Saturday, April 29, 2006

Albania: A Mere Supporter of Kosovo Team in the Grandstand


Can Karpat, AIA Balkan Section
Since the beginning of the Kosovo problem, Belgrade has often accused the Kosovo Albanians of longing for “Greater Albania”. Unfounded or not, one thing is sure: the “Greater Albania” project will be without Albania. Albania, which officially supports Kosovo’s independence, refuses to become a key player in the status negotiations. Why does Albania, a player that everyone would have expected to see in the field, stay as a mere supporter in the grandstand?

Incomprehensible Albania?

Anyone, who is slightly acquainted with the Kosovo question, would have expected that Albania be the driving force behind Kosovo in the status negotiations. However it is not the case. Although Albania declared that it was ready to help with the process of resolving Kosovo's status, it pointed out that it did not intend to become a key player in the negotiations.
However Albania, which is used to be extremely cautious in its policy towards Kosovo, within a month, made two controversial statements. And the author of those statements was no less than the Albanian Foreign Minister, Besnik Mustafaj.
During his official visit to France this February, Besnik Mustafaj declared to Le Figaro that Prishtina and Belgrade should learn to “compromise” and explained what Albania meant with “compromise” as follows: “This compromise, as indispensable to the Serbs as it is to the Albanians, could take the form of independence supported by the international community, in other words, a kind of limited sovereignty, for an independent Kosovo does not make sense unless it is democratic. The Balkans does not need another country that is not a rule-of-law state”. So Albania accepts “conditional independence” for Kosovo, which the Kosovo Albanians have publicly and often declared that they would never accept. Or does it not?
Then in March, Mustafaj provoked a small-scale scandal with his ambiguous statement: “If Kosovo is partitioned, there would be no guarantee that other borders in the region would remain fixed”. Serbia and especially Macedonia where there is a considerable Albanian minority violently reacted.
Besnik Mustafaj (photo: 24ore.com)
Besnik Mustafaj
Mustafaj claimed thereafter that his statement was misunderstood and misinterpreted: “As I said, if Kosovo is partitioned, we do not guarantee the stability of the frontiers. I meant the frontiers of Kosovo with Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro”. Besnik emphasized that unification between Kosovo and Albania -if Kosovo becomes independent- is out of the question.
What is the purpose of Mustafaj? Does Albania want to change its pragmatic and cautious Kosovo policy?
Not at all. It is just that once again, Albanian politicians reduce the Kosovo question to the everyday domestic politics. According to Eno Trimcev from the Albanian Institute for International Studies: “Any politician that tries to play the “national question” is bound to pay a heavy price in terms of public support”. In the past, Mustafaj has in fact been criticized for taking too soft a line on Kosovo. It is significant that Mustafaj, who has often displeased the Kosovo Albanians favoring “conditional independence” for Kosovo, uttered such ambiguous points of view.
Albania will probably keep following a cautious policy towards Kosovo. In the beginning of this year, Albanian government formalized its option of independence for Kosovo. Sali Berisha’s government considers independence as non-negotiable, but modalities for achieving it as conditions. Albania seems more flexible than Kosovo. This policy is not that astonishing as it may seem in the first sight. Tirana has its well-founded historical, political and economic reasons to behave the way it does.

Kosovo and Albania: Different destinies

Though Albanians, history of the two communities is different. The Ottoman Empire divided the region where the Albanian people made up the majority, into four provinces (vilayet): Janina centered in Northern Greece, Manastir (today Bitola) centered in Macedonia, Shkoder centered near Montenegro and Kosovo. The Albanian League of Prizren, which was founded in 1878, sought to unite those four provinces. The idea of uniting these lands was the beginning of the “Greater Albania” ideal. The Treaty of London of 1913 recognized an independent Albania as we now see on maps. Yet, the area recognized as Albania by the Great powers was such that more ethnic Albanians were left outside the new state than included within it. One can argue that if there is any Albanian question in the Balkans, this question definitely started in 1913.

Thus Kosovo and Albania were separated from each other by a historical accident. During the two world wars, Albania mostly lived dependent on Italia. Especially the First Word War marked the beginning of the generational hostility between the Serbs and the Albanians, which occasionally committed genocides to each other. After 1939, Mussolini deliberately encouraged Albanian irredentist feelings towards Greece and Yugoslavia. Like elsewhere, in
Enver Hoxha (photo: karlgrobe.de)
Enver Hoxha
Albania too a puppet government was established. The German occupation after 1942 provoked one democratic resistance (Balli Kombeta) and one communist resistance under Enver Hoxha, who was also supported by Tito. In the end Enver Hoxha’s communists prevailed.

The Cold War marked the definitive separation between the destiny of Albania and that of Kosovo. Under the leadership of Enver Hoxha, Albania closed its doors hermetically to the outside world. During the xenophobic communist period between 1945 and 1992, Albania’s attitude towards Kosovo and the Albanians of the former Yugoslavia was largely dismissive. Tirana, which tried to survive by siding with either Belgrade or Moscow or Beijing in different periods, did not want to jeopardize its position for the sake of ethnic Albanians outside its frontiers. The “Albanian question” turned into a source of political support for power wielders in Tirana. This situation was to change after Enver Hoxha’s death in 1985 and especially after March 1992 when the right-wing Democratic Party (PD) won the general elections and Sali Berisha became president.

This was for the historical reason. The political division of the past 93 years, and Albania’s isolation during the communist period have caused the two communities to evolve in a very different fashion.
The social reason is less known. Actually the relations between Albania and Kosovo are complex. Despite obvious linguistic and cultural ties, not all of Albanians of Albania proper are ethnic kin with those of Kosovo. The Tosks, who live in southern Albania, do not show much solidarity with the Kosovo Albanians, who are Ghegs. There is even a latent hostility between the Tosks and the Ghegs. That is why the bulk of weapons going into Kosovo entered from regions of northern Albania, predominantly Gheg and beyond Tirana’s control. And again that is why while violence was escalating in Kosovo during the 1980s and the beginning of 1990s, the Albanian government, which was dominated by Tosks, adopted a restraint attitude towards the problem. Yet that played into the hands of Sali Berisha, a Gheg, who promised to adopt a more aggressive attitude.

Between 1992 and 1996, there was a special cooperation and friendship between Ibrahim Rugova and Sali Berisha. Albanian president was talking about “loosening borders", and later even "deleting" them with Kosovo, and promised Rugova every kind of help for his cause. Rugova, who once visited Tirana during the presidency of Ramiz Alia (1982-1992), heir of Enver Hoxha, did not veil his strong antipathy for communism even that time. This offended the Socialists of Fatos Nano, who are
Albanian refugees (photo: BBC)
Albanian refugees
also the main opponents of Berisha. When the general elections in 1996 was criticized by the US administration, Rugova dissociated himself with Berisha. As Albania collapsed into chaos following the collapse of several pyramid schemes in spring 1997, Rugova made the surprising statement that "of all Albanian leaders, Ramiz Alia is the one who has done more for Kosovo”. However with that weird statement Rugova could manage to please neither the new Premier Fatos Nano nor the ex-president Sali Berisha, who must have felt himself “betrayed”.

During the Kosovo war, tens of thousands of Kosovo Albanian refugees arrived in Albania. At that time Albania was the poorest country of Europe and could not even provide for its own population. The arrival of Kosovo Albanians in Albania and their influence in some unsavory spheres of the economy have caused resentment among Albanians from Albania proper, most of whom are too preoccupied with the daily struggle for existence to devote much time or thought to national questions. And this was for the economic reason.

A sober policy

Today former president Sali Berisha is the prime minister of Albania. Albania, which is still in a precarious economic situation, lives quasi dependent on Western investments and aids. That is why, since the end of the Kosovo war, Tirana has preferred to be in tune with Western mainstream. In 2003, numerous agreements were signed between Albania and Kosovo in the field of energy, transport, free trade, financial services, health care, education and culture. However the Albanian government did not back the demand for Kosovo's outright
Sali Berisha (photo: Corbis)
Sali Berisha
independence. Today the fairly hands-off approach of Sali Berisha’s government towards Kosovo wins international approval. And Albania, who wants to be a part of Euro-Atlantic integration, definitely needs this approval.

During the 2000s, Tirana officially and publicly condemned the activities of the Liberation Army of Presevo-Medvedja-Bujanovac (UCPMB) in southern Serbia and the National Liberation Army of Macedonia (UCK) in north-western Macedonia. Diasporas are often more radical and ambitious than the motherland is. One sees that the motto is valid for Albania. Besnik Mustafaj’s statement is clear: “Kosovo must not establish a precedent for the Albanians of Macedonia, those of southern Serbia, or for the Serbs of Serbia because the situation is different”.

Given its myriad of challenges, Albania remains highly unlikely to lead any unification movement. Economic reasons apart, there are only some minuscule groups, who would support such an initiative. While there is some public support for Kosovo’s independence in Albania (especially among the Ghegs of northern region), this is based on general sympathy for the situation of Kosovo Albanians. Moreover, if Kosovo and Albania become one, the Ghegs would become majority and this would mean a shift of power from the Tosks to the Ghegs. Albanian politicians would not want the gravity centre to glide from Tirana to Prishtina.
The political and economic situation in Albania is too precarious to yield to political romanticism. The cautious line, which Albania has adopted since the beginning of the final status negotiations, is the best line for the country for three reasons.

Primo, it is known that the Albanian people and the Albanian government support Kosovo’s independence. However there is no need to extend an unnecessary political dimension to a situation, which currently brings politically cost-free economic and commercial benefits to both Albania and Kosovo. A more politically active support would justify Serbian allegations on “Greater Albania”. And this, not only would harm Kosovo’s cause, but also Albania’s international image.

Secundo, for 47 years the Albanians had been known as a closed nation. And since the fall of communism, Albania has done its best to change this image. A radical attitude, even verbal violence would shatter this hardly-built new image of Albania.

And tertio, it would not be wise for Albania, on its way to the European Union, to cause the animosity of this country and to provoke a Slav-Orthodox bloc against its membership. Likewise Tirana calls on the Albanians of Montenegro to cast their vote individually in the independence referendum. Moreover successive Albanian governments have always opted for strategic partnership with Macedonia. To irritate Macedonia, which is definitely closer to the EU than Albania, would be a tactical mistake.
And after all Tirana does not want to be in an “offside” position, for what it officially supports will probably happen anyway - with or without its interference.

Kosovo prime minister plays down border dispute


By Neil MacDonald in Pristina (FT)

Agim Ceku, prime minister of Kosovo, played down a border dispute with neighbouring Macedonia on Thursday, saying that the current border would not change after the breakaway Serbian province gains formal independence.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Ceku said that the line agreed by Macedonia and Serbia in 2001 would be respected in practice, even if Belgrade had no authority to speak for Kosovo. The 90 per cent ethnic-Albanian province has been under United Nations administration since the expulsion of Serb-led Yugoslav forces in 1999.

“There will be no change of borders,” Mr Ceku said.

However, the demarcation of the boundary through the mountainous Debelde area – a step Macedonia has pushed for repeatedly since Mr Ceku took office March 9 – can only proceed when Kosovo becomes a sovereign state.

“This, for us, is a very technical issue, not a political issue and not a source of political destabilisation,” Mr Ceku insisted.

The day before, he had rankled Macedonia’s government by visiting Debelde and rejecting Serbia’s right to make sovereign decisions there. According to Reuters newswires, Prime Minister Ceku said that the line through the area’s rugged pastoral lands should be renegotiated.

Vlado Buckovski, Macedonia’s prime minister, has demanded closure on this “open border question” as a pre-condition for Kosovo’s independence. The UN Security Council endorsed the Serbian-Macedonian border deal in 2001 over the objections of Kosovo Albanian leaders.

Both prime ministers have come under domestic pressure lately to beat their drums over Debelde. In the absence of an outright territorial disagreement, Mr Ceku and Mr Buckovski have ratcheted up their respective positions on when demarcation should happen.

Macedonia’s forthcoming parliamentary elections, scheduled for July 5, are the reason the issue has come up now, according to Mr Ceku. But he, too, had to placate angry villagers, some of whose properties were divided by the new boundary, officials in Kosovo’s government said.

Under the 2001 agreement, Serbia transferred 2,500 hectares to Macedonia, which had seceded from the Yugoslav federation ten years before. The current misunderstanding shows why Kosovo needs sovereignty as soon as possible, Mr Ceku said.

Kosovo’s press get thumbs-up



A European watchdog has declared press freedom in the UN-governed Kosovo to be in “good shape."

Miklos Haraszti, the media freedom representative of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), visited the region for two days before his April 27 statement. He said that “the good spirit in the present political climate contributes to a situation where media can work with few obstacles and their rights are largely respected and guaranteed.”

Haraszti’s assessment comes at a crucial juncture in Kosovo’s political future. The European Union is considering taking a lead in creating a new government for Kosovo. A fourth round of UN-moderated talks between Serbs and ethnic Albanians are scheduled for May 4 and 5 in Vienna. IJNET

Friday, April 28, 2006

Montenegro and Kosovo are two separate issues

Montenegrin Foreign Minister Miodrag Vlahovic has completed a two-day
working visit to Vienna in a meeting with UN Deputy Envoy Albert Rohan,
where it has been concluded that the referendum in Montenegro and the
future of the southern Serbian province are two completely separate issues.

Vlahovic has stated that he strongly emphasized that Montenegro is among
those who fully support international community principles, that is, positions
related to multi-ethnicity, preservation of borders, and impossibility of
Kosovo’s union with other states.

Croatian member of the B&H Presidency Ivo Miro Jovic, who is in Banjaluka
with a high delegation of the Croatian Democratic Union, has told Tanjug that
proclamation of independent Kosovo would be a precedent in Europe. It would
be establishment of the second Albanian state in Europe and a precedent for
Europe, which would create an unstable situation, specified Jovic. He believes
that the final solution of the Kosovo status will be found through agreement
of Belgrade and Pristina.

Kosovo Assembly Speaker Kolj Berisha has stated that the disputable issues
that regard the SCG-Macedonian border in the part towards Kosovo will be
resolved after the Kosovo status is established and that there is unnecessary
big fuss regarding that issue. Berisha told RTV 21 in Pristina that Kosovo
was interested in good relations with all neighbors, especially with Macedonia. RTS/Tanjug/B92

Ceku: Cooperation with Serbia is vital

Kosovo Premier Agim Ceku said that establishing cooperation and
good relations with Serbia is of vital interest. “I didn’t have the
opportunity to meet with Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica,
but we should talk and extend hands to each other,” Ceku told
Mitrovica Kontakt Plus Radio. Tanjug

PM Çeku: Stable Macedonia is in the interest of Kosovo

The leading front-page story in Zëri is an interview with Kosovo Prime
Minister Agim Çeku, exclusively for the issue of the border between
Kosovo and Macedonia. The paper puts the main focus on the following
quote by Çeku: A stable Macedonia is Kosovo’s vital interest.

“In fact, I think that the press has complicated (relations between Kosovo
and Macedonia), but I think these will be clarified very soon in the upcoming
meeting. For us this is a technical issue that we will solve after the status in
the spirit of cooperation like two friends that solve disputes between them,”
Çeku was quoted as saying.

The Kosovo PM said that the reactions of Macedonian politicians were done
more for internal political consumption. He also added that the border
agreement between the FRY and Macedonia is an apple of discord between
Kosovo and Macedonia to prevent the two countries from developing
relations in the spirit of cooperation.

Kosovo Government approves minority protection document

Negotiations Team approves minority protection document (Kosovo Dailies)

Zëri reports that as part of the preparations for the incoming meeting in
Vienna the Negotiations Team of Kosovo has adopted a document that
guarantees protection of minority rights. However, the Negotiations
Team scheduled another meeting for Tuesday to decide about the
position the Kosovo delegation will take in Vienna in terms of borders
of municipalities and on Mitrovica plan.

Kosova Sot reports that the Negotiations Team approves document on
minorities and continues working on document on decentralization.

EU warns Serbia on Mladic arrest


Gen Ratko Mladic. File photo
Gen Mladic has been indicted over the 1995 Srebrenica massacre
The EU has warned it will cut off talks on closer ties with Serbia-Montenegro if war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic is not arrested within days.

"It is now high time to... locate, arrest and transfer Ratko Mladic to the Hague (tribunal) without delay," said EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn.

The EU has given Belgrade until Sunday to arrest General Mladic.

The former Bosnian Serb military chief is charged with genocide over the 1995 Srebrenica massacre and other crimes.

Last month, the EU decided to carry on with the talks after assurances by UN Chief War Crimes Prosecutor Carla del Ponte and Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica that Gen Mladic would be arrested.

For Serbia-Montenegro, this is the last chance to keep its European hopes alive, the BBC Oana Lungescu in Brussels says.

'No other option'

Mr Rehn's remarks came in Brussels, following his talks with Serbia-Montenegro's Foreign Minister, Vuk Draskovic.

Mr Rehn told a joint news conference that he appreciated Belgrade's recent actions to arrest five alleged aides to General Mladic.

But he added that the EU had "no other option than to call off the next round of negotiations" if Gen Mladic was not arrested within days.

The talks are planned for 11 May, and Mr Rehn said he would meet Mrs del Ponte next Wednesday.

But barring last-minute surprises, her report is bound to be negative, our correspondent says.

Now, the EU has to stick to its word or lose credibility, she adds. BBC

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Montenegro Is Split on Cutting Ties to Serbia

Published: April 23, 2006
HERCEG-NOVI, Montenegro — In May, Montenegrins will vote in a referendum to decide a question that has hung over them since four other former Yugoslav states — Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Macedonia — declared independence in the early 1990's: whether to retain ties with Serbia or go their own way.
Filip Horvat for The New York Times

In Podgorica, Montenegro, a billboard promotes the independence option in the May 21 referendum on dissolving the loose federation with Serbia.

The New York Times

In Herceg-Novi, cutting ties to larger Serbia is a delicate issue.

Like much of Montenegro, this seaside resort on the Adriatic, a favorite of vacationers from Serbia, appears split down the middle.

"We all have friends or relatives on one side or the other," said Miroslav Milosev, 32, a waiter who came here five years ago to find a job.

He favors independence. "We are struggling together, and it's inevitable that we will go our own way eventually," he said. "Everyone else has."

But his wife, Ksenja, wants to keep ties with Serbia, where the economy and population of 9.7 million dwarf tiny Montenegro, which has slightly more than 600,000 people.

"I think it's silly to make new borders now," said Mrs. Milosev, whose parents are from Montenegro but live in Serbia. Not only does the town benefit from Serbian tourism, she said, but residents go to Serbia to attend a university or for medical care. "Education and health care is much better there," she said.

In reality, Serbia and Montenegro are quite separate already. Each has its own customs service, currency and government. They share little beyond the military forces and a foreign service.

But the debate over official independence is tense. And in this town, pollsters say, they have had to stop asking their questions on doorsteps.

"We give them the questions to fill out by hand," said Rasenko Cadenovic, of the Damar polling agency, based in Podgorica, the capital. "It's the only way to avoid a family row."

Montenegro, which shares a religion and a language with Serbia, supported the Serbian republic in the wars of 1991 to 1995. The two republics are all that remain of the former Yugoslavia. In 2003 they adopted the name Serbia and Montenegro, formally putting an end to the federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

But a small independence movement took root, and in 1998, when Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic embraced it when he was distancing his republic from Slobodan Milosevic.

Since then, the government has repeatedly noted that Montenegro was independent from 1878 to 1918, and became part of Yugoslavia only after World War I. Mr. Djukanovic describes the referendum as a chance to restore that independence.

But while his government argues that independence is needed to complete political and economic changes, Mr. Djukanovic's critics say it is a move initiated by him, the region's longest-serving leader, to entrench his control over Montenegro. And some, who want independence, resent his use of the issue.

Nebojsa Medojevic, a leading critic, predicted that nothing would change much for Montenegrins after a vote to break away, considering that Mr. Djukanovic has been in office for 17 years.

"Why would he start to reform things?" said Mr. Medojevic, who is the director of a group called the Center for Democratic Transition, which lobbies for Mr. Djukanovic's removal from office. "Any serious reform would endanger him and his friends. I am for independence, but I am absolutely against this regime."

Mr. Djukanovic's administration has been tainted by repeated accusations of corruption and links to organized crime. The prime minister is also wanted by a court in Bari, Italy, which investigated him on suspicion of links to cigarette trafficking.

For separation to occur 50 percent of those eligible must actually vote, and 55 percent must vote in favor. The terms were agreed on by the government and the European Union, which Montenegro hopes to eventually join.

Mr. Cadenovic says the elderly are more inclined to support the union with Serbia and younger people are more likely to favor independence.

There are geographic divisions too, with areas in the northeast, near Serbia, generally in favor of the federation, and areas on the coast wanting to break away. The pro-independence bloc is thought to have a majority, but perhaps not the 55 percent Mr. Djukanovic needs.

"With a 100 percent turnout, we estimate he has a 6 to 8 percent lead," Mr. Cadenovic said.

Should separation be approved, there is little Serbia could do. Montenegro has a constitutional right to independence, and diplomats say that Serbian retaliation could harm Serbia as much as Montenegro, which is Serbia's only route to the sea.

The prospect is tricky for Serbia. Negotiations are under way on Kosovo, the war-torn, Albanian-dominated province where Yugoslav forces withdrew only after NATO bombing in 1999. It has been run by the United Nations since, and it too could become independent.

There is little doubt the referendum will prompt high emotions, but few expect the kinds of conflict that followed declarations of independence in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia.

"It won't be like that here," Mrs. Milosev said. "Everyone's roots here are so mixed."


Saturday, April 22, 2006

President Bush to Honor an Ethnic Abanian Student

Liridon Leti to be given President's Volunteer Service Award on Saturday

Keith Matheny
The Desert Sun
April 21, 2006
Palm Springs High School senior Liridon Leti is a busy young man, between school, his job, his volunteer work with the Boys and Girls Club, the soccer team, and time with his family.

On Saturday afternoon, Leti is squeezing something else into his busy schedule - meeting the president of the United States.

As reported on thedesertsun.com, Leti, 17, will meet President George W. Bush at the Palm Springs International Airport, after Bush arrives aboard Air Force One.

Bush is to present Leti with the President's Volunteer Service Award. Bush has provided the award to 490 young people throughout the nation since March 2002, "to thank them for making a difference in the lives of others," a White House press release stated.

"I was just thinking to myself, 'Wow; the president of the United States, the most powerful man in the world, and I get to meet him,'" Leti said.

Dean Moore, chief professional officer of the Boys and Girls Club of Palm Springs, said White House representatives contacted the club earlier this month seeking worthy candidates for the presidential award.

"They were looking for some kids in the community, young adults who have made a big difference," Moore said.

Leti was an obvious choice, Moore said. Through the Boys and Girls Club's Keystone Club he has completed more than 500 hours of volunteer service. He was named the local club's Boy of the Year for 2006.

Leti has mentored younger children and volunteered to mow lawns and do landscaping for area seniors in need, Moore said. He has volunteered to clean up and place American flags at the graves of veterans for Veterans Day and Memorial Day as well, Moore said.

"When he wasn't able to vote yet, he went out and helped teens who were old enough to vote get registered and vote in the last presidential election," Moore said.

Liridon's father, Shani Leti, reacted to the news with pride.

"Any parent in the world would want a son like him," he said.

Liridon's award from Bush has special meaning for his father. He and Liridon's mother, Sadrije, are immigrant Albanians from Kosovo. Shani said he came to the U.S. in 1971, a "second-class citizen" who "had no right to exist" in his home country, oppressed by Communists and the Serbians.

Shani called his son's meeting with the president "the American dream come true."

"Everything about this country, I love it," he said, adding that his son's first name means "freedom-lover" in Albanian.

Liridon said he hoped his meeting the president will inspire younger children to get active in the Boys and Girls Club, which he called an "excellent experience."

"It gives you lifelong lessons, and teaches you to work to reach your goals," he said.

Artemije turns down Çeku’s participation in orthodox liturgy

All K. daily newspapers report that Prime Minister Agim Çeku has received
a negative response from the head of the Orthodox Church for Kosovo
Bishop Artemije, when he asked for permission to attend the liturgy of
Orthodox Easter in Gracanica.

In the meantime, the Office of the Prime Minister said that the aim of
Çeku’s visit was to get closer to the minorities in Kosovo, which is in
line with his goal to be a Prime Minister of all Kosovo citizens. “We regret
their refusal. The visit to Gracanica would have been a very good
opportunity to meet and talk. We are aware that there are problems,
we are aware that there are wounds from the past, but these must be
overcome,” said Ulpiana Lama, spokeswoman for the Kosovo Government.

Serbian media report that even though the PM didn’t receive approval from
Raska-Prizren Bishop Artemije to attend Easter Liturgy in the Gracanica
Monastery, Kosovo Premier Agim Ceku wishes a happy Easter to Orthodox
believers, said the Kosovo government spokesperson Ulpijana Ljama. She
told Radio Kontakt Plus that Ceku wanted to meet with all Serb leaders
in Kosovo.

Another Kosovo daily Bota Sot (World Today) had the following headline:
Brutal refusal of Bishop Artemije for PM Çeku and President Sejdiu.
The paper argues that Artemije was a strong Milosevic supporter and he

continues to be commanded from Belgrade.

Dailies report that in the meantime President Fatmir Sejdiu plans to visit the
Decani Monastery for Orthodox Easter.


Thursday, April 20, 2006

Ceku in Gracanica for Easter?


Agim Ceku
Agim Ceku

PRISTINA -- Kosovo Prime Minister Agim Ceku would like to attend Easter services in Gracanica.

Rasko Prizren Bishop Artemije confirmed for B92 that Ceku has asked to attend the service. According to B92’s sources, Ceku sent a letter to Bishop Artemije asking whether he could attend the Easter liturgy in Gracanica and wish all Orthodox Christians a happy Easter.

Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiju wrote and sent a similar request to the monastery in Visoki Decani.

Bishop Artemije is expected to make a decision on Ceku’s request by the end of the day. B92

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Albania steps in from the cold

Tirana may not be the new Prague but a new BA flight has put it on the map for adventurous travellers, writes Paul Mansfield

The Observer


At Le Caffe in Tirana the waiters wore smart red shirts and moved briskly round the coolly minimalist interior. Wall-to-ceiling windows looked out over an ornamental pool, and beyond that the greenery of Parku Rinia - 'Young People's Park' - where families were lazing in the sun. My G&T was ice-cold, served with lime. Not bad for a city generally considered a byword for hopeless backwardness.

When I told people I was taking a short break in Albania, the general reaction was disbelief. Cut off from the world for nearly 50 years under the dictatorship of Enver Hoxha; liberated by a revolution in 1990, only to descend into anarchy and violence - 'depressed', 'dangerous' and 'corrupt' were a few of the descriptions that came up. But a fortnight ago British Airways began a new service to Tirana, and tour operators are taking an interest. Do they know something we don't?

First impressions were not good. The road from the airport was potholed and plagued by lunatic drivers. In the Hoxha years there were only 600 cars in the country, all owned by communist bigwigs; now there are thousands, but they are still a comparative novelty for both drivers and pedestrians. As we crawled through the darkness, cars barged past with their horns blaring and pedestrians wandered aimlessly into the road. Dust and exhaust fumes hung over the city like a cloud. What a bloody mess.

Things picked up a bit at the Hotel Brilant, a small, family run place in a side street near the parliament building with neat, clean rooms and a homely basement restaurant. And next morning I woke to a very different Tirana.

The city was alive with colour. Its charismatic mayor, a former artist called Edi Rama, has painted the town red - and blue, green and orange. With the help of local students, the grim communist era apartment blocks have been decked out in blazing colours, giving them a bizarre, playful effect. 'It was intended as a shock,' said Rama. 'People's surroundings had been so grey for so long.' He also planted thousands of trees and bulldozed the illegal houses and brothels that had lined Tirana's parks. Now the skyline bristles with construction projects. No wonder they re-elected him.

But Tirana remains a case study in deranged urban planning. Half the city was laid out by Mussolini's fascists, who occupied it for four years. They erected some pleasant neo-classical buildings, but ruined the effect by constructing vast boulevards and gaping squares. The other half is the work of Hoxha and his cronies. In Skanderberg Square, Hoxha knocked down the old city bazaar and threw up a clutch of brutal concrete horrors. An elegant, Ottoman city had its heart ripped out.

Yet there are signs of hope and revival everywhere. The government has crime under control, the economy is picking up and the citizens of Tirana are struggling to their feet, dazed but optimistic. You stumble upon brave little parks beneath apartment blocks; discover open-air cafes everywhere. The hideous pyramid of the Hoxha museum has been converted into a culture centre and teenagers amuse themselves by sliding down its sloping walls. Tirana's natives are reclaiming the city.

And nowhere is this happening more gratifyingly than in the Bllok area, once the home of party apparatchiks. The villas of the ruling elite, including Hoxha's, are now restaurants, cafes, shops and clubs. I drank Tirana beer at 70p a pop, watching the parade of leggy girls and spiky-haired guys. Not a McDonald's, Starbucks or souvenir shop in sight. My respect for Albanians was growing all the time. Quick-witted and fast-talking, they are phlegmatic about their pariah status. 'Tirana isn't Albania,' said the barman at Quo Vadis. 'The asylum seekers and the petty criminals that the rest of Europe knows are mostly from the countryside.'

Fair enough, but a fair amount of ducking and diving goes on in Tirana too. Dodgy money-changers line one side of Skanderberg Square; in the Bllok you can buy pirate CDs and DVDs for a quid. Apparently there's even a shop that just sells stolen mobile phones.

Albania is a Muslim country and the iron law of hospitality prevails. I gave up trying to buy drinks for strangers and got used to the hand-on-heart gesture they made when buying one for me. Albanian Islam is broad-based and tolerant, with Tirana's Catholic and Orthodox churches within spitting distance of the city's mosque. 'We're patriotic first and religious second,' said one man.

The 18th-century Et'hem Bey mosque, incidentally, is one of Tirana's few tourist sights. Others include an elegant 19th-century clock tower (showing the wrong time), and a medieval tanner's bridge. The National Historical Museum has some chilling exhibits from the Hoxha era, but Tirana is really about soaking up the atmosphere of a fast-paced city reinventing itself before your eyes. You hang out in cafes, you sip coffee, you talk - and you gorge yourself at knockdown prices. In a restaurant called Emblema I worked my way through half a dozen courses including kackavall fried cheese and a spicy lamb stew. There were two jugs on the table, one of surprisingly good local wine, the other dhalle, the yoghurt drink ubiquitous in the Balkans. Total cost: £6.

On my last day, I called in for lunch at the Living Room. Tirana's coolest bar, it's a 1920s mansion with a rooftop terrace and hip restaurant. But the restaurant was closed and the owners were having a private meal with friends. However, they invited me in, shared their food and refused to take any money. Can you think of a single other city in Europe where that might happen? It may not be the new Prague, but the new Tirana is coming along nicely.

The hot tips that went ice cold

The travel industry is constantly searching for the 'next big thing' but sometimes they don't quite live up to the hype.

Aviemore
'The Ibiza of the Cairngorms' according to newspaper reports from 1998, the Scottish resort never really caught on as a clubbers' destination, possibly due to the abundant concrete-block architecture and lack of sun-kissed beaches.

Bratislava
Hailed as 'the new Prague' shortly before Slovakia's entrance to the EU, it still hasn't made it into the premier league of city-break destinations.

Alpha One Airways
The new airline launched by a 19-year-old last year got acres of press coverage, and a profile in the Sunday Times dubbed him 'Baby Branson'. Despite the good start, the airline only ran for six weeks, and today the phones are dead and the website says 'under construction'.

Water Sommeliers
Introduced into five-star hotels in a mad rush in 2004, to help diners find water with the right 'mouth feel' to accompany their food, they were the height of pretentiousness. Most have now been quietly dropped.

Essentials

Paul Mansfield travelled with Regent Holidays (0117 921 1711; www.regent-holidays.co.uk). Three nights at the Hotel Brilant costs from £345 per person B&B, including flights. British Airways (0870 850 9850; www.ba.com) flies there three times a week from £212 return. You can download the Tirana in your Pocket guide from www.inyourpocket.com; the Bradt Travel Guide to Albania is published in May.

Israel and Albania seek closer ties

By Ashley Perry
European Jewish Press
Israel and Albania are looking to have closer ties with an increase of interest in the economic and political spheres. These prospects were given a massive boost when a high-ranking Israeli official visited Tirana last month.

Israeli firms are interested in investing in a number of sectors, including telecommunications, healthcare, energy and high tech. An Israeli Foreign Ministry delegation, led by the ministry’s deputy director, Ambassador Mark Sofer was happy with bilateral contacts between the two nations.

"Good relations"

"Israel and Albania have had good relations in these 15 years, and we signed in Tirana an economic and political agreement between both countries. With Albanian officials we also discussed the Middle East situation and the Balkans, which remain crucial issues for both countries," Sofer told the Albanian media.

While in Tirana, the delegation met with Albanian Deputy Foreign Minister Edith Harxhi.

Sofer was quick to stress that many Israeli firms already operated in Albania, particularly in the agricultural sector.

"We are looking forward to boosting relations in marketing, health and agriculture," Sofer said. "These fields have been identified as being of interest for both countries," he added, also mentioning projects for the school system to become up to date technologically, as well as improving infrastructure and telecommunications.

During his visit, Sofer stressed the historical links and fondness of many Jews to Albania.

"Albania has no history of anti-Semitism"

"Not only in Israel, but all over the world, Jews admire Albania. Not just for the period of World War II, when Albania saved the Jews, but also because the country is well-known for its respect towards us. I can say that Albania has never had anti-Semitism," he said.

Albania was one of the few countries in Eastern Europe that did not lose any of its Jewish population during World War II to the Nazis, while also offering shelter to other Jews who had escaped into Albania from Serbia, Austria, and Greece.

With the advent of democracy in 1991, almost all of Albania’s Jews immigrated to Israel. This left a very small number of Jews remaining in Albania.

Albania currently has a diplomatic representative mission in Tel Aviv, while Israel has indicated that it plans to open an embassy in Tirana in the near future.

Scant Gains Raise Chance of Imposed Solution in Kosovo

Published: April 16, 2006

PRISTINA, Kosovo, April 9 — Nearly two months after talks began in Vienna in February on this province's future, both sides appear to be maneuvering to change the facts on the ground to help decide whether Kosovo will become an independent state or remain a province within Serbia.


Filip Horvat for The New York Times

Some ethnic Albanians want harmony with Kosovo Serbs. French troops patrol a Serbian part of Mitrovica.

The New York Times

Kosovo's status is seen as the most stubborn of the Balkans' woes.

The issue has been regarded as the most intractable in the Balkans since NATO bombers forced Yugoslav security forces to withdraw from Kosovo in 1999, halting what international war crimes prosecutors say was a brutal campaign to force ethnic Albanians to flee.

Ethnic Albanians make up more than 90 percent of Kosovo's population, estimated at more than two million, and want total independence. Serbs, in and out of Kosovo, want a return to rule from Belgrade. With little progress in the initial phase of talks, the possibility of an eventual solution imposed by the international community — in the Albanians' favor — grows more likely.

The United Nations has been administering Kosovo since the Yugoslav withdrawal, and as a result has been paying the salaries of many local officials. Meanwhile, Serbia has continued to finance many services in Serbian enclaves across the province, including paying those local officials a second salary. In early April, Serbia ordered all Serbian government employees in Kosovo to resign from any responsibilities with the United Nations or lose their Serbian paychecks.

Diplomats say that if Serbia were to find and arrest the leading war crimes suspect and former commander of the Bosnian Serb Army, Ratko Mladic, its negotiating hand might be strengthened.

At the same time, Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leadership is trying to make the case that an independent Kosovo would protect and nurture its minorities. Kosovo's new prime minister, Agim Ceku, took office in March, after his predecessor, Bajram Kosumi, was forced to step down under pressure from international officials who considered his efforts at reconciliation with Kosovo's Serbs ineffectual.

Mr. Ceku made his inaugural address to Kosovo's Albanian-dominated assembly partly in Serbian, to the astonishment of several members of Parliament.

"I want to be seen as the prime minister of all Kosovo's citizens, Serb and Albanian," he said in an interview on April 7. His primary challenge, he said, is to persuade Kosovo's Albanian leaders and government officials to make changes that benefit the Serbs, rather than just pay lip service to foreign demands for multiethnicity.

Mr. Ceku, a former Croatian general, was a wartime commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army, the ethnic Albanian guerrilla group. Serbian government officials refuse to meet with him, but Western officials say he is one of the few ethnic Albanian leaders with the standing to convince local Kosovar authorities that they need to provide services to Serbian communities. He helped calm ethnic tensions at several critical junctures in the last six years, including during widespread rioting in March 2004 when 19 people were killed.

The negotiating teams — a Kosovar panel of ethnic Albanians, and a Serbian group drawn from Belgrade and Kosovo — are to return to the table in Vienna on May 4, when they will debate proposals to give more powers to local authorities. That measure would allow Kosovo Serbs a greater say in running their affairs. The next week discussions should start on the protection of religious and historic sites, in particular the Serbian Orthodox churches and monasteries that dot Kosovo.

But the negotiating teams have shown little room for compromise even on these issues, and diplomats expect that they will have to be dealt with in the final phase of negotiations. And comments from representatives of the United States, Britain, France, Russia, Italy and Germany, who together make up the Contact Group overseeing Kosovo's negotiation process, indicate there is little alternative to granting the majority population its wish for an independent state.

A statement issued by the group after meetings with Serbian leaders in Belgrade on April 6 called on Serbia to be "realistic" in its proposals and to find a solution "acceptable to the people of Kosovo."

The leader of the United Nations mission here, Soren Jessen-Petersen, said he expected Martti Ahtisaari, the Finnish statesman and veteran negotiator, to conclude the initial negotiations by midsummer, enabling talks on sovereignty to begin.

Whatever course is taken on political authority, officials here expect the international community to retain significant governing powers. The European Union is expected to take a major role, while NATO will continue to keep the peace. It has 17,000 troops in Kosovo.

Balkan conflicts and aspirations surface in the Eurovision contest

Eurovision hits a serious note
By Tim Judah
BBC Radio 4's Crossing Continents

Choosing a song for Europe may be a frivolous affair for some countries, but in the Balkans it is a sensitive matter which can have serious consequences.

Flamingosi performs the second best song in Serbia & Montenegro's contest
Serbia-Montenegro withdrew after a row over its contest to find a song
Let's face it. Most of Europe doesn't take it very seriously.

But as Aleksandar Tijanic, the powerful head of Serbian Television, reminded me: "It is difficult to understand if you don't understand the Balkans."

We are talking about the Eurovision Song Contest of course.

The first took place in Switzerland in 1956 and only eight countries took part.

Britain, Austria and Denmark were not represented because they failed to get their applications in on time.

What a difference half a century makes.

This year 37 countries will be jostling for the prize in Athens on 20 May and four of them, Macedonia, Bosnia, Croatia and Slovenia, will be ex-Yugoslav states who take the contest very seriously indeed.

And next year there could be three more of them: Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo.

Balkan odyssey

Serbia-Montenegro
I began my Balkan Eurovision odyssey in Kosovo. The reason that they in particular take the contest so seriously is because they are not going.

Technically, Kosovo is a province of Serbia.

In fact, ever since the end of the war here in 1999, it has been under UN jurisdiction with security provided by Nato-led forces.

Kosovo has a population of some two million people, more than 90% of whom are ethnic Albanians.

They have consistently demanded independence, but this has been fiercely resisted by Serbia, which regards it as the cradle of its civilisation.

Some 100,000 Serbs remain in Kosovo, mostly scattered across the province in enclaves.

Rank treachery?

In theory, Kosovo Albanian bands could compete in Eurovision under the flag of Serbia and Montenegro.

Girl band Flakareshat
Flakareshat would rather compete for an independent Kosovo

In reality, they would never be chosen and besides, no Kosovo Albanian would ever consider doing such a thing, which would be considered rank treachery by fellow Albanians.

So for the last few years, Kosovo Albanian groups such as energetic girl-band Flakareshat have gone to Tirana, the capital of Albania, to compete.

If they had ever won, they would have competed under the flag of Albania.

But no band from Kosovo has been chosen. Yet another reason, say Kosovo Albanians, why it needs independence.

In fact, talks have started on the future of Kosovo and it is quite likely that, despite resistance from Serbia, Kosovo will be independent in time for the Eurovision song contest in 2007.

Political points

Over the mountains to the West is Kosovo's neighbour, Montenegro.

Montenegrin band No Name won for the second time this year

In theory, this tiny republic of some 672,000 people is linked in a loose federation with Serbia.

In last year's Eurovision contest, a boy band called No Name represented the joint state in Kiev.

Much to the irritation of Serbs though, No Name draped themselves in the flag of Montenegro, not Serbia and Montenegro.

The Serbs thought that the band were abusing the contest to score political points.

In the Balkans it was understood that sporting the Montenegrin flag meant supporting independence from Serbia.

There was no political motivation
Milica Belevic, Montenegrin judge
This year the contest to choose a band from Serbia and Montenegro took place in Belgrade on 11 March.

A few hours earlier the former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic had been found dead in his cell at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

When No Name won for the second year, the Serbs in the audience went berserk. They began chucking bottles at No Name and screaming: "Thieves! Thieves!"

"There was no political motivation," said Milica Belevic, one of the Montenegrin judges.

It is a claim that is widely disbelieved in Serbia.

Independence vote

As far as the Serbs were concerned the Montenegrins were desperate to get their boys back on stage in Athens strutting their stuff and flying the flag for Montenegro.

A poster in Podgorica advertising the referendum on 21 May
Montenegro is gearing up for a referendum on 21 May
Why the desperation? Less than 12 hours after the Eurovision contest, the polls open in Montenegro for a very different form of competition.

On 21 May, Montenegrins are set to vote in a referendum on independence from Serbia.

The Belgrade battle of Eurovision means that this year Serbia and Montenegro has had to withdraw from the contest.

Next year, depending on what happens in the referendum, they might be competing as separate states.

"Yugoslavia was divided with guns," laughed Sabrija Vulic of Montenegrin Television, "and Serbia and Montenegro will be divided by songs!"

In neighbouring Bosnia they will not actually say they are happy that Serbia and Montenegro have been forced to drop out of the contest but they are not exactly shedding tears about it either.

It means that the pool of potential votes for Bosnia has risen by several million.

Shrewd choice

Bosnia has chosen Hari - and his band Hari Mata Hari - to sing for them in Athens this year.

Hari Mata Hari, the Bosnian choice
It's very important for morale, that at last we win here!
Hari Mata Hari, Bosnian entry

It is shrewd choice. Hari was well known before Yugoslavia descended into war in the 1990s and he is still popular across the region.

The Eurovision Song Contest website calls Hari "the nightingale of Sarajevo". He told me he was "the nightingale of the galaxy".

But behind the humour, there is a steely determination to win.

Hari says that ever since the end of the war in Bosnia more than 10 years ago, Bosnians have felt as though they were "losing".

So, he says, "it's very important for morale, that at last we win here!"

And Hari is leaving nothing to chance.

He has already started a gruelling promotional tour across the former Yugoslavia and in parts of the rest of Europe with a significant diaspora from the former Yugoslavia.

Bosnia and Serbia may be slugging it out these days at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, where Bosnia is pursuing its claim that Serbia tried to commit genocide in Bosnia, but none of that is going to stop former Yugoslavs voting for one another in Athens on 20 May.

"The state still exists, it seems," says head of Serbian TV Aleksandar Tijanic, referring to the Yugoslav ghost.

"You can't erase 70 years of a joint state despite all the wars."

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Swollen Danube threatens Balkans


A Romanian soldier prepares flood defences
Romanian soldiers have been reinforcing flood defences
The River Danube has risen to its highest level since 1895 in Romania, as flooding across the Balkans continues to worsen. (BBC)

Tributaries swollen by snowmelt have increased the volume of the Danube to more than twice its normal April level.

The Romanian authorities have begun flooding farmland to ease the pressure.

Serbia has declared a state of emergency in several areas, evacuating hundreds of people as the waters reached the roofs of their houses.

The emergency follows devastating floods in the Balkans last year, which left dozens of people dead and farmland and infrastructure damaged or destroyed.

"We must not relive the nightmare of last year," Romanian Interior Minister Vasile Blaga said.

"We must act quickly to prevent the loss of human lives."

Map

The Romanian authorities have begun the controlled flooding of up to 90,000 hectares (350 sq miles) of farmland to try to reduce the flow and the danger to communities downstream.

As civil defence workers scrambled to reinforce vulnerable areas with sandbags, they were helped by the collapse of a dam in south-western Romania which flooded farmland and let some of the pressure off.

"The water flow has fallen by 200 cubic metres per second. This is a success," Beatrice Popescu, of the environment ministry, told Reuters news agency.

Mobilisation

However the Danube has been shifting nearly 16,000 cubic metres a second - coming close to a record set 111 years ago.

What is left now is for us to trust in God that all will end well
Ivana Dulic Markovice
Serbian Agriculture Minister

In Bulgaria floodwaters reached record levels in the port city of Lom. The prime minister said evacuation plans were ready, "but I hope it will not happen".

Near Vidin, a tent city with space for 1,200 is being erected in case people needed to flee their homes.

In Serbia the Danube and four other rivers threatened several regions.

One of the worst affected areas is the town of Smederevo, some 40 km (24 miles) east of Belgrade, where the Danube is 40 cm above its highest-ever level and hundreds of homes are under water.

The centre of the eastern town of Golubac is also among those flooded.

The Danube is still rising and is expected to peak in most places on Tuesday.

"We are all mobilised and what is left now is for us to trust in God that all will end well," Serbian Agriculture Minister Ivana Dulic Markovic said.

Archaeologists dig for 'hidden pyramid' under Bosnian hill


Dig for ancient pyramid in Bosnia (BBC World News)

Semir Osmanagic in front of Visocica hill
Semir Osmanagic is leading the project to uncover the 'pyramid'
Archaeologists have begun digging for what they think might be a pyramid hidden beneath a hill in Bosnia.

Known as Visocica, the 650m (2,120ft) triangular mound, overlooking Visoko, has long been shrouded in local legend.

The Bosnian archaeologist leading the project says it resembles pyramid sites he has studied in Latin America.

Initial excavations have revealed a narrow entrance to what could be an underground network of tunnels.

On Friday, a team of rescue workers from a local coal mine, followed by archaeologists and geologists examined the tunnel, thought to be 2.4 miles (3.8km) long.

The team found two intersections with other tunnels leading off to the left and right.

Their conclusion was that it had to be man-made.

"This is definitely not a natural formation," said geologist Nadja Nukic.

Satellite photographs and thermal imaging revealed two other, smaller pyramid-shaped hills in the Visoko Valley, which archaeologists believe the tunnels could lead to.

Cashing in

Workers also discovered a paved entrance plateau and large stone blocks that could be part of a pyramid's outer surface.

Semir Osmanagic, the project leader, initially made the suggestion the Visocica hill could be a pyramid.

If he is correct, it would be the first pyramid discovered in Europe.

He has already named the three hills the pyramids of the Sun, Moon and Dragon.

Locals have begun to trade on the excitement, selling pyramid souvenirs to tourists and visitors.

The work will continue for around six months, with the first results expected in the next three weeks.

Two experts from Egypt are also due to join the team in mid-May.

Medieval fortress

According to anthropologists there is evidence of 7,000-year-old human settlements in the valley.

German archaeologists also recently found 24,000 Neolithic artefacts one metre below ground.

Mr Osmanagic says the hill is a classic example of cultures building on the top of other cultures.

The town was Bosnia's capital during the Middle Ages, and a medieval fortress used by Bosnian kings sits atop Visocica.

The fortress was built over an old Roman Empire observation post, which in turn was constructed over the ruins of an ancient settlement.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Danish artists protest pro-Mladic propaganda


BELGRADE -- Two Danish artists have countered pro-Mladic propaganda posters on the streets of Belgrade.

Originally, posters distributed and plastered by the clero-fascist organisation Obraz showing support for Hague fugitive Ratko Mladic appeared on walls and building around Belgrade.

Light blue stickers were stuck on these posters today which read “we know that your nerves are frail” and “we know you are a coward,” which were put on the posters by two Danish artists.

According to the Associated Press, the two artists, Jan Egesborg and Pia Bartelsen, wanted to show disapproval of the trend of painting Mladic as a Serbian hero who protected Serbs during the war in Bosnia.

“Our message is that it is over and that there is no escape for him.” Egesborg said. Beta

Kosovo Albanians win praise on minority rights


PRISTINA, Serbia and Montenegro, April 14 (Reuters) - Kosovo Albanians won rare praise on Friday for reaching out to the province's Serbs, a key demand of the West as it answers an Albanian bid for independence from Serbia in talks in Vienna.

Frank Wisner, the U.S. envoy in the negotiations, welcomed efforts by President Fatmir Sejdiu and Prime Minister Agim Ceku to improve the lives of the remaining 100,000 Serbs, a ghettoised minority.

"Your authorities have undertaken important steps to build a spirit of national confidence, national reconciliation, making it clear that all the citizens of Kosovo have a home here," he told reporters.

Western powers have indicated independence for Kosovo's 2 million people could come this year, provided the 90-percent ethnic Albanian majority offers the Serbs a viable future. Following a period of stagnation and international criticism at the turn of the year, the U.N. mission says Kosovo's new leadership has revived efforts to meet a raft of democratic standards set by the West. The mission has been running Kosovo since the 1998-99 war.

Serbia lost control of its southern province in 1999, when NATO bombs drove out Serb forces accused of killing and expelling ethnic Albanian civilians in a two-year war with separatist guerrillas, the culmination of a decade of Serb repression.

Around half the Serb population fled a wave of revenge attacks. Those who stayed lead a grim existence on the margins of society and were targetted by sporadic, sometimes explosive, violence.

After seven years of U.N.-imposed limbo, and growing Albanian frustration, Western powers say they want a decision on Kosovo's "final status" within the year.

Former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, who heads the U.N. team mediating the Kosovo talks in Vienna, said he wants to wrap up discussion of technical issues such as minority rights and church protection by July. He will then report to the U.N. Security Council before addressing the crunch issue of status.

Serbs and Kosovo Albaninas will meet again in Vienna on May 4 to continue talks on how to strengthen local self-government in Serb areas.

Serbia insists independence for its southern province -- the so-called cradle of Serbdom stretching back 1,000 years -- is unthinkable

Haradinaj: KPC to become army

Kosovo Protection Corps to become army

Ramush Haradinaj, the only ICTY indictee permitted by that court to
continue his active public engagement in politics before the opening
of his trial in The Hague, has said that KPC is well on its way to
becoming the army of Kosovo.

Haradinaj visited KPC Command and talked with the former KLA
commander Sulejman Selimi (Aka Sultan) and his officers in
headquarters in Pristina.

Addressing the officers, Haradinaj said that KPC, on the basis of
what it had shown so far, “was on the good road of becoming a new
army and fulfilling the dream of Kosovo citizens.” RTS

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Minority rights resolution adopted by the Kosovo Government

PRISTINA -- The Kosovo Government has adopted a minority rights resolution.

With the resolution, it also called on Kosovo Serbs to participate in regional institutions. Government spokesperson Uljpijana Ljama said that the adoption of this resolution is yet another manner of confirming the will of the government for guaranteeing the rights of all minorities and their collective integration into the society.

Ljama said that the resolution has six points; one of them calls on the minority communities to integrate and become a part of the united process of turning Kosovo into a democratic state.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said that this is the right time for both sides in Kosovo to reach a serious compromise and find a united solution for the future status of Kosovo. Barroso stated, after a meeting with the UN’s Special Envoy for the Kosovo status talks Martti Ahtisaari, that the European Union supports his work thus far and the efforts which he is putting into finding a solution for this very important international question. Barroso reminded that Kosovo and Serbia, as well as all other countries in this region, have a bright European perspective.

“Our stance is that we must work towards democracy, stability and a multi-ethnic Kosovo and that the status must be decided by way of discussions. We will not decide on a solution beforehand and we will do everything we can to make sure that we reach the goal of a democratic and multi-ethnic Kosovo that will have the same European perspective which has already been offered to Serbia.” Barroso said. B92

Meeting between Kostunica -Çeku and between Sejdiu-Tadic being prepared

Koha Ditore reports in the leading story that UN Status Envoy Martti Ahtisaari,
before his report to the UN Security Council in July, has planed to meet
face-toface the Prime Ministers and Presidents of Kosovo and Serbia. Unnamed
sources close to Ahtisaari told the paper that the meeting could happen in the second half of June or several days before the report at the UN Security Council.

“President Ahtisaari has planned to prepare a report on the course of
negotiations and to present it to the UN Security Council in early July.
However, in the meantime, there have also been plans to have a handshake at the highest level, be it the Prime Ministers or the Presidents of Belgrade and
Pristina,” unnamed diplomats told Koha Ditore.

According to Ahtisaari’s office, the first high-level meeting is more likely to
happen between Kosovo PM Agim Çeku and his Serbian counterpart Vojislav
Kostunica. “Prime Minister Çeku is cooperative, but if the Serbian Prime
Minister doesn’t express the same willingness, then we will have to organise
the meeting at the level of presidents, and in doing so we expect cooperation
and understanding from both parties,” added the diplomats from Vienna.

Ahtisaari: Status negotiations after June

K. Dailies cover the meeting of the UN Status Envoy Martti Ahtisaari with
senior EU officials.
“After June we will pass on to the most difficult but also the most important
issue,which is the definition of political status that Kosovo will have,”dailies quote Ahtisaari as saying after meeting in Brussels with EU Enlargement Commissioner, Olli Rehn and the European Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso.

Zëri writes that Ahtisaari has also praised the Government of Agim Çeku
saying it is busy working on implementation of the Standards for Kosovo. While Barroso said that the ‘status of Kosovo is the most important issue in the world to be solved’, says the paper.

Koha Ditore reports that status negotiations will start in July – only following
the implementation of the Standards. “If we make pressure on Pristina about the
position of the minorities, then we will also need efforts and cooperation by the
minorities themselves as it takes two to tango,”

Express quotes Ahtisaari as saying that is impossible to have negotiations on
status in a parallel way with negotiations on concrete issues, and insists that
progress has been achieved in the talks so far.

Epoka e Re quotes Barroso as saying that time has come for serious
compromises. RTK reports that Ahtisaari refuses statements that the negotiation process is in crisis and says that it is not fair saying that nothing has been reached so far, while he considers right those who say that more should have been done in bringing parties closer.

The TV broadcaster also aired the appeal of Olli Rehn to Kosovo Albanians that
before the Status they should seriously start implementation of standards that
are related to minority protection and decentralization measures. Mr. Rehn
also urged Serbian authorities to be constructive during the negotiations process.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

25 minority members join the KPC

KPC hosted a ceremony yesterday when new members were admitted to
the organization, Kosovo papers report. KPC now numbers 207 members
from minorities most of whom are Serbs, papers report. 12 Serbs,
6 Bosniacs,4 Croats, 1 Egyptian, 1 Turk and 1 Ashkali joined the
KPC this time.

“This is another example that the KPC belongs to all the citizens of
Kosovo regardless of their ethnicity and is ready to take on
responsibilities in various fields during the current mission but also
in the future one,” said KPC Commander Sylejman Selimi on the occasion.
The ceremony was also covered by the Kosovo wide broadcasters and RTK.

Jessen-Petersen attacks Belgrade over boycott

Jessen-Petersen to Belgrade : bring an end to the policy of boycott

On the opening of the two-day meeting on the Strategy and Action Plan for the
Return of Communities, both UNMIK Chief and Kosovo PM Agim Çeku called
on the associations of the displaced to come up with concrete
recommendations on the issue, dailies report.

According to Koha Ditore, Jessen-Petersen used the opportunity to call on
Belgrade for altering its approach and allow the involvement of K-Serbs in the
Kosovo institutions. “We are here today to lay the foundations for the return.
The Belgrade policy operates in different directions. I appeal on Belgrade
to act in the interest of the people of Kosovo” said Jessen-Petersen.

The paper also report that the SRSG also reiterated the importance
of addressing the main concerns of the minority communities as personal
safety, access to commercial and agricultural property, health care, water
and electricity.

Serb news agency Tanjug reports that UNMIK Head Søren Jessen-Petersen was concerned over the continuing requests by Belgrade to Kosovo Serbs to boycott provincial institutions. “We are here to lay the foundations for the return. Belgrade’s policy is directed in the opposite direction.
I appeal to Belgrade to work in the interest of the people of Kosovo,” said Jessen-Petersen at the opening of the workshop in Pristina on the
new Strategy and Action Plan for Communities and Return.



Kosova Sot headlined Jessen-Petersen attacks Belgrade

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Sesame Street 'to help in Kosovo'


Sesame Street
The episodes will feature some of Sesame Street's famous faces
US children's TV show Sesame Street is to be used to promote ethnic diversity in Kosovo.

Famous characters Elmo, Cookie Monster, and Big Bird will feature in 26 episodes along with footage taped in the province.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said the episodes will feature stories about children from various ethnic groups.

They will be broadcast in both Serbian and Albanian languages.

Educational needs

The series first appeared in its original form on TV screens in the UN-administered province of Serbia and Montenegro in November 2004.

It was a big success among young children, but it was also praised for promoting respect and understanding among the various ethnic groups living in Kosovo.

The special episodes will address the "educational needs of children and encourage respect and understanding," the OSCE said in a statement.

"These segments will feature children from various ethnic groups, providing a window into Kosovo's rich diversity," it added.

Besides the OSCE, the project in Kosovo has been supported by the United States Agency for International Development and the Swedish International Development Agency.

Sesame Street was first broadcast in the US in 1969. BBC

Monday, April 10, 2006

Sen. Voinovich: Belgrade must prepare for Kosovo’s independence

Zëri quotes US Senator George Voinovich as saying that there is
consensus in the Contact Group that the final status of Kosovo will
be independence. “I must say that the most certain epilogue is
Kosovo’s independence and I think that Belgrade must prepare for
this possibility. However, Kosovo will not gain independence until it
doesn’t meet certain requirements of the international community,” said
Voinovich, who, according to the paper, is of Serbian origin.

Voinovich also considers that an independent Kosovo, if it is multiethnic
and a free society, would not destabilise the region. “What would destabilise
the region is the continuation of the current situation,” he added.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Spear us the propaganda please


This is Interesting. I recently came across an article titled "Ceku must face justice" written by a certain SCOTT TAYLOR in The Chronicle Herald of
Canada. The tile of the article grabbed my attention, so I decided to read it. I have never seen such a meet-less article written in a reputable newspaper (although I don't know how reputable this particular newspaper is). It was full of propaganda, myths and plagiarism.

The author regurgitates all the known facts about the subject (probably copied from Wire networks) and then mixes it with the propaganda, some myths and his "wise” opinions. It's the worst cocktail possible, and came out as very amateurish. So I decided to write him back. Here is what came out of this “heated” conversation. Pay very close attention to one of his responses when he makes an attempt to compare Saddam Hussein (Yes Saddam Hussein) with Agim Ceku. In addition to that, he makes a claim that
the Hague has already issued a sealed warrant against Ceku , but the problem is that THe Hague has already said that it does not have any pending indictments. He can be reached at staylor@herald.ca.



Original Article:

Ceku must face justice

By SCOTT TAYLOR / On Target

LAST WEEK, I just happened to be in Belgrade attending a conference on the future status of Kosovo when the funeral for former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic was held.

True to form, the western media's coverage of these events presented accused war criminal Milosevic as evil incarnate and the Serbian people, by extension, as something bordering on the subhuman.

Almost entirely lost in the frenzy to heap responsibility for a decade's worth of death and destruction into Slobo's coffin was the announcement that the Albanians in Kosovo have just selected a new prime minister.

To have examined this development in the slightest would have served to spread around some of the blame and to illustrate that the Serbs certainly did not have a monopoly on war crimes during those bloody civil wars. In fact, if one only casually glances at the resume of the incoming prime minister, Agim Ceku, it becomes apparent that his election flies in the face of international justice, foreshadows more violence in Kosovo and ignores the sacrifices and valour of our Canadian Forces.

In summary, Ceku, an Albanian Kosovar by birth, began his military career as an officer in the former federal Yugoslavian army. When the initial Yugoslav breakup occurred in 1991, Ceku was quick to switch his loyalty to the Croatian cause. As a colonel in the Croatian army, Ceku commanded the notorious 1993 operation in what is known as the Medak Pocket.

It was here that the men of the 2nd Battalion of Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry came face to face with the savagery of which Ceku was capable. Over 200 Serbian inhabitants of the Medak Pocket were slaughtered in a grotesque manner (the bodies of female rape victims were found after being burned alive). Our traumatized troops who buried the grisly remains were encouraged to collect evidence and were assured that the perpetrators would be brought to justice.

Nevertheless in 1995, Ceku, by then trained by U.S. instructors as a general of artillery, was still at large. In fact, he was the officer responsible for shelling the Serbian refugee columns and for targeting the UN-declared "safe" city of Knin during the Croatian offensive known as Operation Storm. Some 500 innocent civilians perished in those merciless barrages, and senior Canadian officers who witnessed the slaughter demanded that Ceku be indicted. Once again, their pleas fell of deaf ears.

Just a few months after the Storm atrocities, Canada's own Louise Arbour began making a name for herself as the chief prosecutor for the war crimes tribunal in The Hague. Despite the Canadian connection to these alleged crimes, Arbour and her lawyers chose instead to pursue more "politically prominent" individuals such as Milosevic, and other senior Serbs, while nothing was done to bring Ceku to justice.

Fast-forward to January 1999, and the world's attention begins to focus on a war-ravaged Kosovo. With the blessing of the U.S. State Department and NATO, Ceku takes his retirement (at age 37) from the Croatian army and is pronounced supreme commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army.

Throughout the air campaign against Yugoslavia, Ceku was portrayed as a loyal ally and he was frequently present at NATO briefings with top generals such as Wesley Clark and Michael Jackson.

Under the terms of the June 1999 Kosovo peace deal, Ceku's Albanian guerrillas were to be disarmed and reconstituted into a UN-sponsored (non-military) disaster relief organization known as the Kosovo Protection Corps. But despite the fact that they now collected UN paycheques, Ceku's men never gave up their guns — nor their quest for a Greater Albania

From the armed Albanian incursions into southern Serbia in 2000 — and Macedonia in 2001 — right up until the violent pogrom unleashed against Kosovo Serbs in March 2004, Ceku's brand of violence, hatred and ethnic cleansing has remained unchanged.

Now he is being hailed as a political leader, and the world is once again turning a blind eye to his crimes.

Hopefully, Canada at least will respect the eyewitness testimony of our own peacekeepers and finally insist that Ceku face the same justice that was demanded of Slobodan Milosevic.

Presenting the soldiers of the 2nd Battalion of Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry with a belated Governor General's unit citation for the Medak Pocket battle will remain a hollow gesture until Ceku is held responsible for his atrocities.

My email:

Mr. Taylor,
Just came across this article by chance in a Serbian website.
I got to tell you sir you are definitely off target and frankly have a very scant knowledge of the Balkans( Most of the info is being regurgitated ). You comparing Ceku with Milosevic? Oh boy, that tells us about your objectivity.

Also, sir if one reads this article you get an impression that only Serbs were killed during all those wars, which is of course utter none sens. I mean you didn't find a line to mention the Bosnian and Kosovo victims, but you found plenty of room for the Serb victims in Croatia. This is a blatant journalistic violation - as one sided as it gets. Oh, and those Generals you speak of? They have been interviewed by the Hague ( in case you didn't know), and nothing came out of it. Why do you think Hague would indict Haradinaj and not Ceku? Maybe they don't have any evidence? Did that cross your mind? Or perhaps you are a judge and a prosecutor yourself?

If you have something new to offer, go ahead, but regurgitating old news and claiming Ceku should be sent to jail is a little to much. I guarantee you will not achieve anything with fabrication-other than convincing yourself to believe them.

His email back to me:

You really should be a little more objective yourself. Ceku is guilty of some hideous crimes, and I don't think that even you Kosovar Albanians really want to build a new state around a man capable of such things. Furthermore, The Hague Tribunal has a sealed indictment for Ceku, and you can bet they will use that as a threat to keep him in line whenever he strays from their desires.

Remember, in the 1980's Saddam Hussein was portrayed as a good guy. ST

My response back to him:

Too bad, Hague has already said that there are no more pending indictments (sealed or otherwise) or investigations (or you don't know this?). Sorry to disappoint you.

What does this have to do with Saddam Hussein??? I am baffled here......Are you implying Ceku is like Saddam? No bad blood, but you argument is amateurish and emotional for a serious writer! You article will make you look foolish in any professional circle that knows a thing or two about Balkans. I guess you could use this feedback to improve your fact-checking in your future writings.

www.BalkanUpdate.com

His email back to me:

I don't see you offering up any "facts" at all......And it seems that you simply don't want to believe that Ceku should face justice for his inhuman acts. Well if that is the sort of Kosova you wish to build around such a war criminal....Then you are welcome to it. Just don't ask the world community to come in and bail you out again.

Cheers,

ST

My response back to him:

It's funny that you bring up world community, because you are definitely on the extreme fringe of this community. The main leaders of this community are hanging out with Mr. Ceku everyday. I have not seen your hero's (e.i Mladic,Karadzic) hanging out in Brussels lately. Oh wait, they can't get out of the rat holes they have been living in for the last 10 years. I have not seen anyone from Kosovo hiding in a rat hole afraid to face justice. They are all ready to face justice if that is called upon them ( Limaj, Haradinaj).

Your idea of Ceku having committed crimes against civilians is absurd. There is absolutely not a single shred of evidence that links him to any killings of Serb civilians (The indictment issued by Serbia against him is laughable, considering that they had issued same indictments against Solana,Blair and Clinton). Why do you suppose he is not being treated like the proven criminals: Milosevic,Sheshel,Mladic ,Karadzic? Do you think the world is scared of him? Or perhaps the Hague is out to get Serbs.........right?


Also for an amateur that i am, when it comes to writing, I am certainly offering more facts that you are. You are certainly entitled to have your opinion, but please spear us the propaganda and myths. Facts only Sir!