Sunday, December 31, 2006

UNEDITED SADDAM HANGING VIDEO


This is the actual hanging of Saddam taken with a mobile phone camera.
Warning: This video may not be appropriate for people of all ages.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Saddam’s Lawyer to defend Sheshel

One of Saddam Hussein’s last wishes has to do with a Serb Radical Leader and a war crime suspect Voislav Sheshel.





Bushra Al Khalil: Sheshel’s savior?



Croatian daily Vecernji List reports that Saddam has asked his Lebanese lawyer Bushra Al Khalil to help mount a defense for Mr. Sheshel in The Hague, Netherlands. This unusual request was made, according to the lawyer, because of the longstanding friendship between the two men.

Kosovo daily Express reports that Ms. Khalil with travel to Belgrade, Serbia to join the defense team set up by Sheshel sympathizers. Ms. Khalil is quoted by the paper as saying that in her last meeting with Saddam, after he was sentenced to death, she delivered greeting from Sheshel, and was advised by the Iraqi dictator to do her utmost to defend Sheshel because: “ [he] and Milosevic did everything to save Yougoslavia and fight American imperialism in the Balkans”.

In a question by a journalist whether she (Ms. Khalil) is aware of the crimes committed by Sheshel’s paramilitary forces against Croatian and Bosnian Muslims in Croatia and Bosnia, she replies:

“Saddam has told me that there was a civil war in Yugoslavia, and all the accusations against him [Sheshel] are false. He told me that he meet with Mr. Sheshel many times in Baghdad during 1990 as a part of Sheshel’s lobbying effort to remove sanction against Iraq”.

She continues on by saying that Saddam likes Sheshel, because, in the words of the dictator:

“He [Sheshel] is like me- a big nationalist. In addition to that, the ideology of Ba’th Party is similar to that of Radical Party of Serbia [headed by Sheshel]. Like all Arabs who want to live in one state, Sheshel likewise wanted all Serbs to live in one state. He visited [me twice a year during 1990’s] and I enjoyed working with him”.

Vecernji List

Express

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Kosovo's Back-It Never Really Left

It's not so pristine in Pristina. That's still our problem.
by James G. Poulos-Weekly Standard.
REMEMBER KOSOVO? The little statelet of 2 million, still technically an "integral part" of Serbia, was the inspiration for an unprecedented NATO campaign, the first of its kind: bombing, in those less sensitive times, Christian troops on Easter. The prevention of genocide and the resulting stability of the whole Balkan region were secured, peacekeepers took up their positions in and around the capital, Pristina, and no one lived happily ever after. Serbia threw out its mad leadership--that has to count for something--but the old wounds burn even for democratic Prime Minister Kostunica, who lately termed the NATO war for Kosovo a "huge mistake, big enough for the last and this century." The occasion of these remarks? A warning of serious consequences should the West recognize Kosovar independence without a U.N. resolution.

Meanwhile, just weeks ago, U.N. police found themselves teargassing a crowd of thousands of protesting Kosovars. "Final status" for Kosovo has been on the table--and tabled--all year long. Everyone knows it has to happen but no one wants to say how. Patience is running out. The ethnic Albanians we fought to save are nationalists now, and will settle for nothing less than independence from Belgrade. The Serbs, Europe's least fortunate people, cannot abide the loss of their national homeland. But the status quo is practically untenable, too--riots and arson are on the rise and ethnic antagonists are segregating under duress. A reckoning--the final "final status"--is coming, and sooner rather than later.

So it was that Naser Rugova--head of

Kosovo's Reforma party and nephew of first Kosovar President Ibrahim Rugova--made the Washington rounds again this holiday season. At the Nixon Center, Rugova said he could "understand" the delay on final status, but wants us to understand that an "explosive situation" awaits the "risky calculation" of putting off Kosovars any longer. Stuck in limbo, Kosovo suffers 54 percent unemployment, with 65 percent of its population under the age of 25. Atop social problems are energy problems and, most painfully, financial problems. Kosovo needs cash, and so Rugova pitches a "normal environment for all foreign investors" as the deal for an IMF relationship and the ability to enter into "accession talks with Europe."

There's more. Rugova wants "a significant presence" maintained by the international community for the next three to five years. What the West would gain in the bargain is a stable Kosovo, secure in a "constitutional order" with a "progressive, productive, and competitive" economy. Croatia--which took 10 years to integrate into Europe--is taken as the inspiration, but Kosovo--small, landlocked, with almost zero infrastructure--has a lot of work to do, and cannot do it on its own.

WHY WOULD WE HELP what Rugova terms this "baby nation," at the cost of infuriating Serbia? The answer may be that we have little choice. To turn away now--having exerted so much energy on Kosovo, killed so many Serbs, and touted Western policies so earnestly--is to default on every promise we have made the Kosovars.

And nothing is more attractive to the people and problems we are struggling to defeat than an imploded, aggrieved, and chaotic hinterland of Muslim and Christian admixture ringed by E.U. and NATO states. Beyond Kosovo, ethnic Albanians in Macedonia, Montenegro, and Albania proper wait to hear from the world regarding their brethren.
The options are few, but a decision must be made eventually. Serbia is a hostage to final status as much as Kosovo. Without final status, neither country will ever see the benefits of economic membership in Europe. Serbia will remain the last pariah state west of Belarus, with a dour and draining liability on a southern border with no practical value. And Kosovo will stagnate, unable to attract investment from Belgrade and unwilling to accept its rule. Yet partition, which would shear off Kosovo's Serb fringe to facilitate a cleansed sovereignty, receives the support of neither nation. Serbs know partition means the loss of Kosovo; yet partition leaves Kosovars as the citizens of a rump state open to acrimonious border negotiation. Even neighboring Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha has gone on record against partition as encouraging "adventurers of all nationalities." "Kosovo will not be separated," agrees Rugova, who calls partition "a dangerous idea" sure to "destabilize Macedonia and Montenegro." With Belgrade intent on decentralization and Kosovo open to consociation, pushing partition does nothing to facilitate independence, the only workable final status.

IS INDEPENDENCE for Kosovo too destabilizing? Other stateless groups throughout Eurasia might revolt against their ruling regimes if Kosovo is granted independence and sovereignty. Transnistria, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia--all in varying degrees of thrall to Russia--might insist upon like treatment. Nagorno-Karabakh has already moved by referendum to declare itself a "sovereign, democratic" state--with 98 percent voter approval. Russia's own Chechen problem will only look worse--a lesson not lost on China,

which considers Kosovar sovereignty the worst of all precedents as far as Taiwan is concerned. (Indeed, at least some pro-independence Taiwanese draw parallels between their situation and the Kosovars'.)

But Rugova responds that Kosovo deserves special treatment on account of geography: Outside Europe, one finds "much more complicated problems." In a sense, he's right. Kosovo's situation is genuinely unique and relatively straightfoward. It's true that some work must be done to establish Kosovo's special status as a legitimate exception to legitimate rules of sovereignty--and so it should. The biggest obstacle is Russia, interested in both protecting Serb interests and drawing the line against nationalist adventures on its own southern periphery. Yet delaying final status will keep Serbia frozen out of Europe and too distant from Russia to enjoy even the cold comfort of a cozy relationship with Moscow.

It might seem callous to buy American success in Kosovo at the price of a freer Russian hand. But Kosovar independence will patch a dangerous hole in the fabric of legitimate government and the rule of law in Europe. And a simple, clear success for American foreign policy that shores up Europe has value in and of itself.

Serbs, given serious incentives, might look west more often than south. Some may even return to a Kosovo delivered from limbo. Among those incentives, a Security Council resolution will seal the deal for Kosovo but almost certainly require tacit agreements with Russia and assurances for China. If that seems a bit tart, then the alternative--Kosovo betrayed, American policy stymied, dysfunction and disorder festering in the Balkans--leaves a positively bitter taste.

James G. Poulos is an essayist and doctoral candidate at Georgetown University.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

26 Bosnian Serbs arrested in U.S.

Story Highlights

• 16 refugees accused of hiding membership in brutal military
• Remainder face administrative immigration violations
• Raids follow U.N. war-crimes trial in The Hague, Netherlands
• Units of Bosnian Serb army accused of atrocities in Srebrenica

story.serbs.afp.jpg

A demonstrator in front of the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade, Serbia, gives the traditional Serb three-finger salute during a December 2 protest against the U.N. war-crimes court.

From Terry Frieden
CNN

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Twenty-six Bosnian Serb refugees are in custody after a series of raids around the United States targeting people who served in Bosnian Serb military units that attacked Muslims. Officials say three others remain at large.

Sixteen of the 29 face criminal charges for concealing their military service when they applied for refugee status in the United States.

A court document says one of them, Nedjo Ikonic, 40, of Greenfield, Wisconsin, "was a commander of a police company that cooperated with and was subordinated to the Army of the Serbian Republic during the July 1995 massacre in Srebrenica."

Units of the Bosnian Serb army are accused of torturing and executing at least 7,000 Muslims in Srebrenica, a United Nations-designated "safe area."

The 16 were indicted on charges of immigration fraud or lying about their Bosnian Serb military background on their immigration applications. They face five to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Thirteen others detained only on administrative immigration violations face deportation.

The arrests by Immigration and Customs Service agents occurred over several days in Florida, Wisconsin, Colorado, Michigan, North Carolina and Ohio, according to Justice Department officials familiar with the operations.

"These cases demonstrate our resolve to identify and prosecute those who enter this country under false pretenses, especially those who hide their military past," said Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty.

The U.S. investigation followed a U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.

One official said some Bosnian Serbs fled the United States earlier this month after they were initially interviewed by immigration agents.

The largest number of arrests occurred Monday in Tampa, Florida, where eight suspects were apprehended. Several of them were arraigned in U.S. District Court there and pleaded not guilty.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Raid on Bosnian Serb war criminals in U.S.

19 Bosnian Serb army vets arrested in cities around U.S. for alleged roles in Srebrenica massacre

BY MATTHEW MCALLESTER
Newsday Staff Correspondent

December 12, 2006
TAMPA, Fla. - Federal agents raided homes in five cities yesterday, arresting 19 Bosnian Serbs whose units allegedly participated in the Bosnian war's Srebrenica massacre, sources told Newsday.

The murder of more than 7,000 Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica was the worst war crime in Europe since World War II.
Yesterday's arrests follow one in Milwaukee during the weekend. The investigation is continuing, the sources said, and is expected to net more Srebrenica suspects than any other operation to date worldwide.

The total number of Srebrenica suspects arrested in the past two years on immigration violations in the United States is approaching 50. At least three have been deported to Bosnia from Arizona and two are in custody in Sarajevo as prosecutors there investigate them for war crimes.

Agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested eight men in Tampa yesterday. Others were arrested in nearby Orlando and in Denver, Detroit and Chicago. The government alleges that all of them lied on their immigration applications, deliberately omitting mention of their service in the Bosnian Serb Army.

At the federal courthouse in downtown Tampa yesterday afternoon, five of the men arrested yesterday were arraigned before Judge Thomas McCoun.



Incredulous over arrests

"It's all nonsense," one of the men, Strahinja Krsmanovic, told one of two public defenders representing the men. He and the other four Bosnian Serbs sat in the dock with their ankles bound together by chains.

The men looked slightly stunned at the proceedings, shrugging and even laughing in incredulity when the question of their being at risk of flight, or a danger to the public, was raised.

While investigators and prosecutors do not consider any of the men a present danger, the underlying theme of the operation that led to their arrest is that they were, not so long ago, a mortal danger to thousands.

In July 1995, the Bosnian Serb Army's Bratunac and Zvornik Brigades took control of the besieged town of Srebrenica, a UN-designated "safe area" that was home to tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslims. Soldiers systematically separated men and boys from women and children. In various locations around Srebrenica, the Serb soldiers tortured and executed at least 7,000 men and boys over several days.

The Srebrenica investigation in the United States started when the UN tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague gave federal investigators a database of names of soldiers the tribunal's prosecutors believed participated in the Srebrenica massacre.



Living quietly in America

An analyst with Immigration and Customs Enforcement cross-referenced the data with immigration databases and has continually uncovered men - and in at least one case, a woman - living quiet American lives.

It is very common, investigators say, for the perpetrators of war crimes to enter the United States in the flow of refugees and immigrants who often come from countries wracked with war.

It is hard for prosecutors to prove what individual soldiers were doing during a period of several days more than a decade ago in a distant country.

The only federal law that can really be used against people living in the United States who have committed war crimes overseas is the torture statute. Just last week prosecutors in Miami, with the approval of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, brought the first torture case in U.S. history.

The paucity of strong war crimes laws in the United States leaves prosecutors with little option other than to use immigration law to pursue suspects - and ultimately deport them.

That is the fate that possibly awaits the five who appeared in court here yesterday. They spoke mostly in Serbo-Croatian, with the aid of two interpreters, about their jobs and finances.

Most of the five seemed to have settled well in the United States, with jobs and homes that they own. Krsmanovic, for example, told the court he worked at a company called Compulink and owned a home. He makes $8.50 an hour, he told the judge, who was trying to decide if each man needed a public defender or could afford his own attorney.

McCoun set a hearing for today to determine terms of release for the men. Sources told Newsday at least four other Bosnian Serb suspects fled the country this month after immigration agents interviewed them.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Kosovo ‘top priority’ for German EU presidency

By Hugh Williamson in Berlin and Daniel Dombey in London

Financial Times

Kosovo, the breakaway Serb province at the heart of a 1999 war, will be the biggest foreign policy issue for the incoming German presidency of the European Union, according to diplomats and analysts in Berlin.

But German foreign ministry officials add that their six months chairing EU meetings, which begin on January 1, could also be overshadowed by disputes over Turkey's EU bid, Iran's nuclear programme and continuing tensions in the Middle East.

One of Germany's top diplomats confirmed last week that making progress on Kosovo would be Berlin's top priority, in comments welcomed on Monday by foreign policy analysts.

Speaking at a conference in Berlin, Michael Schaefer, the foreign ministry's political director and a key aide to Frank-Walter Steinmeier, foreign minister, said that the Kosovo issue "would be the most urgent and difficult foreign policy question during our EU presidency".

The chief forum for the dispute is the United Nations Security Council, where western countries that believe Kosovo should be put on the path to independence will seek to win round a sceptical Moscow.

The EU's role is also important, as the prospect of closer ties between Serbia and Brussels is seen as the chief means of western leverage over Belgrade, and the EU is also preparing a large mission to assist with police training in Kosovo. At present, however, relations between the EU and Serbia are tense because of an impasse over Belgrade's failure to locate Ratko Mladic, an indicted war criminal.

"Germany is seen by both the Serbs and Albanians as an honest broker in the region" said Dušan Reljić, Balkans expert at Berlin's SWP foreign policy think-tank. He added that Washington and Moscow would also support Germany's intervention as "they both trust Berlin to know what it is doing in the Balkans".

Some EU officials caution that Russia, a traditional supporter of Serbia, will be much harder to win round than it was during the Kosovo war's resolution in 1999, when Moscow was much less self confident than it is today.

Mr Schaefer said that the German presidency of the EU would work quickly with proposals on the future status of the disputed province once they are made in late January by Martti Ahtisarri, the United Nations' special envoy on Kosovo. But he warned that Berlin's planned mediation efforts "would not tolerate delaying tactics from one side or the other".

He added: "We need a solution (on Kosovo) that is objectively fair to both sides", referring to the stand-off between the government of Serbia and Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leaders.

Germany also wants to revitalize the international "Quartet" on middle east peace, which is made up of the US, Russia, the United Nation and the EU, that has recently played a marginal role. In addition, it wants to focus EU attention to the east of the bloc - on Russia, the countries on the eastern fringes of Europe and Central Asia.

But German officials acknowledge the difficulty of forging a common EU stance on Russia - the EU has still failed to agree a negotiating mandate for a wide ranging new agreement with Moscow. They also are worried that an EU summit next week may fail to resolve a dispute over Turkey and Cyprus, leaving the German presidency the burden of dealing with Ankara's faltering bid for EU membership. And many diplomats are worried that the controversy over Iran's nuclear programme may become more tense next year if Tehran speeds up its plans.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Kosovo's future: Delay, delay

Dec 7th 2006
From The Economist print edition

A cloud hangs over the province's long-expected independence

AT THE start of the year, Kosovo's Albanians were confident of being independent by the end of it. Now they are nervous. A week ago, thousands marked the Albanians' national day by protesting in Pristina, Kosovo's capital. Paint and rocks were thrown at United Nations buildings.

EPA Local views of the United Nations

Kosovo is part of Serbia, although since the war of 1999 it has been under UN jurisdiction. Some 90% of its 2m people are ethnic Albanians who want independence, which Serbia's leaders refuse to concede. In February the UN asked Martti Ahtisaari, a former Finnish president, to preside over talks on Kosovo's future, but the talks have failed—a failure that Mr Ahtisaari blames on Serbia's unwillingness to engage in constructive dialogue. So Mr Ahtisaari has prepared his own plan. But he is keen not to boost Serbia's extremist Radical Party, whose leader, Vojislav Seselj, is on trial (and on hunger strike) at The Hague war-crimes tribunal, in the January 21st election. He has therefore put off its delivery.

The plan is expected to suggest a conditional form of independence for Kosovo. So why the nervousness among Kosovars? Diplomats talk of a “double disappointment”. Kosovar leaders promised independence by the end of this year, but it has now been delayed. And all the signs are that the Kosovars will gain less control over their lives than they had hoped.

After Mr Ahtisaari presents his plan in early February, there will be weeks of bargaining inside the UN Security Council, most of whose members favour independence, though Russia does not. With luck a new resolution might be passed in March—but Russia's ambassador to Belgrade says his country is ready to veto Kosovo's independence. Kosovars had assumed that individual countries would quickly recognise their new state, but that may be in question too. If there is a new resolution, a new mission will succeed the UN's. The European Union, which will dominate this mission, wants the handover to take no more than three months, but the UN wants up to six. So “status day” may come at least six months late.

Agron Bajrami, editor of Koha Ditore, a Kosovo daily, says that delay is bad, but the real fear is that it “could result in a different outcome.” That does not mean Kosovo would stay part of Serbia, but that independence would be hedged about with unacceptable conditions. As one diplomat involved says, the new international mission will have “far-reaching correctional powers”. In practical terms, many people may see little difference between the EU-led mission and the UN-led one.

Gerald Knaus, head of the European Stability Initiative, a think-tank based in Berlin, points to a third source of disappointment in Kosovo. Research by ESI has found that fewer families now get the remittances from relatives abroad that have kept them afloat for the past 15 years. There are equally false expectations that independence will quickly bring prosperity to this economic basket-case.

Kosovars are not the only ones fretting about the future. A top Serbian official notes that Russia's hardening of its position could encourage headstrong Albanians to resort to violence again—leading to an exodus of tens of thousands of remaining Kosovo Serbs. Foreign investment in Serbia, which is expected to be worth $3.5 billion this year, could soon dry up if the region heads back into conflict.

If Russia blocks a new resolution on Kosovo, there is no fallback plan. Vojislav Kostunica, Serbia's prime minister, has hinted to neighbours such as Macedonia that they might be subjected to an embargo if they unilaterally recognised Kosovo. Mr Kostunica feels some things are going his way. At its Riga summit last month, NATO invited Serbia to join its Partnership for Peace programme, the first step to membership. Previously, it had insisted that Serbia must first arrest General Ratko Mladic, indicted by the war-crimes tribunal. Mr Kostunica's conclusion from NATO's willingness to overlook this condition is that, if only he hangs tough, foreign unity will crack. He is hoping to see this happen over Kosovo.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

INVESTIGATION: Ex-Serb Policemen Running Kosovo Passport Scam

While it is hard for most Kosovars to get papers to travel abroad, racketeers can solve everything for a fee.

By Krenar Gashi in Pristina and BIRN teams in Kosovo, Serbia and Montenegro (Balkan Insight, 1 Dec 06)

For 300 euro I can get you all the documents in one day," said Sajo, a former policeman in Kosovo and now based in Rozaje, in Montenegro. "All at once - birth certificate, citizenship papers, ID and passport."

Sajo sells new identity papers to Kosovars. There are many like him in Montenegro and Kosovo, where a lucrative trade in falsely obtained passports and other documents is booming.


In an undercover investigation by BIRN, we can reveal the large amounts of money Kosovars routinely pay to people like Sajo to obtain new versions of the old Yugoslav passport.

Yugoslav documents are still valid in the region and indeed continue to be issued in Serbia, which has not yet updated its issuing authorities to take account of the dissolution of the former federation.

We examined the market that the racketeers have set up, posing as mediators between ordinary people and complex government institutions in the region and found out that the newly independent republic of Montenegro forms a vital link in the passport and document scam.

Most extraordinarily of all, we discovered that former policemen, like Sajo, are a crucial link in the chain.

Although Serbian law stipulates that people can only apply for documents in person, these mediators can, in fact, accomplish this task for other people.

They can also do it - as Sajo says - in the space of a day, even though Serbian regulations say at least one week is needed.

Balkan Insight approached Serbia's ministry of interior but they refused to comment on this matter.

KOSOVO - THE IDEAL MARKET

As former citizens of the old Yugoslav federation, Kosovo Albanians possessed Yugoslav ID cards and passports until 1999.

But as the conflict widened between the Serbian authorities and the guerrillas of the Kosovo Liberation Army - and as hundreds of thousands of people fled or were expelled into neighbouring countries - the Serbian authorities confiscated most of their documents on the border.

In January 2001, UNMIK began to issue travel documents in its own name. Most states recognise and accept them with the accompanying visas, while two, Albania and Macedonia, do not require visas.

But UNMIK travel documents have not resolved the problem or destroyed the market in illegal documents.

Not all Kosovars possess UNMIK documents - or want them. Many Albanians prefer the old Yugoslav passports, as they entitle the bearers to enter several countries in the region without visas, such as Bulgaria, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Our first port of call in our investigation began in the ethnically mixed area - of Kosovo Polje, or Fushe Kosove, about three kilometres from Pristina.

Here we found a large queue of Albanians waiting outside a heavily guarded office called the Centre for Peace and Tolerance for new Yugoslav papers.

In fact, the centre is a passport and documentation centre - one of the few remnants of the former Serbian administration in central Kosovo, serving an area that contains several Serbian enclaves.

Serbia's ministry of the interior confirmed that many residents of central Kosovo, both Serbian and Albanian, make use of the centre to obtain documents.

A spokesman, Miodrag Jankovic, told the Kosovo daily, Koha Ditore, that from June 1999 until April 2006, it had received 179,409 applications for new passports and had issued 164,493.

But the centre cannot solve all the travel difficulties of Albanians throughout Kosovo.

It only handles applicants born in the Pristina region. The other municipal offices, known as SUPs (Secretariats of Internal Affairs) dealing with people born elsewhere, now no longer operate in Kosovo but in Serbia proper.

Pristina's SUP is now based in Nis, for example. The SUP for Mitrovica/e is in Kraljevo, that for Peja/Pec is in Kragujevac, Gjilan's/Gnjilane's is in Vranje, Ferizaj's/Urosevac's is in Leskovac, Gjakova's/Djakovica's is in Jagodina and Prizren's is in Krusevac.

Albanians from those regions must visit these towns in Serbia in person to apply for and collect documents.

They confront a Catch 22-style dilemma. Although they need to get to Serbia, many cannot, as the guards on the administrative border with Serbia do not recognise UNMIK travel documents.

To get papers they need someone else to fill in the forms and pick them up. This is where the mediators come in, for they have links with the SUP offices in Serbia. With their "cooperation" the whole tricky business can be resolved.

WORKING THEIR PITCH

The mediators can be found offering services to Albanians queuing outside the Kosovo Polje office, who don't have the time or the full set of documents to complete their business.

The run-down office, and the highly bureaucratic procedure, means even applicants with the correct papers face delays of weeks before receiving new passports. Many cannot wait that long.

We spotted one mediator touting for business within minutes of arriving at the office. "You don't have your birth certificate? They won't let you in without that," he told us.

The man offered to put us in touch with a connection in the nearby Serb enclave of Bernice, where he said the officials could get our documents in record time.

"If you go officially, it will take three or four weeks to get the documents but I can fix it in two or three days for 150 euro," he said.

After a little haggling, he reduced the fee to 130 euro - "his last offer," as he put it. He said the cost was dictated by the need to pay "secondary links" for their help.

The officers of the Kosovo Police Service, KPS, who patrol the Kosovo Polje passport office do not disturb the mediators. Nor do the UNMIK special police from Ukraine who are also on hand to keep order.

Legally, the mediators operate in a grey area. Veton Elshani, KPS spokesperson, told Balkan Insight that police are obliged to arrest any persons engaged in smuggling false passports.

"We had a case this year when some people were caught with false Austrian passports... and these people went to jail," he said. "Anybody who engages in this activity for profit is committing a crime."

But it is less easy to apprehend or convict people involved in the obtaining lawful passports from proper issuing authorities, although the means by which they are obtained is illegal.

Blerim Ejupi, a lawyer in Pristina, said one of the problems in Kosovo was the unclear status of the entire legal code.

"Under UNMIK regulations Serbian laws that came to power after 1989 are not applicable in Kosovo, so the KPS, as a Kosovo institution, is not obliged to enforce all Serbian law," he said.

But he said this was no excuse for not tackling the mediators. "The trade in Yugoslav passports in Kosovo is an illegal activity, according to Kosovo's [current] law," he concluded.

The mediators are aware of this and are reluctant to give out real names or telephone numbers.

"Give me your number and I'll give you a call. I know a guy who knows a guy that could help you," one mediator named Sami told us.

We contacted him as an experiment and asked him to arrange a Yugoslav passport for "one of our friends" from Albania who has no Yugoslav documents.

"This guy I know fixes everything," Sami replied, putting a small piece of paper with our number in his wallet. "But for this stuff you may want to try somebody in Montenegro."


WELCOME TO MONTENEGRO

The newly independent republic of Montenegro forms a vital link in the passport and document scam.

The centre of activity is Rozaje, a multi-ethnic town with a small Albanian community about 10 km west of the Kula border crossing.

Rozaje has long functioned as a discreet meeting place for Kosovo Serbs and Albanians. "At least half the deals to do with selling and buying Kosovo property after 1999 were closed here," a waiter told us.

After the UN took over Kosovo, many Serbs sold their property to Albanians, conducting the trade mostly in Montenegro, in places like Rozaje, as it was neutral ground.

Since then, Rozaje has kept its role as a place where deals concerning Kosovo can be done and where mediators can forge useful contacts with former policemen who have kept their connections with the SUP offices.

At a busy café, near the bus station, one waiter seemed unsurprised when we asked him about obtaining new passports.

He offered to introduce us to a former Kosovo policeman who had worked a patch in the cafe for a while. "He would sit at the corner and wait for his clients," said the waiter.

After Sajo, the former policeman, got into a dispute with the café owner, he moved his business elsewhere. The waiter wrote down his phone number. "Sajo has good connections in the police - he's been in this business for four years," explained the waiter.

When we met Sajo in a nearby pizzeria, he confirmed he had worked in Vucitrn, in Kosovo, for nine years until June 1999, when the Serbian regime pulled out. He left, too.

Since then Sajo had been a civilian but he had maintained ties with former colleagues still working in the police forces of Serbia and Montenegro.

"My connections with my former colleagues are the only good thing I got from my previous job," he said.

"I have many friends who work directly in Kosovo. They move there freely. It's not risky for former cops to go to Kosovo these days as the situation has calmed down."

He told us he went to Kosovo himself many times, but said he preferred "to do business in my hometown, Rozaje".

Sajo mentioned another former policeman, named Bane, or Branislav, who worked in the same business.

"Bane operates in Kosovo, driving a Yugo (a Yugoslav car) with PE plates (former Yugoslav registration plates for Peja/Pec) and moves freely in and out," he said, adding that Bane and others like him had many clients in Kosovo seeking documents.

The use of old car registration plates is deliberate. Such plates are now illegal. But in practice, Kosovo Serbs use them routinely - spurning the new Kosovo number plates. So do many criminals, who like the fact that the Kosovo police tend to avoid stopping and searching Serbian vehicles.

"It's easy for us to get in touch with our people in the SUPs in Serbia," Sajo went on. "If it wasn't for our old connections with them, it would be hard to get this job done."

Sajo confirmed that he and other former policemen were the usual first points of contact between the mediators and the SUP offices.

Although Montenegro is now independent from Serbia, the old relationships between the police on both sides of the border remain largely undisturbed.

He also confirmed that paying the right amount of money can get anyone round the law.

Under Serbian law, only people in possession of valid personal identification cards can apply for passports. These ID cards cannot be obtained without submitting a birth certificate and certificate of citizenship.

Sajo said he could get everything that was needed for a table of fees. "I charge 50 euro for both papers - citizenship and birth certificate," he said. "If you want everything at once, including the passport, it will cost 300 euro."

"This is only if you can come with me to the local SUP to have your fingerprints taken," he went on. "If you cannot come in person, it costs much more - around 900 euro."

The much higher price for the latter reflects the fact that this practice is strictly illegal.

In effect, Kosovars now have two ways of obtaining personal documents, the regular method and the fast track. As the fast one becomes more popular, many Serbs in particular complain that the regular procedure is getting slower.

In the municipal offices in the Serbian enclave of Gracanica, one middle-aged Serb could be heard grumbling about the way the legal system appeared to be crumbling. "The Albanians corrupted our institutions and now we Serbs can't get proper public services from our own institutions," he said.

Such complaints are unlikely to have any impact on a trade that meets a clear demand. Two weeks after we encountered one Albanian in the queue in Kosovo Polje, we found he had resolved his passport problem through the use of paid mediators.

Adi had got tired of waiting and being refused a passport for what he called "senseless reasons" and got the papers from a mediator within three days. "I bought my own passport," he said proudly.


Krenar Gashi is BIRN Kosovo Assistant Editor. BIRN teams from Kosovo, Serbia and Montenegro also contributed to this investigation. Balkan Insight is BIRN's online publication.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Kosovo: Calm now, but nervously approaching final status

30 November 2006 Source: Washington Report on Middle East Affairs Peter Lippman

Seven years have passed since the 1998-99 war in Kosovo and NATO’s intervention, which forced the withdrawal of Serbian troops. Today, the atmosphere on the streets of Kosovo towns is noticeably less tense than it was a few years ago, when in the spring of 2004, widespread anti-Serb riots caused great damage.

Since then, however, the anger of the post-war period has been replaced by other, milder feelings. During a recent visit to Kosovo, I learned from friends that they enjoy greater freedom of movement within the protectorate than before. A growing confidence in the future of Kosovo as an independent country is accompanied by impatience with the U.N. administration and the slow pace of change. Kosovo’s capital, Priština, is bursting at the seams with new construction.

The Hotel Victory, near the bus station on the outskirts of town, sports a replica of the Statue of Liberty at least 20 feet high. A main road leading into the city is named “Bil Clinton Road.” Hundreds of new shops, NGOs and businesses with bright storefronts liven up the visage of the formerly rather shabby city. In Prizren, meanwhile, Kosovo’s most attractive city and one which escaped great damage during the war, a fifth annual documentary film festival was held in early August, lending a worldly atmosphere to the town. While citizens of Kosovo struggle to rebuild their province, or simply make ends meet, since the beginning of the year officials from Priština, Serbia and the international community have been holding negotiations in Vienna on Kosovo’s “final status.”

On the surface, this phrase refers to the question of independence for the former “autonomous province” of Serbia. Despite the fact that Kosovo has been independent of Serbia since the NATO intervention, this status remains to be legalized. The international community, in the form of a “Contact Group” of six nations, is putting strong pressure on Belgrade to relinquish its former province. Since 1999, when Serbia accepted NATO conditions, no Albanian has expressed willingness to settle for anything less than complete separation from Serbia.

Given these factors, it is widely recognized that the future of Kosovo is independence. Although Serbian politicians are not blind to this eventuality, none of them has stepped forward to accept it publicly. In an early 2006 statement, the Contact Group emphasized that “there should be: no return of Kosovo to the pre-1999 situation, no partition of Kosovo, and no union of Kosovo with any or part of another country.” The international position on independence could not be much clearer than this. Stated Lutfi Hazire, head of the Albanian delegation to the negotiations, “The start of this dialogue is a preparation for Kosovo’s road to independence.”

During a round of negotiations in May, however, Serbian representatives offered Kosovo “extensive autonomy,” but simultaneously demanded continuation of Serbia’s sovereignty over the province. Behind the contentious issue of sovereignty for Kosovo lies the very concrete problem of minorities. Albanians now comprise some 90 percent of Kosovo’s population, at whose hands Serbs and Roma, particularly, have at times suffered serious mistreatment.

While this problem has been under greater control in the past few years, the international community is not about to hand over power to an Albanian-dominated government without very solid guarantees for the safety of minorities. U.N. envoy and mediator Martti Ahtisaari was expected to present a final proposal regarding status and minority issues in a September round of negotiations. This has turned out to be overly optimistic, but commentators in Kosovo are now saying that Ahtisaari’s proposal should be accepted by the beginning of next year. If negotiations remain deadlocked, a decision for independence will most likely be taken by the U.N. Security Council. Any resolution will have to include strong guarantees for minority rights not only from an Albanian-dominated government, but also from some manner of continued international supervision during a phased transition to independence and stability.

Albanians I’ve spoken with in Kosovo say it would be in the best interests of Serbs in the province to throw in their lot with a independent country, rather than continually looking to a meddlesome, politically crafty Serbian government for guidance. They say that Albanian mistrust of Kosovo Serbs, based on the memory of atrocities committed during the war, should subside with independence, because Kosovo Serbs then would not be regarded as a threat.

Albanian Opposition
Entering Priština or Prizren, however, one is struck by the prevalence of anti-negotiations messages spraypainted on city walls. “No Negotiations!” the graffiti shout, and, cleverly, “12:44: Time’s Up—UNMIK Go Home” (1244 refers to the U.N. Security Council Resolution that, upon the expulsion of Serb forces, established Kosovo as a U.N. protectorate.) These graffiti are courtesy of the Priština-based grassroots organization Vetevendosje (“Self-determination”), led by Albin Kurti. Kurti is a young activist with a history of brave leadership of the anti-Milosevic student movement in the late 1990s. During the NATO intervention he was arrested by the Serbs, and spent over two years in jail. Vetevendosje’s deep mistrust of UNMIK (U.N. Mission in Kosovo), the protectorate administration, reflects the common frustration that promised changes over the last seven years have taken place very slowly.

Vetevendosje’s objection to the negotiations stems from the concern that the Contact Group will allow passage of a resolution compromising Kosovo’s independence—specifically, agreeing to Belgrade’s demands that Kosovo Serbs, who comprise a majority in five Kosovo municipalities, be given control of around 10 more. Kurti fears that this group of municipalities could constitute a territorially autonomous unit that would annex itself, in some fashion, to Serbia. While he does not oppose Kosovo’s eventual political decentralization, he insists that such an arrangement must take place after independence, and without the participation of the Serbian government.

Everyday problems
Criticisms of extremism leveled at Vetevendosje are common in Kosovo, where many wish that Kurti would concentrate on more concrete issues such as local corruption and unemployment. Putting aside the drives for independence, sovereignty and protection of minorities, there are serious problems that more immediately afflict the lives of Kosovars—Albanians and minorities alike. Electrical shortages are endemic in the protectorate, where over two-thirds of the labor force is out of work. Poverty is pushing 40 percent, and “extreme poverty” has risen to 15 percent. Only 5 percent of domestically consumed goods are produced locally. “I don’t care about independence,” one Albanian told me. “The problem here is that we are exporting money.”

The imbalance in foreign trade has been faulted for hurting local agriculture, causing hundreds of thousands of villagers to flock to the cities—where they still don’t have work. This scenario provides more-than-usual support to one of Vetevendosje’s campaigns, a boycott of Serbian imports which are flooding the stores. Even much of the construction material for rebuilding post-war Kosovo comes from Serbia. More dispassionate, business-oriented people note that the bulk of the post-war construction already has taken place—making the boycott campaign somewhat belated. Moreover, they point out, such a campaign could face opposition from local (Albanian) businessmen, who are developing thriving business relationships with Serbs. In the end, the economic and political problems are connected. Without the stability afforded by final status, international lending institutions will not guarantee loans for Kosovo, and foreign investors will steer clear.

The hope is that the international community can push through a resolution in Vienna in the quickest way possible, with guarantees for safety for all people in Kosovo, leading to a time of calm, cooperation, and development. Unfortunately, the possibilities for disruption from various forces are great, both during and after any resolution of negotiations. Peter Lippman is an independent human rights activist based in Seattle.
Peter Lippman is an independent human rights activist based in Seattle.
Fair use

Pristina’s diplomatic offensive

30 November 2006 14:46 Source: B92, Beta

MOSCOW, PRIŠTINA, WASHINGTON -- Kosovo Albanian leaders are lobbying in Washington and Moscow, in a bid to secure support for the province’s independence.

Kosovo president Fatmir Sejdiu is visiting the United States, while prime minister AgimCeku arrived in Russia, where he is scheduled to meet the Russian foreign ministry officials. Ceku said that the goal of his visit was to “encourage Russia to view the Kosovo case in a more realistic way”.”This is a very important visit, which gives both sides an opportunity to exchange opinions regarding Kosovo. My goal is to explain the situation to the Russian officials”, Ceku said after meeting members of a Duma Committee.

According to him, the aim of the visit is to ask Moscow to appeal Belgrade to adopt a more realistic, and allow Kosovo Serbs to engage and build their future in Kosovo. ”I wish to ask the Russian officials to consider Albanians as legitimate partners on the international scene, which would open the doors for the development of the political and economic relations”, Ceku said. The only cabinet member who travels with Ceku is acting communities and return minister Branislav Grbrić, an ethnic Serb, which is telling of the strategy the Kosovo PM intends to use in Moscow. Ceku’s visit is extensively covered in the Priština-based media. Observers believe Russia could have the vital role in reaching a broader international consensus on granting Kosovo independence.

)Kosovo president Fatmir Sejdiu, meanwhile, is in New York, where he met the future and the current UN secretary-generals and most UN Security Council permanent member states’ ambassadors. Sejdiu is also scheduled to meet a number of U.S. diplomats. Deputy prime minister Lufti Haziri expects Ceku’s visit to Russia to be successful. “Ceku’s visit to Russia is not purely symbolic, this is a historic visit that should confirm the will of our people for independence. We are eagerly expecting Russia’s role in that sense to be positive”, he said.

Some analysts, like Azem Vlasi, warn that the first Russia visit by a Kosovo official should not cause unwarranted optimism, especially bearing in mind Russia’s firm position regarding Kosovo’s final status. “The Russians have already decided against Kosovo’s independence for their own interests, and Ceku’s visit can only be useful if he manages to let them know that Albanians will not give up on independence in any case, that it is not just an alternative for them, and that they will not agree to be the victim of the relations between Russia and other Contact Group countries”, Valsi said.
Fair use.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

War crimes suspect Vojislav Seselj remains Serbian hero

Seselj still Serb 'people's hero'
By Nick Hawton
BBC News, Belgrade

Posters of Mr Seselj's Serbian Radical Party in Belgrade
Mr Seselj's party is the largest single grouping in parliament
Drive through the towns and villages of rural Serbia and there is one smiling face you are not likely to miss.

Peering down at you from billboards and street walls is a picture of Vojislav Seselj, leader of the Serbian Radical Party and one-time lecturer, alleged paramilitary leader and now defendant at the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

Even in Belgrade, regarded as less nationalistic than the more conservative countryside, his picture appears on trees and telegraph polls, his name written in graffitti on the walls of student buildings.

The posters are there for the coming January general election but the graffitti has been there for years, a testament to the support he still enjoys. Mr Seselj's Radical Party remains the largest single grouping in the Serbian parliament.

For many Serbs, but by no means all, Mr Seselj remains a person to look up to, a representative of uncompromising Serb nationalism. In the past, he was one of the key advocates of a greater Serbia.

Conspiracy theories

Serbian television has been closely monitoring events at the Seselj trial in The Hague, especially since he began a hunger strike two weeks ago.

Mr Seselj's supporters hold his picture at a rally in Belgrade on 23 November 2006
Mr Seselj's supporters want to "stop The Hague tyranny"

Many here still believe the death in The Hague of former President Slobodan Milosevic in March is shrouded in mystery and suspicion.

Belgrade's newspapers gave the start of Mr Seselj's trial low-key coverage, although one tabloid referred to an alleged CIA plot to kill him. Conspiracy theories abound, as ever.

"I don't know if he's a war criminal or not," says Mladen, 55, sat in a Belgrade bar.

"But at least he fought for Serb interests. And, anyway, The Hague is totally anti-Serb. He was never going to get a fair trial."

Seselj theatre

Others prefer to look to the future.

"We need to move on and think about where Serbia goes from here. Seselj only represents the past," says Dragan, 44, who runs a small shop in Belgrade.

Vojislav Seselj. File photo
Mr Seselj has been a key advocate of a greater Serbia

At his farewell rally in 2003, thousands of flag-waving Radicals from rural areas flocked to Belgrade to see his final speech before he handed himself in.

I was there in the crowd. His rabble-rousing rhetoric was a hit with his admirers.

Mr Seselj's antics at The Hague and his mockery of the tribunal have struck a chord with many Serbs.

Once he told judges to remove their robes because they reminded him of medieval inquisitors and, on another occasion, refused to be represented by a court room lawyer because he had a "bird's nest" on his head, referring to the lawyer's traditional wig.

Radical muscle

Some people even have short video excerpts on their mobile phone of Mr Seselj's confrontations with the judges. It has almost become a party piece.

Others condemn the fact that the leader of the Radical Party has been waiting for three years for his trial to begin.

Despite his trial having begun - and notwithstanding his hunger strike - Vojislav Seselj has just been put at the top of his party's list for January's election to the Serbian parliament.

And no-one is ruling out the possibility that the Radicals will again enjoy electoral success.

Fair use.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Czech FM: We may recognize Kosovo unilaterally

TIRANA -- Aleksandar Vondra made the statement speaking on the frindges of the CEI meeting in Tirana.

Czech foreign minister Aleksandar Vondra told the Czech media that his country might decide to recognize Kosovo’s independence even if the Serbian province decided to declare it unilaterally.

“Naturally, we will be a part of the EU decisions as well, we’ll reach some solution. Ahtisaari’s mandate is relatively broad and I believe the final result will be useful for all”, Vondra said, interviewed in Tirana, where he took part in the Central European Initiative (CEI) summit.

This announcement represents a significant change in the Czech policy, which until recently approached the Kosovo status issue by waiting for a common EU stance.

Former Czech prime minister, now Social-Democrats leader Jiri Paroubek, even advised the division of the province along ethnic lines as the best solution.
Fair Use :
B92 and Beta,

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Archaeology in the Balkans:Looting history

Nov 23rd 2006 | MARVINCI AND BUTRINT
From The Economist print edition

A Balkan battle is on to save the past


THE crime scene is a hole in the ground at Marvinci, in a remote corner of south-western Macedonia. Last month looters dug up a bronze figurine of Apollo and sold it for €20,000 ($26,000) to a Greek dealer. “I know everything, but even the police and customs are involved, so there is nothing I can do,” says Goran Karapetkov, a local archaeologist. “It rips my heart in two.”

Since the break-up of Yugoslavia in 1991, Macedonia's rich archaeological sites have been plundered wholesale. A burly dealer-digger in Marvinci says that poverty has turned looting, chiefly of jewellery, from ancient Greek and Roman tombs into a “fight for survival”. Aided by fake certificates of origin, his finds go to collectors in America, Germany, Greece and Japan. Ill-paid local archaeologists are involved too, he says. A police source in Skopje readily lists the names of some ardent but untouchable collectors, including that of a former senior ambassador.

Ilce Bojcevski, an official trying to stop the looting, hopes that a new law will help. Another good sign was a recent conference in Macedonia that brought officials from ex-Yugoslav countries and Albania together with experts from UNESCO and Interpol. A haul of looted ancient Macedonian treasures was recently seized on the Slovene-Croatian border. Yet, although political will is vital, hard cash is also needed.

Some 300km (190 miles) from Marvinci, at the southern tip of Albania, lies Butrint (Bouthroton in ancient times), which has a theatre and the remains of an early Christian basilica. It used to be a wretched place, submerged by undergrowth and with a looted, derelict museum. Now local schoolchildren, Austrian holidaymakers, Dutch bikers and day-trippers from Corfu all mingle happily in the cleaned-up site. Butrint's revival owes much to two British lords, Jacob Rothschild and John Sainsbury.

Their foundation has raised millions of dollars, mainly from America, to restore the site and pay for new digging. Some locals find its style a bit colonial. But topping up the salaries of Albanian archaeologists means they are paid three times as much as their Macedonian counterparts—and so are keener to protect their country's heritage.

Many looted items have been returned, including a sculpture found in the possession of Robert Hecht, a dealer now on trial in Rome for allegedly dealing in stolen antiquities. Butrint's good fortune is that Lord Rothschild's holiday home is on Corfu. Sadly, landlocked Macedonia is less likely to attract such a benevolent patron.

Fair Use: Economist.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Serbia Shrinks, and Sinks Into Dejection

By WILLIAM J. KOLE
The Associated Press
Sunday, November 19, 2006; 12:36 PM

BELGRADE, Serbia -- Outbursts of nationalism are nothing new in Serbia, but the blustering graffiti in a Belgrade park belongs to a bygone era.

"On your knees before Serbs!" it demands.

In June, Serbia lost access to the sparkling Adriatic coastline when its sister republic, Montenegro, gained statehood. This winter, it could lose the southern province of Kosovo if U.N.-brokered talks lead to independence as expected.

As their nation relentlessly shrinks, Serbs _ a fiercely proud people accustomed to ruling the roost in the Balkans _ are slipping into despair.

"How do you like our cemetery?" businessman Zoran Djuric asks cynically, standing on a hill and sweeping his hand over the twinkling lights of the capital below.

A string of staggering setbacks began last spring, when the European Union suspended pre-membership talks with the former Yugoslav republic for failing to arrest Gen. Ratko Mladic, the world's No. 1 war crimes fugitive long believed to be hiding here.

Geographic isolation came within weeks. Serbia-Montenegro dissolved when Montenegrins voted to break away from the union forged in 2002, leaving Serbia landlocked and alone.

Now, if independence comes to Kosovo and the ethnic Albanians former strongman Slobodan Milosevic tried to crush, Serbia soon could suffer its greatest humiliation: losing a province many consider the heart of their ancient homeland.

"Psychologically, it's very difficult to face up to the fact that your country is shrinking," said Braca Grubacic, a Belgrade political analyst.

"Half the population knows that Kosovo is a lost cause," he added. "But what's worse is that we have a serious crisis of leadership. We don't know who we are or where we're going. There are no signs of hope or a future."

Not all the news is grim.

Serbia has become something of a Balkan tiger, with 6 percent annual growth that has won praise from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Culturally and intellectually, Belgrade is regaining some of the vibrancy it once pulsed with during the 1970s, when its music, film and sports festivals made it an exciting, experimental European city in a bleak zone of communist regimes.

Yet unemployment still runs at about 30 percent, and the average monthly salary is less than $345. Frustrated Serbs have watched helplessly as Balkan neighbors Romania and Bulgaria prepare to join the EU in January, while their own prospects of membership now lag even behind impoverished Albania.

Serbia is still issuing new passports bearing the old Federal Republic of Yugoslavia name and crest _ partly out of confusion over its borders, but mostly because it simply can't afford to retool its printing presses.

It's all a bitter pill for people here in the heart of ex-Yugoslavia, a prosperous six-republic federation until its bloody 1990s breakup under Milosevic. When dictator Josip Broz Tito was in power, many Serbs traveled the world; today, most struggle just to make ends meet and need visas to go practically anywhere.

And it could get much worse.

Serbia's government, which this month hastily adopted a new constitution declaring Kosovo to be an "integral" part of the country in hopes of staving off its independence, will hold early parliamentary elections on Jan. 21. Many expect the ultranationalist Radical Party to exploit emotions over Kosovo and make big gains, which could trigger an explosion of nationalism and deepen Serbia's isolation.

Although few expect more armed conflict in the Balkans _ Serbia, most observers agree, has lost its capacity to wage war _ nationalists could incite violence if Kosovo becomes independent.

The International Crisis Group, a think tank that accused the government of rigging a recent referendum on the new constitution, warns that Serbia "is moving away from Western values and European integration." Its leaders, contends Serbia's Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, "frequently resort to Stalinist methods, notably in personal showdowns."

Serbia could emerge from isolation and end much of its self-inflicted misery by capturing Mladic, wanted since 1995 for genocide in Bosnia. But many Serbs still revere Mladic as a patriot.

Sonja Biserko is a prominent and outspoken human rights activist who attacked and beaten by an assailant last year.

"For many in the West, Serbs became symbols of evil in films and books," she said. "You can only shed an image like that by acknowledging it. But everyone here is in denial."

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Kosovo PM welcomed in Moscow irrespective of Serbia


This is Interesting.I am not sure anything will come out of this meeting, but goes to show that Russia only cares about her own interest. Russia will side with Serbia only if it is to her benefit.Perhaps a promise to RUSAL,Russia’s aluminum giant, that it will be given the contract to build Kosovo's next generation power plant will sweeten the pot for Russia.It's always the ECONOMY stupid.

Update:11/22- I was up to something, wasn't I?
From ECIKS

Kosovo: Rusal to go in for the race for “Kosova C”
Prishtinë, 20 November 2006 - Kosova Sot indicates that the Russian media report that the Russian company Rusal is interested in investing in Kosovo C and the opening of the Sibovc mine. According to the Russian media, representatives of the Rusal Company have already met officials from the Kosovo Government.Deputy Minister of Energy and Mining, Agron Dida, neither denied nor confirmed this information. “We do not intend to favor any of the bidding companies,” said Dida. “There will be a big competition of as many big companies as are interested in investing in Kosovo and the best one will win.”

Moscow -- Russia’s foreign ministry has confirmed that Kosovo PM Agim Ceku will arrive in Moscow in late November.

Moscow daily Kommersant reports that Kosovo prime minister Agim Ceku has been long pressing for the Russian meeting. The negotiations about future status of Kosovo have reached the final straight, and Moscow with its right to veto in the UN Security Council could become the sole hurdle. So far, the Kremlin has been rather critical about Kosovo’s independence.

Ceku is due to head for Moscow November 30 to return December 2, spokesmen of Kosovo’s government said. He will meet Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov and leaders of State Duma’s Foreign Committee.

By sanctioning Ceku’s visit, Moscow was well-aware that it may provoke negative response of Serbia, writes Kommersant, adding that the potential advantage of the talks apparently outweighed all possible annoyance of Belgrade. The Kosovo problem is verging towards its climax and direct contact with leader of Kosovo Albanians will enable the Kremlin to become more active in the outcome.

Kommersant reports that in addition to politics, Ceku will probably focus on matters of economy in Moscow. Russia’s aluminum giant, RUSAL, is said to be willing to acquire (or construct) a power station there.

Moreover, Russia may refer to Kosovo’s independence when pursuing policy in republics of former Soviet Union, including Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transdniestria, according to the Moscow daily.
Fair use only: B92

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Holbrooke: Bush Missed the Boat on Kosovo

NTERVIEW

10 November 2006 Former Bosnia mediator tells BIRN's Kosovo Director that Bush made error in not tackling final status back in 2002.

By Jeta Xharra in New York (Balkan Insight, 10 Nov 06)

As time runs out for the Vienna talks on Kosovo, and the UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari prepares his own recommendations on Kosovo’s final status for the Security Council, America’s former Balkan negotiator says independence, now or next year, is inevitable.

“In the long run Kosovo will be an independent country,” he said, speaking in his Manhattan office, though how long the run is still depends on the Serbia and its biggest ally on the Security Council, Russia.

“The long run depends on what the Serbs do,” explained Holbrooke. “Will they except the reality and look to the future of Serbia as part of the European Union, or cling to a mythic version of a past and deny reality? If they deny reality and try to hold onto Kosovo, they will lose both. They won’t be able to retain Kosovo but will also lose the chance to join Europe.”

Unlike the European Union, whose report this week on the Balkans has praised Serbia’s new constitution, Holbrooke dismisses the document - restating Serbia’s claim to Kosovo - as “a real step in the wrong direction”.

But he says Serbia’s obstructive tactics won’t delay the inevitable. “It is not going to slow down the efforts of Martti Ahtisaari and [US envoy] Frank Wisner,” he said.

“It just isolates the Serbs. I feel very sad about this…the current leadership of Serbia has a historic responsibility to face up to reality but in Serbia itself, as well as the Serbs of Kosovo, they insist on looking backwards… It’s a tragedy.”

He has no illusions that Belgrade will accept reality in the short term. “I don’t think there will be any Serb leader who has the courage to get up and say Serbia should allow Kosovo to become an independent country,” he said, “and this constitution makes it all the more difficult, but I think the international community will declare Kosovo is becoming independent country and then Serbia will have no choice.”

The former close ally of ex-president Bill Clinton says there is still a danger of a major diplomatic showdown over Kosovo with Russia, which the West must not shirk.

“Russia’s problem is they are trying to use Kosovo as an excuse for their own ambitions in Georgia,” he said, referring to Kremlin threats to recognise breakaway provinces in hostile Georgia if the West recognises Kosovo’s independence from Serbia.

“Their goal in Georgia is to overthrow Mikheil Saakashvili, the Georgian president, and they’re going to try to do that by claiming that whatever happens in Kosovo relates to Georgia, which it doesn’t.

“It won’t fly. It is not acceptable and the United States’ friends, Britain, Germany, Italy, have agreed they’re not going to accept that."

Asked whether such a crisis over Kosovo is certain to happen, he answered, “I can’t believe the Russians are that stupid. But let’s clarify. This is not about Kosovo for the Russians. The Russians don’t give a damn about the Serbs. They care about Georgia. They are incredibly angry at Saakashvili. They want to overthrow Mikheil Saakashvili."

Turning to the failed negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo in Vienna, Holbrooke says that irrespective of tactical errors on the Albanian side, “history is on the side of the Kosovo Albanians for the first time in 800 years. The horrible events of 1912 and 1989 are in the process of being reversed. Albanians are very understandably impatient.. [and] I share that impatience”.

He says the Bush administration made a cardinal mistake, putting Kosovo onto the back burner five years ago, when the moderate Zoran Djindjic was prime minister of Serbia and when it would have been easier to sort out Kosovo’s independence than it is today.

“President Bush and his administration are responsible for the delay. They allowed it to happen knowing well that the United Nations and the European Union would never push it,” he said. “The impetus had to come from the United States and the failure was appalling.

“The colossal mistake in 2001 and 2002 of the new Bush administration was turning its back on Kosovo and not negotiating immediately final status, when it would have been easier to do. Then we also had Prime Minister Djindjic who was of the closest things the Serbs have had to a visionary leader.”

Holbrooke says the atmosphere of diplomatic lethargy in the State Department under Colin Powell only changed when Condoleezza Rice replaced him as secretary of state in January 2005 and as Nicholas Burns became her under secretary for political affairs.

“They made a brilliant decision to appoint Frank Wisner as the American envoy,” he said. “Wisner is one of the greatest diplomats of his generation. Wisner has just mastered the issue, and he and Ahtisaari will push it forward.”

Holbrooke counsels Kosovo Albanians in the meantime to invest serious efforts in improving their relationship with the Serbian minority, however much it grates.

“I know the Serbs did not treat them well and I know the desire for revenge is very great in that part of the world,” he said. “But we must move forward."

As soon as the final status issue is announced, the authorities should “reach out to the Serbs and send them public messages that they want to live in peace. I know how difficult that is, but that’s the only way to avoid continuing killing and rape and crimes forever”.

Holbrooke says they should not be deflected from that course by worries over the Serb-run far north and fears that these municipalities may band together to form an equivalent to the Bosnian Serb entity, Republika Srpska.

“They won’t have that status,” he said of the Serbs in North Mitrovica. “ We are not talking about two entities like Republika Srpska and the Federation."

Local authorities have every right, he added, “to run local affairs, police, garbage collection, that’s fine, that’s the way system works. If they have close economic relations with Serbia, that’s fine too”.

The rest “lies in the details. Police, courts and economic affairs are three very different things. A local police force is OK, but police that become part of a corrupted system are not so good….”

“The whole area is full of organised crime,” he went on. “But our goal is not to fix every problem in the universe, in a day, with one UN resolution. It’s to fix the status of Kosovo and that status must be independence.”

Holbrooke says Kosovo cries out for a leader of the visionary stature of Nelson Mandela who sent 27 years as a prisoner of the apartheid regime in South Africa before emerging to become a living symbol of the possibility of racial and political reconciliation.

“Do you know that when Mandela was inaugurated as president of South Africa, he invited to his inauguration the same men who guarded him in prison?” he asked.

“That was his gesture of reconciliation. Where is the Kosovar Nelson Mandela?”

Jeta Xharra is BIRN's Kosovo Director. BIRN is Balkan Insight's online publication.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Here Comes Kosovo

A decision to make the Serb province independent is near. Will Serbia and Russia obstruct it?

Friday, November 10, 2006; Page A30- Editorial

THE SERBIAN parliament formally adopted a new national constitution on Wednesday, following its narrow approval by voters in a referendum last month. The document was a necessary replacement of the previous charter, which was adopted during the rule of nationalist warlord Slobodan Milosevic. But it may have won acceptance only because it included a preamble that would have warmed Mr. Milosevic's heart: a declaration that the province of Kosovo, which Serbia in effect lost seven years ago, is an "integral" and "inalienable" part of the country.

In fact, the United Nations, which has governed Kosovo since NATO freed it from Mr. Milosevic's brutal ethnic cleansing campaign, is due to decide the province's future by year-end -- though a decision may be delayed until after a Serbian election scheduled for late January. Serb leaders know what a U.N. mediator will recommend and what all Western governments will support: independence for the territory, perhaps with transitional conditions. Kosovo is populated overwhelmingly by ethnic Albanians; after the ethnic war Mr. Milosevic initiated, there is no chance the province can be returned to Serbian sovereignty. By incorporating a claim to Kosovo into a new constitution, Serbia's leaders staked out yet another of the reckless nationalist stands that have caused their country so much damage in the past 15 years.


They also set the stage for some difficult and potentially dangerous diplomacy between the Bush administration and Russia over the next two months -- negotiations that could settle or destabilize the Balkans and the equally volatile Caucasus region on Russia's southern border. Russia, Serbia's long-standing ally, is the largest potential obstacle to consensus in the U.N. Security Council on a Kosovo solution. Though he knows that independence for Kosovo is inevitable, Russian President Vladimir Putin is hinting that he may support Serbia's obstructionism. He may hope to extract favors from President Bush in exchange for his eventual cooperation -- such as U.S. acquiescence to Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization.

Or Mr. Putin may try to use Kosovo to trigger a showdown with his Caucasus neighbor, Georgia, which has infuriated him by embracing liberal democracy and seeking integration into Western institutions such as NATO. Mr. Putin has said that Kosovo's independence could be a precedent for Moscow-sponsored breakaway regions in Eurasia, including two rebel provinces of Georgia. If Western governments recognize Kosovo's independence, Mr. Putin could respond by recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This could easily trigger a war that would draw in Russian troops; meanwhile, Moscow's position could encourage Serbs in Kosovo and Bosnia to set up splinter states.

Moscow is no doubt hoping that as the Bush administration contemplates this scenario, as well as its continuing need for Russian help in stopping Iran's nuclear program, it will be bluffed into postponing any decision on Kosovo or will abandon its support of Georgia's democracy and NATO aspirations. Either would be a serious mistake. Putting off Kosovo's independence would only enrage the province's 2 million Albanians and trigger the Balkan meltdown that the West hopes to avoid. It would also encourage Mr. Putin's growing tendency to use threats -- whether of energy-supply interruptions or violence -- to get his way with the West.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Kosovo may soon be free of Serbia, but not of supervision

2 November 2006 New York Times
PRIŠTINA -- In the next few months, Kosovo is likely to win independence from Serbia.But it is unlikely to be the conclusion Western governments hoped for, after investing seven years supervising the province at an estimated cost of 1.3 billion dollars a year. It is increasingly evident that the international authorities will need to retain far greater responsibility in Kosovo than they wanted to.The Kosovo Albanians, the province’s majority population, who demand independence, and the government of Serbia have failed to reach an agreement in nine months of negotiations. The Serbs have refused to recognize government institutions dominated by the Albanians in what has been a territory dear to Serbian religious and cultural heritage.

The negotiations are dragging on, raising the likelihood that a solution will be imposed, ending a process that began 15 years ago with the breakup of Yugoslavia, which led to wars in Croatia, Bosnia and finally Kosovo. The conflict in Kosovo began when long-running tensions between its Albanians and the Serbian-dominated local authorities turned to violence with the start of an Albanian insurgency. Yugoslavia, of which Serbia was then the dominant part, sent in troops, who committed atrocities against civilians and caused thousands to flee their homes.

The United States and Western Europe have hoped that a Kosovo agreement would end the risk of violent disputes over borders and alleviate the need for a heavy international civilian and military presence. A European Union-led mission is to take over from the United Nations after Kosovo’s future is decided. “Everybody is anxious to solve this,” said Joachim Rucker of Germany, chief of the United Nations mission in Kosovo. “It is the last bit of the Balkan puzzle.” The Americans are eager to conclude the matter, but that action may be delayed. Since the government of Serbia would have to review any agreement, the United Nations may want to wait until after the elections that are expected there next year. The Americans are no longer heavily invested in Kosovo militarily — the United States has slightly more than 1,000 troops from the National Guard based there — but would be expected to pay some of the costs of establishing a more independent state and would have a role in a European-led mission.

Whatever the timing, it seems that foreign officials will retain extensive powers and continue to act as an arbitrator between the Albanians and the province’s Serbian minority for some time to come, United Nations and European Union officials here say. With Kosovo’s two million people the poorest in the former Yugoslavia, the financial costs may continue to be substantial. Per capita income is just over $1,000 a year, according to the United Nations Development Program. The International Monetary Fund projects a drop in the gross domestic product, because of general economic decline and the loss to the economy when a large United Nations mission withdraws.

“I think the E.U. is going to be in for a bit of a shock,” said Anthony C. Welch of Britain, the coordinator of a review of Kosovo’s future security needs commissioned by the United Nations. “I think their role is going to have to be a little more hands-on. And it is going to cost a lot.” Kosovo has remained under United Nations control since it was pried away from the Yugoslav security forces in June 1999. While it is still formally part of Serbia, the six nations overseeing the negotiations on its future say it cannot return to Serbian rule. The United Nations envoy to the negotiations, Martti Ahtisaari of Finland, has been drafting a settlement, but it is being kept secret. It will first have to be put to both sides in the talks and then given to the Security Council to debate. The parameters of an imposed settlement are fairly clear, though, say United Nations and European Union officials responsible for planning the European successor to the United Nations mission.

Russia opposes independence for Kosovo, contending that it would set a precedent for other breakaway states. So, officials say, it is unlikely that a Security Council resolution will grant the province full statehood. “The Security Council would issue a mandate for a mission led by the European Union and invite individual countries to recognize Kosovo,” Mr. Welch said. Kosovo would not automatically have a seat in the United Nations General Assembly. Serbia is strongly opposed, and two-thirds of the Assembly’s members would have to recognize Kosovo before it could gain a seat. The European Union says it does not want to duplicate the overarching powers and cumbersome bureaucracy that the United Nations mission has had in Kosovo, which at one stage totaled 11,000 people, including international police officers.

The outside presence has been a source of tension with the Albanian population, some of whom see it as a colonial occupation. As long as there is substantial international oversight, that friction is likely to remain. The new office, headed by an “international civilian representative,” will have much more limited powers, European officials say, to be reviewed annually. Its major role would be to put a peace settlement into operation, especially with regard to protecting minorities. It would be able to dismiss local politicians, and to annul laws if they were deemed to be interfering with the peace settlement. “We will be limited in scope and in power, because we believe the philosophy has to be one of ownership and accountability,” said Torbjorn Sohlstrom, the Swedish diplomat who leads the small team of European officials setting up the mission.

Decentralization would grant the Serbian municipal authorities in Kosovo a substantial say over their own affairs. But opposition by Kosovo Serbs to international plans may require a more heavy-handed approach, perhaps even forcing the European mission to appoint representatives if the Serbs refuse to elect their own to an Albanian-dominated government, Mr. Sohlstrom said. United Nations and European officials also say a Security Council resolution could lay down much more stringent oversight measures than the ones currently being envisaged. “I think there are deep misgivings,” said Judy Batt of Britain, a research fellow at the European Union Institute for Security Studies in Paris. “I think they are probably horrified but know there is not an alternative.”

The prospect of greater European responsibility in Kosovo is unlikely to be welcomed by the European Union’s members, already disaffected over the costs of the union’s enlargement process, especially since they are likely to bear the brunt of Kosovo’s substantial economic needs. “Undoubtedly a change in Kosovo status is not a magic wand for solving socioeconomic problems,” said Frode Mauring of Norway, director of the United Nations Development Program in Kosovo. “With the downsizing of the international community there is a risk of a recession.” And economic difficulties can breed social unrest, he added. Mr. Rucker, the head of the United Nations mission, said, “I think it is very clear: if you expect stability, this has a price tag.”