union when he persuaded then-Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic to accept NATO's terms for ending the Kosovo air campaign.

Most recently he grabbed the international limelight when he organised and hosted talks this year between Indonesia's government and the Free Aceh Movement, who signed a peace deal in August to end 30 years of armed struggle.

Ahtisaari's appointment as special envoy to Kosovo had been expected this week, but he said in the interview it now looked as though it would come towards the end of next week.

Kosovo partition would lead to disintegration of Macedonia

Here is a commentary by a Macedonian Albanian that says if Kosovo Serbs attain autonomy in Kosovo, Albanians in Macedonia could also request autonomy, given that their share of the Macedonian population is "three times higher" than the percentage of Serbs in Kosovo. The only option that would prevent Macedonia's disintegration is thus "official recognition of the independence of Kosovo", the paper argues.

Bashkim Muca

Skopje[Shkup]-Macedonia-According to a well-established view that has been around for some time, the first thing that would happen in case of the partition of Kosova [Kosovo] would be the disintegration of Macedonia. If we are to believe this implication, then it also follows that the international community, rather than being concerned about a unified Kosova, is trying to preserve the stability and integrity of Macedonia, which could escalate to a major problem (it could become a second Bosnia-Hercegovina) if the whole game were to begin all over again. Ranked by their importance for the developments in Kosova, Macedonia is not far behind Albania and Serbia. But the key issue that puts Macedonia in the first place is that it is the crucial balancing factor for the preservation of a unified Kosova. Even if Albanians were to agree with Serbs on the partition of Kosova, I have the impression that the international community would not allow it, because it believes that there could never be a unified Macedonia without a unified Kosova. The problem of preserving the unity of Kosova is linked to a much more important problem: that of preserving the unity of Macedonia, in which a great deal has been invested.

All "fences"

The option of Kosova's partition, apart from its immediate implications for Macedonia, would create conditions for a new reconfiguration of the Balkans. The fact that this is something that the Serbs want, has made it something that Albanians will always oppose, even though the outcome might not have been so disadvantageous to them even if they had to give up Trepca [mine in northern Kosovo], which is considered a very important resource. Based on the concept of the nation-state, which is still a prevalent concept in the Balkans (it is thought more stable than multiethnic states), Albanian political quarters have often wondered why they have to strive to be governed or share government with others in areas where they make up the majority population. [Passage omitted]

One of the key arguments that the Serbs have been using against the independence of Kosova is that they cannot agree to the formation of two Albanian states in the region. Here, the Albanians would have a ready fallback option which would lead to the disintegration of Macedonia.

Albanians should have worked openly in their decisionmaking offices on the option of partition of Kosova, which would have had Serbian support (Albanians and Serbs cannot be enemies for ever). This option would never enjoy the support of the international community, but it could serve as a form of pressure against it [the international community], given that such plans would enjoy the support of Albanians as well as Serbs. This would persuade the international community of two things: that the partition of Kosova was out of the question and that the Kosova Serbs should not enjoy any autonomy in Kosova (let us remember that this, too, is a Serbian project). I believe that the least that Serbia expects to get is a special status for the northern part of Kosova, thus creating initially a ditch and, later, an imaginary border with the hope of seceding that part in the future, when a favourable moment may arise as a result of internal problems in Kosova. However, the issue of Macedonia would again emerge on the scene.

Most functional option

Given that the Albanians in Macedonia account for a percentage of the overall population that is three times bigger than the percentage that the Serbs account for in Kosova, in accordance with the traditional Balkan mentality autonomy for the Kosova Serbs would lead to a similar demand by the Albanians in Macedonia, thus invalidating the Oher [Ohrid] Agreement. The reasoning is simple: if the Serbs refuse to live as a minority in a common state with Albanians, then Albanians, too, do not have to accept such a thing in Macedonia.

If we are to apply the rule of elimination to find a balanced solution for Kosova, then the conclusion is clear: the option of partition of Kosova is automatically ruled out if we want to preserve the integrity of Macedonia. Second, the option of autonomy for the Kosova Serbs should be counterbalanced with the demand for a different status for the Albanians in Macedonia, which should be much stronger than that of the Kosova Serbs (some kind of republic). In that case, the demands of the Montenegro Albanians for a more favourable status in that country and for a special status for the Presheve [Presevo] Valley Albanians should also be taken into consideration. So this option would have to be ruled out, too. So, it is clear that the only option is a united Kosova. In that case, there are two options: Kosova's return under Serbia, or independence for Kosova. Given that any intermediate solution is hard to imagine - not just for the Kosova citizens but also for the whole of Europe - the last option that has to be ruled out is the return of Kosova under the Serbian protectorate. This means that the only remaining option is the one that takes Europe into Kosova and Kosova into Europe. This is official recognition of the process of independence of Kosova with the support and supervision of the Euro-American factor.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Kosovo moves towards independence

Prishtina-Kosovo [Kosova]-Six years and four months after it made Kosovo a ward, the United Nations Security Council has ordered that talks begin on the future status of that blood-soaked Balkan province. This is to give the impression that the outcome is not decided. It is, and it's independence. The six nations that oversee Kosovo - the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia - have ruled out returning it to Serbia, linking it to Albania, or partitioning it. So the task of Martti Ahtisaari, the former Finnish president who will lead the talks, is to carve yet another independent state out of the former Yugoslavia.

We have argued ( that is the IHT) that Kosovo is neither prepared for nor deserving of independence. Its Albanian majority has shown no tolerance toward the Serbian minority and little capacity for self-government. Kosovo has no army, only a fledgling police force . The only Albanian leader with any semblance of authority, Ibrahim Rugova, has lung cancer. His most likely successor, Ramush Haradinaj, was indicted by the international tribunal in The Hague and surrendered.

The Serbs will not voluntarily cede this territory, and Albanian rioting in March 2004, which destroyed 30 of the many ancient Serb churches in Kosovo, does not give the Serbs great confidence in an independent Kosovo. The Albanians have no faith that the Serbs would not revert to ethnic cleansing if they had the chance. These two groups are never going to agree.

So why is the United Nations moving ahead? The current arrangement requires Kosovo to demonstrate responsible self-rule before talks even begin on its ultimate status. That has proved an artificial and unworkable goal. The UN viceroy in Kosovo, Soren Jessen-Petersen, says it has created uncertainty on all sides and kept foreign investors out.

So the time has come to recognize the inevitable outcome, independence for Kosovo. But the Security Council can still insist on the attainment of democratic standards before granting it. That could force the Serbs to come to grips with having lost Kosovo in 1999. The Albanian Kosovars are more likely to demonstrate leadership if they are told that they are working toward independence, not merely toward talking about working toward independence.

The Security Council would be foolish to use the Ahtisaari mission to extract itself from a bad situation as soon as possible. Even with the best of intentions, an independent Kosovo will require international forces and strong oversight for a long time. In the Balkans, the default mode is violence.

Independence is our compromise, no need to waste time on anything else

PRISTINA -- Thursday – Kosovo Parliamentary Speaker Nexhat Daci said that Kosovo Albanians will only accept independence.

“Albanians cannot, dead or alive, accept anything but the independence of Kosovo, because in any other variation, the Parliament and Government of Kosovo does not have jurisdiction. We have clearly told the international community and NATO not to waste their energy, time and money on any other variation, because out compromise is independence for Kosovo.” Daci said.

“We will be the rulers of out own state and nation, and it is wrong to think that such a stance does not allow for discussions with the international community and Serbia. There are many problems that must be taken care of during these talks. We will talk about standards which must be implemented for the citizens of Serbian nationality in Kosovo, and we are prepared to make sure that the Serbian community has a fixed number of representatives in the parliament and we will open up the question of many other standards that will allow Kosovo to become a democratic state for the Serbian community as well.” the house speaker said.

“We will also be seeking war reparations, which Kosovo will be asking of Serbia for the 124,000 destroyed and pillaged homes, and the 14,000 civilians killed. I am sorry that the Serbian people will have to pay for the idiocy of the Serbian politicians, but the current Kosovo Government will be putting war reparations on the top of its list for discussion with Belgrade.” Daci said.

Serbian Army blames NATO for Kosovo crimes

The Yugoslav Army did not commit any of the crimes against civilians in
Djakovica named in the ICTY indictment, stated Vlatko Vukovic, a defense
witness at Slobodan Milosevic’s trial. We never attacked a single village or
civilian and we acted only against "terrorists", Vukovic said and stressed that this
could be confirmed by all 220 soldiers under his command. He quoted as a drastic
example of incorrect data the fact that the victims of the NATO bombing in certain
villages near Djakovica on 25 March 1999 have been passed off as the victims of
his own unit. F.F
Radio Television of Serbia

UNMIK rejects asylum to six Asian asylum seekers

Kosovo daily,Koha Ditore, reports that six out of 19 emigrants from South Asia, who have
sought asylum in Kosovo, have seen their request denied and are now waiting for
the deporting procedures. The paper quotes UNMIK spokesman Remi Dourlot as
saying, “UNHCR has turned down the request of six Bangladesh nationals”
because UNHCR considered they had the profile of economic migrants.F.F

Japanese official Yasushi Akashi visits Kosovo

Prishtina-Kosovo-All Kosovo dailies cover the visit to Kosovo by the Japanese representative for preventing
conflicts in the world, Yasushi Akashi. Koha quotes Akashi as saying that the independence of Kosovo
is part of the long-term future. He also suggested, according to the paper, the implementation of
standards before independence.
Akashi is quoted as saying in Zëri that Kosovo will fulfil its aspirations. The paper
notes that Akashi wasn’t clear if his country will support Kosovo’s independence,
but he said that “the people of Kosovo will fulfil their dream and vision.” F.F

NATO senior officials conclude visit to Kosovo

All Kosovo dailies cover the visit of a NATO senior delegation to Kosovo and report that they brought the message that NATO remains committed to ensuring safety and to supporting processes in Kosovo.
NATO commitment in Kosovo remains strong, Zëri quotes Lieutenant-General Raymond Henault as saying.
NATO will support status talks – even politically if need be, says the front-page headline of Koha Ditore.
“Any time we come here, we see improvements and we congratulate General Agim Çeku and KPC[Kosova Protection Corps] members for their good work they are doing”, Zëri quotes Lieutenant-General Henault as saying after meeting with KPC chief. F.F

Serbian President: Kosovo solution can be imposed on Serbia

Belgrade-Serbia-“The people of Serbia should have no illusions that the international community is not
going to impose a solution for Kosovo. This is something for which I am not prepared,
but it can happen,” Serbian President Boris Tadic told Reuters.

Tadic added that their position is very difficult but not hopeless. Therefore, they need
to work hard to accomplish their interests. F.F

China Supports Serbia’s Territorial Integrity?

Serb minister claims China's baking on Kosovo

SCG Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic, who is currently visiting China, told Beta news
agency upon meeting with his Chinese counterpart Li Zhaoxing, that the latter
"pointed out that China staunchly supports the territorial integrity of Serbia, a secure
life for the Serbs and other non-Albanians in Kosovo and Metohija, the reconstruction
of destroyed homes and churches, and international guarantees for the return of those
expelled from the province." He added that “in the forthcoming negotiations on the
future status of Kosovo and Metohija, China will advocate the reaching of an
agreement between the state union of Serbia-Montenegro and representatives of the
Albanian nation in Kosovo and Metohija, and will oppose any imposed solutions that
would jeopardize the territorial integrity of Serbia and of Serbia-Montenegro." Both
ministers agreed that being hasty and setting deadlines for the negotiations were not
the right way for the talk s, and could be counter-productive. In an address to the
Institute for International Relations in Beijing, Draskovic said he “assessed the
demand by the Albanian side for the proclamation of independence as a clear and
open request for the creation of another Albanian state,” and, adding that “there are no
two France, Italy or China, nor two Serbia for that matter and consequently, there
could be no two Albania,” he concluded that “a status that is larger than autonomy but
smaller than independence would be the maximum compromise and best pro-
European offer from Serbia, to which Kosovo is a part of,” RTS reported. F.F

Additional police troops deployed to western Kosovo

Prishtina-Kosovo[Kosova]-Koha Ditore reports that members of special police units and patrols from all KPS stations have sent patrols to their colleagues in Peja region. Citing unnamed sources,the paper reports that the KPS in Peja received reinforcement following the appearance of armed men calling themselves members of the Army for the Independence of Kosovo.At the same time, the paper’s official sources neither confirmed nor denied the deployment of reinforcement to Peja.
KPS spokesman Refki Morina said, “If a region asks for assistance work is coordinated and assistance is sent. I have no information as far as the deployment of additional patrols in Peja region is concerned”.In a separate box, Koha Ditore quotes General John Harrell, commander of KFOR Multinational Brigade East, as saying that the uniformed men who have appearedlately are paramilitary units that will not be tolerated. He also said if KFOR apprehended these persons they would deliver them to the police for further procedures. General Harrell also said the emergence of armed men in various parts of Kosovo constituted a concern for KFOR but added that, if they did exist, the police would deal with them. Meanwhile, KFOR was making efforts to investigate the matter.
In an article related to the issue, Lajm quotes British defence expert Charles Heiman as saying that peacekeeping troops in Kosovo should react more seriously toward the ppearance of armed groups in Kosovo. “Some people that I have contacted told me that such groups have no support among the people of Kosovo and that citizens don’t want violence or instability,” Heiman told Radio Free Europe. According to Heiman,
reports of armed groups are exaggerated. F.F

Asian refugees seek asylum in Kosovo

Koha Ditore, in a front-page headline reports that a group of 19 Asian immigrants
have sought asylum in Kosovo after the airport police detained them.
According to the paper the immigrants arrived on a flight from Istanbul and
immediately after that asked the border police for asylum. The police referred the
matter to UNHCR in Pristina.
Koha says that UNHCR authorities have not yet decided on the status of these persons
as, among other difficulties they have not yet been able to find translators. “It is the
first time we are dealing with asylum seekers in Kosovo, we aren’t used to handle
such cases,” Helvise Gallet, protection officer of UNHCR reportedly told Koha.
According to the paper, asylum seekers should wait until the authorities of UNMIK
Pillar II find a way to process their demands. UNHCR authorities have provided
asylum seekers with accommodation but they are still unsure of the legal bases for
proceeding with other action, says Koha.
The paper says UNMIK Regulation 2005/16 does not regulate the issue of asylum
seekers, but anticipates that refugees could be granted a short permission of stay in
Kosovo until their fate is clarified.
The paper recalls that in August, the police in Northern Mitrovica arrested four
immigrants and three Pakistani police officers under suspicion of involvement in the
lucrative business of transferring immigrants from Kosovo but they were released
later due to lack of evidence.
Lajm reports that the immigrants tore their passports once they arrived in Pristina to
avoid returning to their countries of origin. According to the paper, one of the
immigrants was arrested as during the inquiry he assaulted the UNMIK border police
commander. The KPS Spokesperson admitted that the asylum seekers are being kept
in the Airport and said one of them behaved “aggressively”, says the paper.
The paper quotes Gallet as saying that these persons would be granted permission to
stay if UNHCR finds that they were persecuted in their countries of origin. According
to Gallet, UNHCR will act in accordance with the Geneva Convention, independent of
whether they possess identification documents or not.F.F
Koha, Lajm

PM Bajram Kosumi returns from his visit in Albania

All Kosovo Dailies cover the two-day visit of Kosovo Prime Minister Bajram Kosumi to Albania. He was invited by his counterpart Sali Berisha.

“The process of definition of final status is being launched and the Government of Kosovo is ready together with the entire political class and the people of Kosovo to take on all the responsibilities of a government and a country to move the country forward,” Kosumi said at Pristina Airport immediately following his return from
Albania, write dailies.

Koha Ditore reports that both the Albanian Government and the Opposition there support the independence of Kosovo, and that Kosumi has been ensured about the full support of Tirana for the status process. During the frequent meetings with Albanian officials, Kosumi briefed them on the
situation in Kosovo and stressed the importance of active cooperation between Kosovo and Albania.F.F

Local and International leaders comment on UN Security Council decision

Local and International officials conitue to comment the historic decision of UNSC to lauch Kosovo talks.
Here is a brief summery:

All dailies ca rry reactions of Kosovan politicians in the aftermath of the UN Security
Council meeting which opened the path for the launch of the status talks.
Bota Sot quotes PM Bajram Kosumi as saying that the SC meeting has opened the
process for concluding the making of the state of Kosovo.
Enough with provisional status, Kosovans want final status, is the headline Koha
Ditore carries on the second page. The politicians interviewed by the paper said they
would like the Security Council to recognize the requests of Kosovo for final status.
According to the paper, AAK deputy leader Naim Maloku said the “message he got
from the SC is that Kosovo is going to be independent”. Maloku said one thing was
certain, Kosovo would be independent and never again under Serbia.
In another article in Koha, DPM Adem Salihaj called the meeting “historical for
Kosovo” and added that the “S ecurity Council decision is a result of the work of the
Government, other institutions, civil society and all the people of Kosovo”. The paper
notes that the requests of Kosovan officials for a permanent status were made one day
after the UNSC said that talks should start on the future status and not the final status
of Kosovo. Even in the official declaration, says the paper, the SC has mentioned the
term “future status” and not “final status”.
LDK deputy leader Kolë Berisha told Koha that another provisional phase is out of
the question. He said the final status should be the reward for everything that Kosovo
has accomplished so far. “Independ ence is non-negotiable. We can talk to Serbia
about many things, but not about status – which is independence.”
Zëri also writes that political and institutional leaders of Kosovo welcomed the SC
decision and called it a historical moment for Kosovo. “The next step according to
political and institutional leaders is the independence of Kosovo,” says Zëri.
Zëri quotes Prime Minister Bajram Kosumi as saying, “This important and historical
decision for the people of Kosovo will pave way for Kosovo’s path toward a peaceful
future. An independent Kosovo will be an example for civic democracy, co-existence
and respect for human values. It will help in creating sustainability in the region and
for Kosovo’s overall development.”
The PM also said the process of talks will help establish a climate of understanding
and overcome differences between Kosovo and Serbia, “and it will also help resolve a
series of open issues for both countries”.
The paper also quotes Muhamet Hamiti, spokesman for President Rugova, as saying,
“We welcome the endorsement of the Security Council for the start of the process of
resolving Kosovo’s political status. In UN language, they are calling it the future
status of Kosovo. Whatever we call this goal, the solution for Kosovo is full
independence in compliance with basic democratic principles”. Express reports that
the Office of the President insists that the only solution is full independence even
though the international community calls for compromise.
Epoka e Re reports that apart from the Government, PDK leader Thaçi also welcomes
the decision of the Security Council and says that it will give international legitimacy
to the process of resolving Kosovo’s status. Thaçi, the lead er of the Opposition, is
quoted as saying by the press that the best aid the international community can give to
Kosovo and its future is to make a quick decision recognising it as a sovereign and
independent state.
Express quotes the PDK leader as saying that the best and strongest platform for talks
is the will of the people that needs to be institutionalised by the Kosovo Assembly
through the resolution recently proposed by the PDK. Thaçi also said he was certain
that the resolution for independence would be endorsed.
Epoka e Re reports that the KLA War Veterans have objected to the SC decision
saying that there should be no negotiations on Kosovo’s status and that the will of the
people of Kosovo must be respected. Faton Klinaku, a senior representative of the
War Veterans told the paper that the Kosovo Negotiating Team should not have been
formed, “because their actions are in discordance with the people’s will”.
“The people elected them for independence and not to hold negotiations on Kosovo’s
status,” Klinaku added.
Daily newspapers also quote Serbian President Boris Tadic as saying that the Kosovo
solution can be imposed on Serbia. Zëri says that Tadic has told Serbs to prepare for
the worst. “The people of Serbia should have no illusions that the international
community is not going to impose a solution for Kosovo. This is something for which
I am not prepared, but it can happen,” Tadic told Reuters. Tadic added that their
position is very difficult but not hopeless. Therefore, they need to work hard to
accomplish their interests.
Koha Ditore quotes German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer as saying that the
German Government welcomes the SC decision for the start of negotiations on
Kosovo’s final status. “Parties in Pristina and Belgrade, but also in neighbouring
countries, should have a clear path toward Kosovo’s final status,” said Fischer. He
also added that the international community would not accept unilateral steps,
“therefore compromise is needed from all parties”.F.F

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Balkan Leaders to meet in Pristina

Kosovo daily ,Lajm, reports on the front page that Albanian Prime Minister Sali
Berisha is expected to be the initiator of a roundtable of leaders of Balkans
countries on the eve of talks on Kosovo’s status.

According to the paper, in his latest meetings in The former
Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the Albanian PM suggested that his
Macedonian and Montenegrin counterparts Buckovski and Djukanovic come
together in Pristina on 4 and 5 November to initiate a movement of Balkans
leaders that have so far been in favour of Kosovo’s independence. F.F

From Prime Ministers visit to Tirana

Prishtina- Kosovo-
All Kosovo daily newspapers cover the visit by Prime Minister Bajram Kosumi
to Tirana and the meeting with his Albanian counterpart Sali Berisha. The
latter is quoted as saying in Koha Ditore, “Kosovo’s final status must be
resolved in compliance with the will of the people of Kosovo. The process will
certainly happen after guaranteeing better standards for the Serb minority and
other minorities in Kosovo.” The press quotes both Prime Ministers as saying that independence is the only solution for Kosovo.
The newspapers quote the Kosovo PM as saying that in the status talks, Albania
must play a more active role than an observer. “As always, the role of Tirana is
powerful and will become even more powerful in the final phase of the process.
It was always positive and we strongly hope that it will always be positive.”

Asked about the fact that his visit to Tirana was occurring at the same time as
the SC meeting, Prime Minister Kosumi said “the trip to Tirana was within the
framework of what is happening surrounding the final phase of making the state of Kosovo”.
Koha Ditore notes that after the meeting in Tirana, both Kosumi and Berisha
have excluded Serbia from the process, criticizing its negative role at the star
of negotiations.

In separate articles, several daily newspapers also cover a statement made by
Albanian President Alfred Moisiu in support of an independent Kosovo. Zëri
quotes Moisiu as saying that the solution for Kosovo must be conducted in a
manner that will not create problems in the future. The Albanian President
also said that the solution must be reached by the citizens of Kosovo in
cooperation with the international community. F.F

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

US to train Albanian speacial forces

The U.S. will train special army units from Albania to take part in international operations, the U.S. Embassy in Tirana said Tuesday. A Serbian website reported that Macedonian and Croation forces will be part of the excercise as well.
AP reports that the three-day training exercise begin Tuesday in Tirana, and is the first of seven planned within the next year.

"The goal is to enable these specialized forces to participate in peacekeeping and other operations," a U.S. statement said, as quoted by AP.
The three Balkan countries signed a U.S.-backed charter pledging to develop a common military strategy as part of their efforts to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
The three Balkan nations have small peacekeeping military units in Iraq, Afghanistan and Bosnia.

President organized the ‘Darka e Lames’ [Thanksgiving dinner]

Yesterday’s traditional “Thanksgiving” dinner organized by President Rugova
was the focus of today’s press. Koha quotes Rugova as saying “We thank God
for the goods he has given to us during this year,” noting that Kosovo had a
better yield in agriculture than other years. He reiterated that the recognition
of independence would accelerate the economic development. Many local and
international, political and security figures were present, says the paper.

Darka e Lames is an ancient Ilyrian tradition celebrated since 500 B.C. Rugova also jokingly praclaimed that he is the one of the best historians of the Illyrian/Albanian History. Ancient Illyrian symbols adore the walls of his offfice. F.F
RTK and Kosovo dailies.

General Ceku in, Colonel Ahmeti out

Prishtina- Kosovo
The Kosovo daily Lajm reports that the High Steering Committee on Security,
which involves relevant local and international institutions, has invited KPC ( Kosova Protection Corps) Commander Agim Ceku as an observer, while KPS
( Kosova Police Service) Colonel Sheremet Ahmeti was ‘left out’.

“It’s not only a surprise, but also illogical that KPS is not represented in this
mechanism of security. I don’t participate in those meetings, neither as
observer nor informed about the developments,” the paper quotes
Ahmeti to have said.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Slovenian President explains his plan for Independent Kosovo

Independence is the only realistic option for Kosovo[Kosova], provided that certain conditions are fulfiled, President Janez Drnovsek told the press on Wednesday.He said Kosovo could become independent if the Serbian minority is given appropriate security guarantees, if it gets appropriate autonomy in Kosovo institutions and if Serbian cultural and historic landmarks in the province are protected.

"The time has come to clarify the political status of Kosovo," Drnovsek said, adding that Slovenia was willing to offer its services. What is more, Slovenia carries special responsibility as the only EU member state from the former Yugoslavia. Drnovsek therefore believes Kosovo status talks should take place in Slovenia: the first step would be an informal meeting of all the parties involved and the international community. This would improve communication and establish trust. Such an informal meeting would not represent any burden or raise expectations about concrete results which only formal negotiations can arrive at, the president thought. The nine-point plan put forward by President Janez Drnovsek is a "legitimate initiative of a head of state, which is informal and is an attempt to find a solution for the final status of Kosovo", Prime Minister Janez Jansa has said. Given that this is an informal proposal and that it has not been debated by the Slovenian government or parliament, the response from Serbia-Montenegro officials is "somewhat exaggerated", Jansa told public broadcaster Radio Slovenija on Friday.

Moreover, Jansa said that the government had not been acquainted with Drnovsek's plan, which the president sent to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on Thursday. According to Jansa, there has been no deterioration in relations between Slovenia and Serbia-Montenegro. Drnovsek said he had already presented this proposal to representatives of the international community and ambassadors of the countries which make up the Kosovo contact group. President Janez Drnovsek has addressed a letter to United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, offering Slovenia as the venue for preliminary, informal talks on a final status for Kosovo.

Nine-Point Plan

Drnovsek's nine-point plan for Kosovo envisages that the international community would transfer all powers to Kosovo authorities in 18 months, during which time general and presidential elections would be held.

Kosovo would get its international legal personality in five years, provided that the international community concludes that fundamental democratic standards are being respected. Until then, international forces would stay in the province.

The EU and international institutions would draw up an economic programme for Kosovo and form appropriate legal instruments to promote development. That way Kosovo would be economically independent in five years, Drnovsek's office said in a press release.

The international community would ensure the protection of the Serbian minority, and protect the most sacred Serbian cultural, historic and religious monuments, which would be granted ex-territorial status.

Serbian communities would be self-governed, and Serbs would get guaranteed representation in parliament and government.

The Kosovo plan laid out by President Janez Drnovsek was received with interest by Kosovo officials, Ivo Vajgl, Drnovsek's foreign policy advisor, told STA after talks in Pristina. Vajgl presented the plan, which was met with a cool response in Serbia earlier in the day, to PM Bajram Kosumi, Parliament Speaker Nexan Daci, head of the opposition PDK Hasim Thaqi, advisor to Kosovo president Salih Caca and deputy head of the UNMIK Larry Rossin. He said his hosts labelled the plan as a good basis for the start of Kosovo status talks. F.F
Slovene Press Agency

UN backs talks on Kosovo's future

The United Nations Security Council has backed a proposal to open talks on the future of Kosovo.

A council statement adopted unanimously offered full support for what it called a political process that should lead to a multi-ethnic and democratic Kosovo.
Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority wants independence, but Serbia wants to maintain sovereignty over the province.
Kosovo has been administered by the UN since Nato-led troops expelled Serb forces in 1999 to end the war there.
Kai Eide, the UN special envoy to Kosovo, told the Security Council delaying talks would stall progress on creating democratic institutions, protecting minorities and ensuring the rule of law.
Shuttle diplomacy
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has said the talks should begin despite numerous shortcomings.
Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica told the council the future of Europe would depend on a just and viable solution to the issue.
He wants Kosovo to remain part of Serbia despite obtaining wide autonomy.
The head of the UN administration in Kosovo, Soren Jessen-Petersen, told the BBC the current situation was unsustainable.
Mr Jessen-Petersen told the BBC the positions of the Albanians and the Serbs are "diametrically opposed", and that asking the two sides to sit down and solve it would "almost be an exercise in futility".
But he was confident that with the help of a UN special envoy, who will shuttle between Pristina and Belgrade and other capitals in the region, an agreement would be reached within a year.
He went on to say that negotiations would be based on a set of principles that have already been agreed.
These include:
no partition of Kosovo
no return of the situation before March 1999
no union of Kosovo with neighbouring states
protection of minorities.
In 1999, Nato launched a 78-day air campaign against Serbia to stop a violent crackdown against ethnic Albanian separatist rebels.
Serbian forces were driven out, and the UN took over the administration of Kosovo, which formally remained a province of Serbia and Montenegro.

Is Kosovo ready for independence?

Commentary by Wessel de Jong of Radio Netherlands

Every crisis in the Balkans begins and ends in Kosovo. It has been like this for centuries, and is still so today. But now the international community wants a definitive end to the last Balkan war, and so the United Nations Security Council is trying a first attempt at this.
Six years ago, NATO bombers carried out air raids on targets in both Serbia and the Serbian province of Kosovo, in an attempt to call a halt to ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. In previous years, then-President Slobodan Milosevic’s army drove hundreds of thousands of Albanians out of Kosovo, in an attempt to bring an end to the province and create a purely Serbian region. Thousands of Albianians did not survive the persecution.

Buying time

The 1999 bombardment resulted in the withdrawal of Slobodan Milosevic’s troops from Kosovo: the final chapter in the war in the former Yugoslavia. By negotiating peace, all parties were able to buy time: negotiators at the time placed the region under temporary UN control, thereby passing the buck on this very hottest of potatoes, namely, the question of what should ultimately happen with Kosovo? Should it, or should it not be independent of Serbia? This question could be answered later.
Respecting minoritiesThe agreement was that first of all, Kosovo would have to satisfy a number of demands: only then could there be any talk of independence, and not before. Kosovo must be democratic, minorities must be respected and have a functioning system of rights, to name just three examples.
Over the last few months, a high-ranking UN diplomat has been looking at whether Kosovo has indeed fulfilled those democratic demands. On Monday, the UN Security Council is discussing Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide’s report and will then decide whether Kosovo is ready to begin negotiations. If so, discussions will begin with the international community and Serbia, of which Kosovo is still officially a part. So far so good.

Saying nothing

The Security Council, however, will only pronounce on eventual negotiations. But is Kosovo now able to become independent? About that, the Security Council will say nothing. Formally, that is not the question.
Informally, of course, this is very much the question and the the outcome of the Security Council’s discussion is, in fact, already settled – negotiations will begin. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan wants this, and has already let it be known. Meanwhile, Kai Eide is not quite so enthusiastic. There are still many things wrong with Kosovo, for example, respect for the remaining Serbians there is still very far off. Their lives are still uncertain, despite the endless escorts and protection from KFOR, the UN’s protection force in Kosovo.

Enough of Kosovo!

The UN does not have that much choice. Most member states want to see a gradual end to the UN mission at some point soon; enough of Kosovo, now other conflicts have higher priority. Furthermore, there is the danger that the international community could become part of the problem instead of the solution if it stays there too long. The sentiments of the Albanian majority in Kosovo are beginning to turn more and more against the UN’s presence, which is increasingly becoming a target of aggression.
Whatever the cost, Kofi Annan wants to avoid a repeat of what happened in March 2004, when more than 20 people died after ethnic unrest. Albanians threaten – sometimes openly – that something like this will indeed happen again if something isn’t done soon. In other words, we’ll finish off the last of the Serbians unless you lot get lost, and soon. In short: the UN will still have trouble leaving Kosovo with its head held high.

Rapid accession

Serbia will try all it can to get its own way in these negotiations.The government in Belgrade will cry out that the territorial integrity of Serbia is at issue if Kosovo is snatched away. At the same time, Serbia realises that, after all, in comitting atrocities, it has gambled away every right to Kosovo. But Belgrade may well come round if it gets a promise of rapid accession to the European Union

Interview with UNMIK head abut the future of Kosovo

As the UN prepares to start final status talks on Kosovo, the BBC's Matt Prodger spoke to Soren Jessen-Petersen, head of United Nations Mission in Kosovo.

Q: Do you expect Kosovo to be independent by this time next year?
A: I expect that status talks will have reached a result by then, but I will not comment on what that final result may be.
Q: The UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has recommended that negotiations should begin soon. What is the framework for those negotiations?
A: He has recommended that status talks should begin because there is a growing international understanding - and I would even say consensus - that the status quo is unsustainable. Status talks will begin with shuttle diplomacy, an envoy will be appointed and will shuttle between Pristina, Belgrade, and the capitals of key countries.
Q: How long will the process take?
A: Anywhere between six and 12 months. That's why I say that by this time next year there will be an outcome.
Q: Serbia says it will not accept independence for Kosovo, yet Kosovar Albanians say they will not accept anything less. What will be the compromise?
A: The very fact that these two positions are diametrically opposed also means that there would be no sense in asking the two sides to sit down and solve it. That would almost be an exercise in futility. If we want to arrive at a solution then we cannot expect them to agree.
Q: So it will be a "top down" solution, devised by the international community and imposed on the two sides? If so, what is it?
A: Not exactly. First of all, it's extremely important both in Kosovo and Belgrade that there is some kind of a dialogue. And also within civil society. They need to prepare their people both in Serbia and here. I know this is easier said than done but it must happen. Secondly, status talks will be conducted according to a set of already agreed guiding principles. For example: no partition of Kosovo; no return to the situation before March 1999; no union of Kosovo with neighbouring states; and other important principles such as protection of minorities, protection of important sites.
Q: The phrase "conditional independence" is being used a lot to describe the most probable outcome of talks. What do you understand by that?
A: I don't really know what it means, but I would say that in Europe today there are very few countries that have what I would call full sovereignty; some is ceded to international institutions such as the European Union. If you look at the countries in this region, they're already under a lot of conditions - the international financial institutions, the EU stabilisation and association agreements, conditions on entry to the EU in the case of Croatia. We are already looking at an important set of conditions imposed on states in the region.
Q: How are you going to enshrine the protection of minorities, in particular Serbs?
A: The protection of minorities in any status settlement is absolutely key. Whatever authority emerges from the status talks, the first it would do is ask for a continued international security presence - Nato. On police and justice, the EU. What there will certainly not be is a UN presence. Unmik will come to an end with a decision on status for Kosovo. But it's more than likely the international presence will continue in other forms and mainly through European institutions - the EU, OSCE and on the security side Nato. No doubt about that.
Q: Do you think Kosovo is ready to administer itself? Talks are going ahead without a number of key standards being met despite an earlier assurance that those standards would come first.
A: Let me qualify that - not fully met. Nobody disputes the fact that there has been a lot of progress. The discussion is about the degree of progress.
We know that on the standards linked to minority issues there are problems. On the return of refugees, for example - there has been an insignificant number of returns. On freedom of movement, we still have a problem where more than 20% of people say they don't feel they can move freely. These are problems that have to be addressed.
On the other hand, institutions are improving, there has been progress in the rule of law, we have a fairly good local Kosovo police service, the foundations have been laid for a legislative framework for the economy. The real improvement will only come with status. Frankly the standards that Kosovo has been asked to meet are standards that even my own country Denmark would have difficulties meeting.
Q: Kosovo is under international administration and the role that Serbia has in running it is minimal. Does it really matter what Belgrade thinks?
A: It matters because what we are seeking to do is not merely normalise Kosovo but normalise and stabilise the region. It also matters because UN resolution 1244 still recognises a role for Belgrade. Serbia's sovereignty has been temporarily suspended.
But most important is that the settlement of Kosovo must be in the interest of regional stabilisation and that means we have to be extremely careful how that is addressed. I think the way to do it is a settlement in the context of a clear European perspective for the region including, of course, Serbia.
Q: Is the intention ultimately is to take Kosovo into the EU alongside Serbia?
A: The intention is to take the entire region into the EU, and frankly if you do that then at the end of the day it doesn't really matter where the lines are. BBC News

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Only one way forward for Kosovo

Soren Jessen-Petersen International Herald Tribune SUNDAY, OCTOBER 23, 2005

PRISTINA, Kosovo The UN Security Council meets in New York on Monday to discuss Kosovo, six years, four months and 14 days after the passage of Resolution 1244, which marked the end of Slobodan Milosevic's reign of terror in Kosovo, and the beginning of a period of UN interim international administration there.
Six years, four months and 14 days is a long time for any place to be under interim administration. But it is not unprecedented. In Bosnia, 10 years after the end of its horrific war, the international community retains a large degree of executive authority through the Office of the High Representative. What is perhaps unique about Kosovo, though, is that its ultimate destination - its future status - has been undefined throughout this period.
This legal limbo, in which Kosovo remains part of the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro (the successor state to Yugoslavia) but administered by the United Nations pending a final resolution of its status, has ceased to be sustainable. It is blocking efforts toward reconciliation in Kosovo.
The majority, the Kosovo Albanians, are worried about returning to the past and the Kosovo Serbs are worried about an uncertain future. The uncertainty that this situation engenders has a corrosive effect on regional politics. And its effects are also damaging economically, making investors chary of committing their money and preventing access to much-needed capital markets and international financial institutions.
In June, the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, appointed a special envoy, Kai Eide, to undertake a comprehensive overview of the situation in Kosovo. On the basis of that report, the secretary general has recommended to the Security Council that the process of settling Kosovo's status should commence "very soon."
If, as I hope, the Security Council agrees with the secretary general to open the status process, then Annan will appoint a special envoy who will begin what is likely, at least at first, to be an exhausting round of shuttle diplomacy between Belgrade and Pristina, regional capitals and the capitals of key European countries, as well as the United States.
Despite its manifest importance, however, the resolution of Kosovo's status will not - as too many people in Kosovo believe - prove to be a panacea. There are many practical issues to be dealt with, during and after status talks.
Most pressing from a human perspective is the question of minority rights. Too many Serbs and members of other minorities in Kosovo still fear for their safety. It is shameful to all of us that about 20 percent of Kosovo's Serbs do not feel free to move around safely within Kosovo.
Intimidation and a lack of freedom of movement are unacceptable and we will continue to work closely with the provisional government of Kosovo and with the representatives of the Serbian community to do everything we can to improve their quality of life. And while we are continuing to integrate the Kosovo Serbs into society, it is important that Belgrade finally allow them to take part in the political life of Kosovo and thereby give them a chance to reshape their own future.
Meanwhile Kosovo's economy remains in the doldrums, despite a large, young workforce and impressive mineral resources. Part of the problem lies with Kosovo's unresolved status, as I have mentioned, but unclear property rights also play a role. Kosovo's property records were removed to Belgrade in 1999 and have not been returned. These records are of little use to anyone in Belgrade, but would be of incalculable benefit to all if brought back to Pristina - a small gesture that could have a large effect.
The expectations attached to the status process are high in Kosovo. And so they should be. It is not every day that a process as historic as this is set in motion by the Security Council. We have come to this historic moment because there is broad agreement that the status quo is not sustainable.
An early resolution of the status question will finally allow Kosovo and the wider region to bury the past and focus on urgent social and economic priorities. It will also allow Kosovo and its neighbors to speed up their journey toward Europe.
(Soren Jessen-Petersen is the special representative of the UN secretary general and head of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo.)

Serb "soldier" unapolegetic to the end

Deathbed interview with Serbian who fled to Argentina and was wanted for execution of Albanians in Kosovo war of 1999.

Picture-A party of Serb militia fighters stand in front of a captured Albanian symbol. Among the most notorious militia commanders in Pec/Peje were Vidomir Salipur (center, standing) and Nebjosa Minic (standing, right). Minic called himself, Mrtvi, Serbian for "The Dead." In the lower left is Milan Kaljevic.

Chicago Tribune
MENDOZA, Argentina -- The sallow skin on Nebojsa Minic's semi-paralyzed, skull-like face was tight and smooth over cheekbones, chin and the empty valleys of once-full cheeks. The Serb's large ears flopped against the hospital pillow like empty socks. You could have put your hand around his once-powerful, tattooed legs and almost touched thumb to finger. To make himself understood, he would nod or shake his head slightly. But even as the rest of his body was dying, the blue eyes of the man who in the Kosovo war of 1999 allegedly terrorized the town of Pec/Peje were still alive.

"Do you know that a lot of people hate you?" he was asked in a yes-or-no answer session on Tuesday night in his heavily guarded hospital room in the country where he had fled under a false passport in 2003.The blue eyes stared back unblinking, unapologetic, unafraid, and then they rolled up and to the left in a shrug whose message was clear: I don't care.

Minic, 41 died 48 hours later. His death from AIDS complications and cancer was long, painful and far from his beloved Serbia, but it provided him with an escape from the justice awaiting him in a court in his homeland, whose government had requested his extradition after he was arrested here in May.One of a growing number of suspected war criminals who have fled the former Yugoslavia for the sanctuary of foreign countries, Minic was the type of mid- to low-level killer in the Balkan wars who does not generally attract the kind of attention given to high-profile suspects like Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, who has been charged with genocide.

Nicknamed "Dead," an acknowledged commander of a ruthless police and paramilitary unit called Munje, or Lightning, Minic was an unusually well-documented war criminal in spite of his comparatively low rank. Human Rights Watch and several reporters had amassed a large amount of material about his war crimes in 1999, including a 2002 book by this reporter that focused on his reportedly ordering the killing of an Albanian family after the cease-fire. It was for that crime that the Serbian government requested his extradition this summer, and it was that crime that spurred a local Argentine police official to pursue Minic, who was living in Argentina under a false identity.

Behind a family's death

Yesterday afternoon, the Kosovar Albanian man whose family Minic ordered killed, according to witnesses interviewed in 1999 and 2000, stood in his butcher shop in Pec/Peje and was told Minic was dead. He erupted with fury, using obscenities to describe Minic, shouting and waving his large hands around in the air of the butcher shop.Bala lost seven members of his family in the killing, including three of his five children."I wish he was here, in this shop without a rifle, only me and him, only me and him. I would chop him up ... What is justice? Justice would have been to bring him and the others to me. I would know what to do with them. I would put them into the meat grinder one by one."

On Minic's orders, witnesses and survivors said, two of his men lined up Bala's entire family on couches in their home and shot them with automatic rifles from close range.Many of the details of Minic's journey from Serbia to Argentina, a country that suffers from a long reputation of harboring European war criminals, remain vague and perhaps lost with Minic. But in Tuesday's interview, he acknowledged he had worked as a mercenary in Africa after the war in Kosovo.

Argentine police officials said Minic entered Argentina with a false passport after being in Bolivia and Chile.Minic apparently came here to collect a debt owed to another Serb in Chile, said Omar Perez Botti, who was head of local intelligence when he ultimately arrested Minic in May. Perez Botti said he believed that Minic and the Serb in Chile, Ivan Zorotovic Bozanic, were part of a larger network of Serbs in the region who help each other out, as former Nazis began to do in South America after World War II.

Hiding out in Argentina,the tall, muscular Minic, his body tattooed with dragons, scorpions and the faces of women, didn't speak Spanish, yet before long he had a local girlfriend. Like many others who met him here, Iris Palomares spoke on Wednesday about her former lover's charisma and ability to make her and others do what he wanted.Minic called himself Vlada Radivojevic then. He told the divorced Palomares that he had been a soldier in the wars in the former Yugoslavia and that he had left that country in search of a new life, trying to forget the horrors he had witnessed and the friends he had lost in battle. At times, he would sink into depression and even threaten to kill himself."He was always trying to make you feel sorry for him, trying to make you help him," Palomares, 52, a teacher, said in an interview in a local cafe. "I don't understand how as a grown woman I didn't see all this."

She let him live in a family house and loaned him the money to buy and run a pizzeria, which he named La Bomba - The Bomb.One night, when he had been drinking, the man Palomares knew as Vlada told her and her children he had a "war name" and would show them who he really was on the Internet. He was Nebojsa Minic, he said.They sat down at the family's computer and he tried to find himself online but somehow failed.The relationship soured. Minic left Palomares and began a relationship with another local woman, Anahi Escobedo, 55, who would nurse him until his death.

True identity revealed

Palomares tried to see him. She was furious and remembered that night in her kitchen when he had told her who he really was.This time, she went to an Internet cafe with the name and searched for Minic on Yahoo and Google. This time, she found him. There were numerous mentions of him on the Human Rights Watch site. She printed out some of the information, including a photo of the man she had loved holding a machine gun, a cigarette dangling from his lips, glaring at the camera.

Vlada, according to the information online, was a war criminal named Nebojsa Minic. Among other alleged crimes, he had ordered the killing of Isa Bala's family.Palomares took the information to the police in early March and, later that month, it landed on the desk of Perez Botti. He began to investigate and found irregularities and inconsistencies in the documentation that surrounded this Serb immigrant's presence in Argentina. He became convinced that Radivojevic was Minic and put him under surveillance.

On May 12, Perez Botti obtained an arrest warrant for Minic. The same morning, word came through to his office that the Serbian authorities in Belgrade had a match for Radivojevic's fingerprints. This man was Minic, the prints confirmed.

Minic in custody

Minic was arrested at about 10 a.m. at a local hospital where he had gone because he was feeling extremely unwell. He had AIDS and had developed Hodgkin's disease, doctors told him.With Minic in custody, Perez Botti realized something unsettling: There were no warrants out for him. Neither the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague nor the Serbian courts wanted him.Daniel Wilkinson and Bogdan Ivanisovic, researchers at Human Rights Watch in New York and Belgrade, respectively, worked to change that. After months of advocacy and phone calls, pushing and prodding, the Serbian government requested Minic's extradition.

But by late summer, Minic's medical condition meant he was never going to make it back to Serbia. The legal process continued, Minic's Argentine lawyer fought for his release, and Minic told Escobedo over and over that all he wanted was to go home to die.His latest court appearance was scheduled for Oct. 28. But on Tuesday, in his private room, guarded by five police officers, Minic was obviously living his last days.

No remorse for his past

Without realizing he was being interviewed by a reporter whom he reportedly was keen to kill at one stage, Minic agreed to answer questions, again answering or nodding only "yes" or "no". He did not know the Bala family. He knew one of the two gunmen and other members of Lightning. He did not feel guilty about anything. He was a patriot. He was a soldier. And no, there were no rules in war.

There were no criminals and no crimes in war. Killing children was not a crime in war.He believed in God and was a Serbian Orthodox Christian. God loved him. He knew he was about to die. He was angry that Serbia lost the war, angry that the Albanians won Pec/Peje, angry with God.

Yes, he killed people. He didn't know how many. He knew Arkan, the notorious leader of Serb paramilitaries in the Balkan wars. But he didn't like him or work for him."I'm no criminal," he said, barely audible.Did the Albanians deserve to die?"Partly," he croaked.

Escobedo held cigarettes to his mouth and he coughed deeply in his skeletal chest. He grew tired of talking. He had not confessed. He had not shown remorse.He died Tuesday morning at 8:45 a.m. Escobedo was holding his hand as it went limp. His eyes were open.

A nurse bustled along the corridor and said she wasn't sure how they were going to identify him on his death certificate. They still weren't sure who he really was. The coffee mug by his bed had "Vlada" written on it.Minic had said to both of his girlfriends that he liked Mendoza because the way the Argentine plain met the foothills of the Andes reminded him of Pec/Peje, where the Mountains of the Damned tower over the town."I think we'll cremate his body," Escobedo said, gently stroking Minic's left foot.

She looked down at the man she loved, the man so many in Pec/Peje and beyond detested. "We'll throw him among the mountains like he wanted."
Special correspondent Enver Doda contributed from Pec/Peje.

Friday, October 21, 2005

I, Ramush

Former Kosovar rebel and prime minister Ramush Haradinaj is a local hero. He also faces war crime charges.
By Ginanne Brownell--
Photo by AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu

Kosovo's former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj at his house in Pristina, Kosovo, on Thursday, June 9, 2005.
Ramush Haradinaj was locked up in a jail cell in The Hague from March until June this year, charged with heinous war crimes committed during Kosovo's war against its parent state, Serbia, in the 1990s. Formerly a commander in the guerrilla group the Kosovo Liberation Army, Haradinaj was elected prime minister in December 2004. His political reign ended after only three months, when he stepped down to face charges brought by the ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia).

Still, this summer, images of the darkly handsome 37-year-old loomed large across the region. Billboards bearing his name towered over Pristina, the capital. Shopkeepers along "Bill Klinton" Boulevard taped up fliers showing their support for him. Across the countryside, young and old alike wore T-shirts emblazoned with the phrase "Our Prime has a job to do here."
This fall may be the most integral time in Kosovo's history. In early October, Kai Eide, Kofi Annan's special envoy to Kosovo, presented a report outlining whether the perennially wartorn region had met the various democratic and human rights standards set out by the United Nations in 2003. It is expected that Eide's report will open the door for negotiations to begin in November on whether Kosovo will be granted nationhood by the U.N.

Currently, conventional wisdom says it's a matter of when rather than if Kosovo, whose ethnic population is 90 percent Albanian, will be granted conditional independence. Says one former international official familiar with Balkan politics: "The road ahead may be rocky, but the international community wants it to end in some form of independence, because everyone realizes that the Albanian majority will accept nothing else.

"If so, it would be a momentous occasion for Kosovo. And for anyone who wants to understand the embattled land, its conflicted leaders, and its tenuous relationship with the West, perhaps the best place to begin is with the story of Ramush Haradinaj.

The man and the myth are impossible to separate in a region that is a dense thicket of dangerous innuendoes, rumors and propaganda. He has been described as highly intelligent and disciplined. A native of Kosovo and an ethnic Albanian, he is almost universally credited with leading his fragile nation toward independence from Serbia, and doing more in his 100 days in office than the previous government had done in three years.

But there is another side to Ramush -- his first name alone is universal across Kosovo. He is a scrappy man who, when provoked, can lash out with chilling results. Earlier this spring he caustically told a group of protesters at a rally to shut up or "I'll fuck your mothers." His detractors describe him as a ruthless military "psychopath" who terrorized his own men and the local population into loyalty. And his ICTY rap sheet details 17 crimes against humanity including overseeing murder, rape and the displacement of people.

But there is another side to Ramush -- his first name alone is universal across Kosovo. He is a scrappy man who, when provoked, can lash out with chilling results. Earlier this spring he caustically told a group of protesters at a rally to shut up or "I'll fuck your mothers." His detractors describe him as a ruthless military "psychopath" who terrorized his own men and the local population into loyalty. And his ICTY rap sheet details 17 crimes against humanity including overseeing murder, rape and the displacement of people.

Haradinaj's trial is scheduled to begin in January 2007. Provisions of his release from The Hague in June meant that he was not allowed to contact politicians, attend public events or speak with journalists. That time expired in early September and now Haradinaj is planning a return to the political scene. It could not have come at a more effective time. Haradinaj's prime ministerial successor, Bajram Kosumi, has been hit with corruption and sex allegations, and has had a weak support base. Earlier this summer, it was revealed that Kosovo's President Ibrahim Rugova, who has no heir apparent, is battling lung cancer. So there is no single figurehead for Kosovo at the moment.

Politics in Kosovo have historically been a slippery slope of intrigues and mudslinging, and there are no guarantees that it will be granted independence by the United Nations. Serbs are certainly hellbent not to let Kosovo go. Serbia's President Boris Tadic has said his nation would be open to "more than autonomy" but it would be political suicide in Serbia to be seen to even consider independence for Kosovo. His main concern is that losing Kosovo might bring ultra-nationalist parties back into power. The northern regions of Kosovo also happen to have the greatest concentration of mineral wealth in all of southeastern Europe. And those resources are worth fighting for.

Kosovo has long been fought over as Serbs across the Balkans consider the region to be their holy land. Ethnic Serbs consider Kosovo the original seat of their Orthodox church, while Kosovar Albanians claim to be the original inhabitants. Kosovo was the place where the disintegration of Yugoslavia began in 1989, when Slobodan Milosevic whipped up Serbian nationalism at a speech at the historic site of Kosovo Polje, where the Serb Empire had been defeated by the Turks in 1389. Four wars erupted in quick succession -- in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo -- with violence, mayhem and the birth of the term "ethnic cleansing."

Today, Haradinaj's reputation within Kosovo and among those in the international community has not been crippled by his upcoming trial. Although many observers doubt that he can hold an elected position while he awaits his trial, there is a sense in Kosovo that he could emerge as a statesman-like figure in the status negotiations. "Ramush can play a 'Nixon goes to China' role by pursuing ethnic reconciliation on a daily basis," says Scott Bates, senior fellow for national security at the Center for National Policy. "He has the guts and street credibility to change the tone in Kosovo."

Haradinaj's bare-knuckles beginnings were exactly what Kosovo, battling for independence from Serbia, sought in a leader. His mix of raw intelligence and street smarts jived with Kosovars who were looking to follow someone who embodied the rural Kosovar spirit -- and not someone crowned with traditional Western credentials.The second of 10 children, Haradinaj was the star kid of the large family. His mother, Ruki, says he was always a respectful and polite child, who from an early age seemed to know innately what was the right thing to do. "He was a child who felt for other people, and though I can try to take credit for teaching him that, it would not be true -- he was born with that gift."

Haradinaj's shopkeeper father, Hilmi, was a member of the Communist Party, and he raised his sprawling family in a part of Kosovo with strong nationalist traditions. "Culturally, Ramush was like someone who came from Arkansas or Tennessee, which is very different than coming from New York," says journalist James Pettifer, author of "Kosova Express." He excelled in school, often being given the opportunity to lead the class in schoolwork, and he used every opportunity to learn. "When he was very little he would write down numbers in the dirt and then erase them and write them over again and as he got older he would read lots of books, even when he was herding sheep he would be reading as he walked," his mother says.

His plans after graduating at the top of his class in 1987 were to volunteer in the Yugoslavian army for a year and then head to Pristina University to study astronomy. That, however, was never to be, though Haradinaj did obtain a university education by completing a law degree last year while serving in government.

Although he impressed his superiors enough to be promoted to corporal (something rare for an ethnic Albanian), the economic situation for the family was becoming bleaker and Haradinaj became an economic migrant. Working odd jobs in Switzerland, France and Italy as a nightclub bouncer, a martial arts teacher and a security guard at rock concerts, Haradinaj also fell in love for the first time. Joanna Carlsson, a young Finnish woman, was his live-in love for several years and is the mother of his eldest son. Their relationship ended around 2001, and in 2003 Haradinaj married a pretty TV presenter, Anita Mucaj, who is the mother of his son, Gjini.

While Haradinaj was living in Western Europe, learning French and English, back home Kosovo was simmering over with tensions as Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic kicked ethnic Albanians out of their state jobs and refused to admit them to university. Many in the diaspora, tired of how the Albanian leadership was preaching passive resistance, decided they must fight for their independence and Haradinaj took up the cause, smuggling weapons such as guns and grenades back to his parents' house on trips home.

In 1997, the nation of Albania, which borders Kosovo, fell into anarchy when a series of pyramid investment schemes went bust. Huge caches of weapons were thrown open to everyone, and the KLA, which had formed in 1993 and had been up to that point involved in small-scale guerrilla warfare against the Serbs, reaped the gold mine. The same year that Haradinaj witnessed his brother Luan being killed in an ambush, while smuggling arms across the mountain border between Kosovo and Albania, he proved his dedication to Kosovo by moving back to the region and becoming a point person for the KLA.

Haradinaj would later lose a second brother in the war and a third brother was murdered this past April in what was apparently a blood feud. The Haradinaj home became a guerrilla compound, and in 1998, the Serbs attacked the house and surrounding area hoping to dent the KLA operations in the region. During intense fighting, Haradinaj was shot in the leg, arm and lower stomach. Unable to see through all the smoke, he spoke to a silhouette he believed to be his father, telling him to take cover. The figure was a policeman who fired at Haradinaj. One "bullet hit me [in] the pocket where the keys were, so [it] did not have the full effect, but it caused me 12 different holes where the pieces of metal had gone," Haradinaj later recalled. Running into a room, he found some cheese and used it as a compress on his leg to stop the bleeding. He continued to fight against Serb forces until they eventually retreated several hours later.

The KLA continued to grow from a guerrilla operation to a small, organized army. Both the United States and NATO would eventually back the KLA, a controversial decision. At one point, the KLA was branded a terrorist organization by the State Department and funds going to the KLA were declared illegal. However, as the West was drawn closer and closer into war with Serbia, the KLA was seen as the key organization for providing intelligence.

Haradinaj moved up the ranks to become a senior commander. During a cease-fire in 1998, he came into contact with U.S. and British intelligence agents; realizing that Haradinaj controlled western Kosovo, they nurtured relations with him that would prove invaluable to all parties. The West gained important battlefield intelligence and Haradinaj made contacts that led to his rise as a politician. In March 1999, after months of shuttle diplomacy by the international community, hoping to get Serbia to end the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, NATO began a bombing campaign that would last three months. Haradinaj, equipped with a satellite phone supplied by the alliance, helped to pinpoint targets for bombing and continued to command his fighting troops.

"Ramush really struck me because he was just so calm and professional and very different from your average KLA soldier," says journalist Stacy Sullivan, author of "Be Not Afraid, for You Have Sons in America," which chronicles the links between U.S. Albanian émigrés and the KLA. But Haradinaj was also said to be a strict commander who would beat his men to maintain discipline. A British military official told London's Observer newspaper in 2000 he had seen Haradinaj beat two Albanian men who supposedly had let Serb police into their home. "Someone would pass [Haradinaj] information and he would disappear for two hours. The end result would be several bodies in a ditch," the source stated.

The ICTY states that Haradinaj's KLA unit kidnapped and murdered 40 Serb civilians, some of whose remains were found decomposing in a canal and had marks of torture. Reports on, a pro-Serb Web site, say that other bodies were stuffed into wells and that Haradinaj's troops also killed Albanians believed to have been helping Serbs. "[The Serbs] accused us of perpetrating acts so they could justify their actions to domestic public opinion," Haradinaj has said. "I cannot say we were perfect during the war, we were human, [and we reacted] when they attacked our family and values."

There were glitches along the way. In 2000, he was involved in a punch-up with Russian peacekeepers and was injured in a murky attack on his neighbors. During July of that year, in what was allegedly a drunken squabble, Haradinaj was hit in the neck with shrapnel from a grenade and was treated first at Camp Bondsteel and then taken by helevac to another U.S. base in Germany for treatment. In 2001, when reports circulated that Haradinaj was funding his party with profits from petrol and cigarette smuggling, the United Nations forced him to shut down the smuggling operation.

But detractors began to give Haradinaj credit as he quickly turned himself into a polished statesman; instead of running on the obvious issue of independence, Haradinaj tackled issues such as improving education and basic infrastructure. "He seemed young and decisive, able to make the shift from guerrilla leader to political leader, rather like Michael Collins of the Irish Republican Army did in the early 1920s," says Britain's former Europe minister Denis MacShane. At a dinner held soon after Kosovo's first assembly elections in 2001, members were asked to mix and mingle. Haradinaj headed straight over to a Serbian delegate, where he sat down and conversed all evening with him about judo.

An array of Western advisors coached him on how to dress, act and master the subtle nuances of spin. Haradinaj proved to be an able leader, lobbying heavily to have a Serb become his minister of returns. "What was striking was that when he became prime minister, he seemed to grow into the role immediately," says Carne Ross, whose group, International Diplomat, advises the Kosovar government.

Haradinaj's indictment on war crimes was not unexpected, and his reaction to it only reinforced his newfound statesman persona. "He of course had the option to bolt for the hills and become a fugitive, and although if he had run he would have always found a home and a refuge, he chose not to," says a source familiar with Haradinaj. Instead, he stood down from his role as prime minister and told Kosovars to remain calm. However, according to an International Crisis Group report, Haradinaj in private told colleagues a week before his indictment, "They won't take me alive." Some say he meant it as joke, while others say no, he meant exactly what he said.

Haradinaj declared his innocence and said he would do whatever he was asked to do by the ICTY. But he didn't hesitate to declare that the international community had made a grave mistake. "[The ICTY] is treating liberation fighters the same as aggressors who destroyed entire nations and turned the region into ruins," he said, as some of his bodyguards and ministers wept. He also claimed he was a victim of "horse-trading" between The Hague and Belgrade, Serbia's capital, to encourage the hand-over of Serbs such as Gen. Ratko Mladic, who is wanted on war crimes charges in Bosnia, and still remains at large.

Although conspiracy theorists claim that Haradinaj's indictment on war crimes was an act of sabotage to destabilize the region, what it really shows, observers say, is that the ICTY is an equal opportunity prosecutor: Serbs can no longer claim they are the only ones being prosecuted, as Croatians, Bosnians and now Kosovars have been charged with crimes.

"There is a misguided attempt by the ICTY to prosecute Serbs, Croatian, Kosovars equally," says Niccolo Figa-Talamanca, who works for No Peace Without Justice, a nonprofit organization, and was involved in investigating war crimes during the war in Kosovo. Milosevic, currently on trial at The Hague, is the ICTY's most famous catch and someone whom Carla Del Ponte, the chief prosecutor at ICTY, fought hard to get and prosecute. Haradinaj says he was charged solely because of his Albanian ethnicity. "If the same accusations were leveled against a Serb, it would not be near the scale of gravity, whether they were true or not," he says.

Of course, whether the charges of rape, murder and ethnic cleansing stick depends upon the evidence. But in Kosovo, there are few people willing to even acknowledge his war crimes. "We investigated cases of kidnapping, disappearances, but we never managed to search cases related to Haradinaj," says Natasa Kandic, founder of the Humanitarian Law Center in Belgrade. "No one from Kosovo will talk about that because all people are afraid to speak about his indictment and his responsibility. I think you will not find anyone to talk to you."

The U.S. put Kosovo on the back burner after Sept. 11, focusing on more pressing issues in Afghanistan and Iraq. But it seeks to retain good relations with Kosovo because Camp Bondsteel in central Kosovo is likely to remain a permanent military base for jumping-off points in Eastern Europe. There is also the feeling that though Kosovar Albanians tend to be secular -- 95 percent are Muslim and 5 percent are Catholic -- there exists the possibility that because of the lack of opportunities for growth and a 60 percent unemployment rate, the province could prove fertile ground for regional Islamic terrorism. "The U.S. is feeling that the situation needs to be resolved before it could potentially be a terrorist haven," says James Lyon of the International Crisis Group. "It is an Islamic majority so you have the potential."

Before his indictment on war crimes, Haradinaj's star seemed to shine bright in the U.S. State Department. "Ramush is the kind of man Americans could get excited about," says Whit Mason, an advisor to the Kosovar government. "Ramush built his career on the basis of charisma and vision, which is something that Americans expect of a politician, and [while] the other parties were practicing mudslinging, Haradinaj practically claimed to be apolitical, which is something the Americans found refreshing."

Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden has described Haradinaj as "a tough guy [who] looks as if he could lift an ox out of a ditch," and this March paid tribute to him on the Senate floor. "I want to publicly salute him for his personal courage, for the statesmanship he has demonstrated over the last two years [and] I wish him well," Biden said.

However, the U.S. began to distance itself from Haradinaj when Del Ponte and her ICTY colleagues brought his possible war crimes to light. "[The Americans] have been backing him for the long term, and they wanted him to be one of their main vectors of influence here for the next 10 or 20 years," Mason says. "So they did not want him to be prime minister now, they wanted him to deal with these charges, beat them and hoped he would come back and be a powerful leader who is sympathetic to the U.S."

Today, there are strong feelings among Kosovars as well as international observers that if Haradinaj is found not guilty, or even has to serve a short prison term, he is still likely to be a political star in Kosovo. "If the U.S. government is smart they will continue to have quiet, sotto voce conversations with Ramush [to] keep a little bit of oil on the water as we move through this period," says John Norris, a former State Department official during the Clinton administration, and author of "Collision Course: Nato, Russia and Kosovo."

"Ramush is a revolutionary and revolutionaries are capable of greatness and brutality, and if you push them into a corner, you don't know what they will do," says Sullivan. "If Ramush thought it was necessary to kill Serb civilians to get his independent Kosovo, he probably would have done it. On the other hand, when he saw that helping Serbs return was necessary for an independent Kosovo, he made sure the Serbs were allowed to return."

Haradinaj, it seems, has done whatever it takes to help Kosovars become independent. Judges in The Hague, who earlier this month ruled that Haradinaj could return to politics, are reviewing an appeal by Del Ponte, who is unhappy with the thought of Haradinaj getting involved in Kosovo affairs. Rumors are circulating that Haradinaj's AAK party might merge with another party, the LDK, led by President Ibrahim Rugova, to become the Democratic Union of Kosovo. If that happens, it is believed that Haradinaj would be the head, making the party strong and united with both the president and prime minister of Kosovo as members. Regardless of The Hague's decision over Haradinaj's reentry into the political life of Kosovo, what is certain is that Haradinaj's presence and influence are still felt across the region. That brings comfort to many and sends shivers up the spines of others.

Diplomatic conflict between Serbia and Slovenia

LJUBLJANA, Slovenia-- Friday – Slovenian President Janez Drnovsek has sent his advisor Ivo Vajgl to Belgrade today to sort out yesterday’s diplomatic conflict between Slovenia and Serbia-Montenegro.

The recent statements Drnovsek made regarding Kosovo, and Serbia-Montenegro President Svetozar Marovic’s decision to postpone Drnovsek’s visit to Belgrade because of them, have led to a high level of diplomatic tension between the two nations.

Vajgl told B92 that these issues should not damage the good relations between Ljubljana and Belgrade. “I am coming with the intention of giving our contacts a new meaning and different tone, and to simply not allow these relations to worsen because of a misunderstanding. I believe that there are enough good reasons to go ahead with this.” Vajgl said.

According to B92’s Ljubljana correspondent, Jelica Greganovic, Vajgl said that there is no misunderstanding between Serbia-Montenegro and Slovenia, and no grudges resulting from Drnovsek’s proposed Kosovo project. Vajgl made an appearance on Slovenian television to try and explain the misunderstanding and why Drnovsek’s trip to Belgrade was cancelled. Asked whether he thinks that his visit to Belgrade is perhaps an effort to fight for an already lost cause, Vajgl said that it absolutely is not, and President Drnovsek was fully aware of the situation, knowing that this proposal was made for a very complicated situation, deeply rooted in history and emotions, so that he really was not expecting a positive reaction from Belgrade.

“I still think that it is a constructive proposal, something Slovenia could recommend for solving this problem, which touches close to home.” Vajgl said. Asked why, considering that he and Drnovsek are very familiar with the situation in the Balkans, they mentioned the word “independence,” when they knew the kind of reaction it would get from Belgrade, Vajgl said, “That little word probably stings every Serbian politician, regardless of what context it is mentioned in, and it will probably be mentioned many more times during the discussions, regardless of who will lead them, but of course, in the real, sensitive context, in a manner in which it may be acceptable. There will be no agreement if it is not acceptable.”

Vajgl said that the main purpose of his visit to Belgrade is to explain the reasons and motives behind Slovenia’s desire to actively participate in the Kosovo status discussions and clear up the misunderstanding which has ensued. He added that the misunderstanding does not have anything to do with a criticism of the existing programs which were described in the initial Kosovo proposal and program.

The Slovenian diplomat is convinced that the cancellation of Drnovsek’s visit as a sign of protest will not cause any damage to the political and economic cooperation between Slovenia and Serbia-Montenegro, because there is no reason for it to do so. Both countries have a huge amount of interest in continued cooperation, Vajgl said. All comments made on the television program last night by Vajgl represent the official stances of Drnovsek’s cabinet, according to the president’s media coordinator Kristina Bole.

How it all started

Two days ago, Slovenian President Janez Drnovsek said that Kosovo independence is a realistic possibility if all needed conditions can be met. In response to this, Serbia-Montenegro President Svetozar Marovic addressed a letter to Drnovsek, postponing the invitation for his visit to Belgrade. Drnovsek’ statement was, according to Slovenian officials, part of his proposal for solving the Kosovo status question.

In fact, this statement given by Drnovsek, which has led to this conflict between Slovenia and Serbia-Montenegro, is the main theme of the letter which Drnovsek has sent to Contact Group officials, the European Commission, and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, presenting his personal views of what the best solution for Kosovo’s status crisis would be. The contents of the letter state that conditions for a peaceful future and the respecting of minority rights in Kosovo would be possible only if Kosovo was to gain independence. There is no mention of the possibility that discussions could lead to a conclusion that does not include independence, the word “if” is not even used.

All that is given in the letter is a timeframe by which Kosovo should be able to obtain independence. Even though Drnovsek suggests that the status discussion could be held in Slovenia, as a neutral territory, because of this letter this is no longer a viable option and Slovenia is now, in the eyes of Serbia, hardly neutral. Such a disregard for Serbia-Montenegro as one of the potential sides in the status discussions has never even been displayed by the Slovenian Foreign Affairs Ministry. The fact itself that the ministry declined to comment on Marovic’s cancellation of the Drnovsek visit proves that the ministry does not wish to take responsibility for this problem created by the Slovenian president. This also confirms the reports of many Slovenian journalists and political analysts, that definite differences exist between Drnovsek and Slovenian Foreign Affairs Minister Dimitrij Rupel.

Advisor to Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, Vladeta Jankovic, told B92 that the decision to postpone Drnovsek’s visit was both very strict, but also much-needed. “That type of statement which the Slovenian President allowed himself to make should not be tolerated by any nation, because what President Drnovsek said, unfortunately, no one has officially said yet, no international officials from any country have gone as far to say that independence is the only realistic option for Kosovo.” Jankovic said.