Saturday, July 29, 2006

Serb Reactor Inviting for Terrorists

The Associated Press
Thursday, July 27, 2006; 10:00 AM

VINCA, Serbia -- The Vinca reactor stands still, its decrepit innards purged of their unused weapons-grade fuel. But it remains Serbia's little shop of nuclear horrors, and a potential magnet for terrorists.

That makes it representative of the next step in the world's quest to lift the threat of nuclear material falling into the wrong hands _ first by taking control of the fuel that makes atomic bombs, and now by tackling the lesser but still potent menace of a dirty bomb, meaning radiation spread by blowing up radioactive material with conventional explosives.

At the Vinca Institute of Nuclear Sciences outside Belgrade, there are only a few armed guards in sight, and the barbed-wire fence around the 48-acre facility is only as tall as a man.

For would-be terrorists, "it's almost like a candy store," says Mike Durst, the International Atomic Energy Agency's point man working to strip Vinca of its attraction to nuclear thieves.
Alekandar Ristic shows radiation measuring instrument in front of nuclear reactor in Vinca, just outside Belgrade, Monday, June 26, 2006. The Vinca reactor now stands still, its decrepit innards empty of its unused weapons-grade fuel. But Serbia's little shop of nuclear horrors remains a potential magnet for terrorists looking to make a dirty bomb. (AP Photo/Srdjan Ilic)
Alekandar Ristic shows radiation measuring instrument in front of nuclear reactor in Vinca, just outside Belgrade, Monday, June 26, 2006. The Vinca reactor now stands still, its decrepit innards empty of its unused weapons-grade fuel. But Serbia's little shop of nuclear horrors remains a potential magnet for terrorists looking to make a dirty bomb. (AP Photo/Srdjan Ilic) (Srdjan Ilic - AP)

These fears are driving international agendas. Presidents Bush and Vladimir Putin used a summit of the world's richest countries earlier this month to launch the "Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism," which calls for better accounting and protection of the Vincas of the world, scattered around the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa.

The new program is meant to build on others created by the Bush administration, including the 3-year old "Global Threat Reduction Initiative" to deal with a broad range of vulnerable nuclear and radiological materials around the world.

Most of the existing programs focus on unused weapons-grade fuel, nearly 100 pounds of which lay in Vinca until four years ago, when Washington, Moscow and Belgrade mounted a joint operation to remove it.

Helicopters and 1,200 heavily armed troops including snipers were deployed along with decoy trucks to thwart potential mischief-makers. Half of Belgrade was sealed off, and within six hours, the fuel _ enough to make at least two simple nuclear warheads _ was trucked from Vinca to the airport and onward to a Russian government plant about 470 miles east of Moscow.

But that still leaves dozens of other badly secured and dangerous nuclear facilities to deal with.

Inside the Vinca reactor building, 8,000 spent fuel rods sit in pools of brackish water. Dozens contain uranium in varying degrees of enrichment _ potential dirty bomb material, not to mention the environmental hazard.

The bomb-worthy material is not uranium, but its highly radioactive byproducts. These would quickly kill any terrorist who was not equipped with protective suits, robotic arms and tons of lead to encase the stolen material.

Still, research reactors such as Vinca tend to be less heavily protected than power plants, and experts like Durst fear terrorists shown willing to sacrifice their lives in other situations might do so as well to secure the material. And while building a full-blown nuclear device is technologically daunting, terrorists could easily use the material such as that in the rods to construct a dirty bomb.

With just one dirty bomb, "you could hit Broadway, and you couldn't decontaminate it for years," says Obrad Sotic, Vinca's former operations manager.

And there are concerns other than raids on Vinca. While no nuclear material is known to have gone missing employees speak openly of the potential temptations of selling some on the black market as a way supplementing monthly incomes of less than $750.

There's a lot to steal _ old medical and industrial equipment, and tons of material inside the reactor or in two rickety corrugated metal sheds. There are bags of irradiated grass, containers of depleted uranium ammunition fired by NATO during its 1999 Kosovo campaign, and several tons of yellowcake _ processed uranium ore of the kind Iran plans to process and enrich in what the U.S. says is an attempt to make nuclear arms.

The Serbian Science Ministry, which is responsible for Vinca, has a budget of less than $90 million for this year. That wouldn't cover the cost of upgrading security, shipping the spent fuel back to Russia and dismantling the reactor.

A centrally monitored alarm system is being installed and police will be tasked with security under a plan being worked out under IAEA guidance.

Also foreseen is the shipment of the spent fuel to Russia and building safer storage facilities for the collected nuclear junk. The ultimate goal is to dismantle of the reactor and other parts of the facility.

But again, money is a problem.

Sending the spent fuel back to Russia will cost around $10 million, and more money is needed to reprocess the fuel in Russia. Building better storage will cost an additional $5 million. About 60 percent of that amount has been pledged by donor countries, but dismantling the facility will cost some $60 million.

For Serbia's science minister, Aleksandar Popovic, the 2002 operation to remove the weapons-grade fuel has left the job only half done.

He told The Associated Press he was "very unhappy" that help has not materialized for the other half.

"Once the spent fuel is gone, I'll be one happy guy," he said.

Friday, July 28, 2006

An Army for Kosovo?

Source: Crisis Group

Pristina/Belgrade/Brussels, 28 July 2006: Independent Kosovo should be permitted its own army, despite Serb reservations, but it should be small, concentrated on performing international peacekeeping and developed and managed under NATO supervision.

An Army for Kosovo?,* the latest International Crisis Group report, explains the security and political reasons why the sovereign Kosovo expected to result from final status negotiations by early 2007 should be allowed such a force, to channel the old insurgent tradition of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and existing informal armed structures into official channels where they will not endanger either the new state or its neighbours.

Existing security structures must be placed under the control of the new institutions of democratic government, and an army – built in part upon the Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC), presently a civil emergency force but which incorporates much of the KLA legacy and is seen by Kosovo Albanians as an army-in-waiting – is an essential component. Paramilitary forces and those with links to organised crime must be closed down.

“If well managed, an army can help a new state develop a stable, multi-ethnic – or at least ethnically neutral – identity”, says Alex Anderson, Crisis Group’s Kosovo Project Director. “Every effort must be made to show Kosovo Serbs the new force is no threat to them and, over time to persuade them to join it in proportion to their numbers in society”.

Since NATO evicted Belgrade from the province in 1999, Kosovo has been run as a UN protectorate. When final status decisions are made in the next months, security needs, including the army question, are too sensitive to be excluded. NATO will provide fundamental protection for the new state for many years, but the accords should also specify its role in the army’s governance and a range of limitations on army numbers and capabilities – no more than 3,000 personnel, no tanks, heavy artillery, ground-to-ground missiles or attack aircraft.

The key members of the Contact Group guiding diplomacy, including the U.S., the UN Security Council and the UN’s Special Envoy, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari should introduce a legally or politically binding undertaking into the Kosovo final status determination on development of a small Kosovo defence force. The aim should be to graduate Kosovo into NATO’s Partnership for Peace program, together with Serbia, at which time that undertaking should be superseded by new treaty arrangements.

NATO peacekeepers should develop a closer partnership with the KPC, deepening and standardising the training relationship, and Kosovo’s government should build up its security policy capacity and budget for the creation of a defence ministry through 2007-2008.

“If the security pillar is downplayed in Kosovo, the state will be weakened”, says Nicholas Whyte, Director of Crisis Group’s Europe Program. “Kosovo has enough institutional weaknesses militating against its success already. It doesn’t need another”.

To find out more, visit our “Kosovo's Final Status” page, which has links to Crisis Group’s reports and opinion pieces on the conflict, details of our advocacy efforts to date, links to other resources, and information on what you can do to support Crisis Group’s efforts.

Contacts: Andrew Stroehlein (Brussels) +32 (0) 2 541 1635
Kimberly Abbott (Washington) +1 202 785 1601

To contact Crisis Group media please click here
*Read the full Crisis Group report on our website:


The international community is just months away from decisions that are expected to make Kosovo a state, but planning for the security ramifications has not kept pace. It must avoid creating a weak state; the future Kosovo needs adequate institutions to ensure the rule of law and the inviolability of its borders, and to combat transnational organised crime and terrorism. Elements important for building a sustainable state must not be traded away to achieve recognition of Kosovo’s independence. A key component of post-independence security structures should be an army built in part upon the Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC), albeit a small one oriented to international missions like peacekeeping and subject in the first years to strict NATO control and limitations on its size and capabilities.

An independent Kosovo’s security needs are clear. It requires internal stability and safety from external attack but at the same time, it must not be a threat to its neighbours. Existing formal security structures must be placed under the control of the new institutions of democratic government. Existing informal armed structures, both the legacy of the insurgent Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and those linked to organised crime, must be minimised. Ethnic minorities – particularly Kosovo’s Serbs – must be protected, not threatened, by the state’s security structures.

NATO should be prepared to maintain its Kosovo Force peacekeepers (KFOR) in the state for a long period to provide external protection and, to a lesser extent, contribute to internal stability, resisting pressures to reduce and then eliminate it altogether before the new state’s relations with Serbia are fully normalised and both states have become members of the Partnership for Peace (PfP) program.

Some will argue that with KFOR there, a poor and divided place like Kosovo does not need its own military, but full demilitarisation is impracticable. There is insufficient trust to sustain it. It would become a fa├žade, behind which unofficial paramilitary groups would coalesce, making the new state – and its neighbours – less rather than more secure, and less amenable to the rule of law. A small official army, developed under NATO oversight, is the most appropriate tool, both to prompt the gradual demilitarisation of society and to enable Kosovo’s entry into regional collective security arrangements, which are the key to sustainable demilitarisation and security.

If managed well, an army can help develop a stable, multi-ethnic or at least ethnically neutral, identity for the new state. Fashioning a united, representative and professional army for a state deeply divided between the Albanian majority and the rejectionist Serb minority requires a careful choice of building blocks. Unwilling elements cannot be forced to cohere but such an army also cannot be created without regard to existing institutions and the expectations of the majority, who invest hope and authority in the KLA-derived civil protection body, the KPC.

Steering Kosovo’s post-status identity away from exclusively Albanian markers is going to be an uphill task. The international community should be realistic and use the levers available to it in Kosovo society. With its partial evolution from paramilitary roots, dependency on NATO expertise, and willingness to undergo substantial change, the KPC offers it an opportunity to exercise a free hand in moulding the army that it should not refuse.

That army should be a small, lightly-equipped, multi-ethnic force of between 2,000 and 3,000 personnel, trained by a dedicated NATO mission to a transparent plan and schedule, and brought to operational capability by 2011-2012. It should not duplicate any police functions but should instead be constructed with an outward orientation, to take its first operational steps in regional initiatives and international peacekeeping operations, and eventually gain membership in PfP and NATO itself. An opportunity should be found as early as 2007 for the first deployment abroad, drawing upon expertise built up in the KPC, like demining. The army’s internal security tasks should be severely limited, not much beyond the KPC’s present civil protection, engineering and reconstruction mandate.

All this should be framed by accords reached as part of Kosovo’s final status settlement. These should also specify a range of limitations on the army’s numbers and capabilities, and NATO’s role in its governance. Not necessarily negotiated with Pristina and Belgrade, this could even take the form of a conclusion of NATO’s North Atlantic Council, or of the six-nation Contact Group guiding the status process. It is better, however, to use the leverage the international community possesses during the final status settlement to create clarity on this sensitive issue, than to leave it hanging, to be dealt with afterwards. The aim should be to graduate Kosovo into the PfP, together with Serbia, when the accords should be superseded by new treaty arrangements. PfP mechanisms can be used to prepare the army to take over security roles from KFOR, eventually allowing for KFOR’s complete withdrawal.

NATO and the EU should maintain pressure on Pristina to be creative in bringing Kosovo Serbs on board, in the security sphere and army in particular. Serb tradition should be represented in the army, complementing the Albanians’ KLA and KPC tradition. NATO and the EU should also work together to create a supportive environment for Pristina’s initiatives. Serbia’s pace of accession to the EU and NATO should be partially dependent upon how it treats its southern neighbour, in particular whether it encourages or discourages Kosovo Serbs from integrating into the new state’s structures.


Setting the stage:

1. The Contact Group, UN Security Council and the United Nations Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the future status process for Kosovo (UNOSEK) should frame Kosovo’s final status determination in a way that permits development of an army.

2. The Contact Group and NATO should introduce an annex or other form of legally or politically binding understanding into the Kosovo final status determination that outlines the steps that will be taken to develop a small Kosovo defence force, limited in numbers and capabilities – no more than 3,000 personnel and no tanks, heavy artillery, ground to ground missiles or attack aircraft – until such time as both Kosovo and Serbia join NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) program.

3. NATO should view the KPC as the first source of the new army’s personnel and should not disband it prior to establishing the new structure.

Interim capacity building:

4. KFOR should develop a closer partnership with the KPC, deepening and standardising the training relationship across Kosovo, with all Multinational Task Forces taking cooperation down to unit level.

5. Donors should breathe more life into the KPC’s present mandate: offering more specialised training, more funds for infrastructure and reconstruction projects and more equipment for its civil protection roles.

6. Kosovo’s government should build up its security policy capacity, budget for the creation of a defence ministry through 2007-2008, at least maintain the present €15 million annual KPC budget, and ensure that any future rises in what will be its defence budget are sustainable.

7. The donor community should raise funds for demobilising 1,500 to 2,000 KPC members, coordinating with Kosovo’s government, which should prepare a legal basis for the demobilisation, and with the International Organisation on Migration (IOM), which should rebuild its capacity in Kosovo for resettlement work.

Steps toward army formation, from 2007:

8. Upon the request of Kosovo’s government, and guided by the proposed final status, NATO should establish a dedicated military training mission, attaching it to the KPC coordinator’s office: that office should be renamed and report to the KFOR commander (COMKFOR) after the UN Mission (UNMIK) leaves.

9. Kosovo’s defence ministry should be built through 2007-2008 on the foundation of the KPC coordinator’s office, with an increasing proportion of Kosovo staff; and a national security council should be instituted from 2007, with international officials representing the interests of the Serb minority if it initially boycotts the institution.

10. The KPC general staff, KPC coordinator’s office and the NATO training mission should jointly filter all KPC personnel who want to serve in the new army, in accordance with the following principles:

(a) NATO should have the last word on candidates;

(b) evaluation should be based on tests and candidates’ accumulated professional development and disciplinary records;

(c) KPC members whose candidacies are not accepted and KPC members who do not want to serve will be designated for demobilisation and a resettlement program; and

(d) remaining places in the army should gradually be filled by new recruits.

11. The new army should have uniforms in the style of U.S. or European armies, distinct from KPC uniforms or other uniforms with connotations of recent local history, and insignia and symbols that are ethnically neutral.

12. Willing NATO members should donate equipment to the new army, coordinated through the training mission.

Steps beyond, toward Partnership for Peace:

13. The army’s civil protection and reconstruction arm, incorporating the best KPC expertise, should be brought to operational status immediately, its new infantry element, after appropriately thorough training, around 2011-2012.

14. Small deployments of Kosovo army specialist civil protection elements, such as deminers, should be made within international peacekeeping missions as soon as possible, prior to the army’s full operational preparedness.

15. NATO should set exacting requirements for Kosovo’s PfP eligibility, including representation of Serbs in the army, and, together with the EU, should encourage the Kosovo government to create the political space and concrete initiatives that can help in meeting these requirements.

16. NATO and the EU, working together should make clear to Serbia that its future membership depends importantly on its attitude toward Kosovo, in particular whether it encourages or discourages Kosovo Serbs from integrating into the new state’s structures.

Pristina/Belgrade/Brussels, 28 July 2006

Read full report

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Serbia without Kosovo

Editorial from The Globe and Mail

Serbia is feeling aggrieved, and with good reason. When North Atlantic Treaty Organization jets bombed the country in 1999, Western leaders insisted they were not taking the side of the Kosovo rebels in the ethnic conflict between Kosovo Albanians and Serbs. They were merely trying to halt the ethnic cleansing being carried out by Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic. Seven years later, though, most Western governments argue that Kosovo's independence is a fait accompli. Serbia, they argue, should get on with life and let Kosovo go its own way. They may not have bombed Serbia to back Kosovo separatism, but that has been the result of their intervention.

Serbia's feelings are easy to understand. It has seen its predominance in the former Yugoslavia erased and its own territory whittled away, most recently by the decision of Montenegro to declare independence. Kosovo forms 15 per cent of its remaining territory. To Serb nationalists, it is sacred ground, the birthplace of Serbian nationhood and the site of scores of historic Orthodox monasteries. About 100,000 Serbs still live there, an embattled minority in a population of two million, 90 per cent of which is Albanian. As Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica bluntly puts it, "Kosovo is part of Serbia." He is willing to offer only autonomy. Independence, he insists, would be "illegal and worthless."

But whatever the force of Serbian feeling or strength of its attachment to Kosovo, things have moved on. In the real world, Kosovo is no longer part of Serbia. Serbian troops left in 1999, forced out at the end of the NATO bombing campaign. Something like 10,000 Albanians were killed in the fighting that year and 800,000 forced to flee their homes. The Albanians of Kosovo are close to unanimous in their determination never to live under Belgrade's yoke again. It is impossible to imagine them accepting a return to Serbian control even under the most generous form of autonomy.

So Mr. Kostunica has a choice to make. If he insists on pursuing the impossible dream of retaking Kosovo, his country will remain isolated in Europe. If he agrees to move on, Serbia would be welcomed onto the path of membership in the European Union, as would Kosovo, which has lived in an unworkable limbo since 1999. Granting Kosovo its independence would allow it to emerge from its uncomfortable status as a United Nations protectorate and build a new nation. In return for recognizing that status, Serbia would be within its rights to demand maximum protection for the Serb minority and for Serb cultural sites.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the matter -- and Serbia has the right to feel wronged -- Kosovo is gone. Belgrade has no choice but to accept it.

Kosovo, Croatia set out free trade talks

Kosovo, Croatia set out free trade talks

Pristina, 18:41[MakFax]

Representatives of the Kosovo and Croatia's governments are holding negotiations on signing a free trade agreement in Pristina today.

Bujar Dugoli, Kosovo's trade and industry minister, confirmed the information, adding that his government has already signed such an agreement with Albania [and Macedonia], while negotiations with Bosnia-Herzegovina are under way.

Moldova is the next country on the Kosovo's agenda on establishing full trade liberalization.

The second round of negotiations on supplements and amendments of the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) in which Kosovo takes part, is ongoing in Pristina today as well.

Monday, July 24, 2006

“Elephant round” ends unsuccessfully

The much talked about “elephant round” of negotiation between the Kosovo and Serbian leaders about the status of Kosovo has ended with no agreement between the parties. It appears as if the label “elephant round” was an appropriate one. The leaders didn’t even shake hands. During the lunch time, the Serbian PM refused to use his assigned seat close to the PM of Kosovo because he was “making phone calls to his advisors”.

Here are some quotes from the conference:

“Our argument is that we would like to rule ourselves, and Beograd’s argument is that they like to rule us. We shall see which argument the International community finds more reasonable”. Kosovo President, Fatmir Sejdiu.

“We are offering Kosovo a kind of autonomy unseen before- first time in the history of Serbia” Serbian President, Boris Tadiq.

“Independent, democratic and multiethnic Kosovo is a reality. We are not here to ask Serbia to accept this; we are asking the International community for a formal recognition”. Kosovo Prime Minister, Agim Ceku.

“For Kosovo to become Independent we have to break several International laws, among others the Helsinki Act of 1975”, Serbia Prime Minster Vojislav Ko┼ítunica.

Source: Kosovo Public Television (RTK)

Serbia's Intransigence

Rather than join the Europe of the 21st century, the country's leaders cling to a failed nationalism.

Washington Post Editorial,Monday, July 24, 2006; Page A18

SEVEN YEARS after a U.S.-led NATO military campaign freed the Balkan province of Kosovo from the oppressive rule of Serbia, a firm Western consensus has formed about its future: It should be granted independence before the end of this year, perhaps under an international trusteeship. Both Kosovo and Serbia, along with adjacent republics of the former Yugoslavia, would then be guided toward full membership in the European Union. That way, the ethnic Albanians who make up 90 percent of Kosovo's population would never again be ruled from Belgrade, which conducted a campaign of ethnic cleansing against them in 1999; but Serbs who regard Kosovo as part of their national heritage could expect to be reunited with it under a European umbrella, while consolidating a liberal democracy in their own country.

This forward-looking vision seems to have a powerful appeal in the region. Polls show it is supported by an overwhelming majority of Kosovo Albanians. A survey reported by the Belgrade press last week showed that Serbs would vote for E.U. membership by 59 to 12 percent, while a plurality believe independence is the most realistic solution for Kosovo. Only 21 percent of Serbs say Kosovo is their most pressing concern. The problem, as so often during the past 20 years, is Serbia's political leadership, which remains addicted to the poisonous nationalism that drove the country into a series of disastrous wars during the 1990s.

Deaf to the increasingly blunt messages of Western governments and to his own public opinion, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica continues to stubbornly campaign for continued Serbian sovereignty over Kosovo. "Kosovo is part of Serbia," he declared during a visit to Washington this month, sounding disturbingly like Slobodan Milosevic, who used that slogan to found his nationalist regime in the late 1980s. Mr. Kostunica has been telling Western leaders that he wants his country to join the European Union and NATO, but he has repeatedly failed to meet a critical condition for moving forward, which is the arrest of Serbian war criminal Ratko Mladic, a former general who is a hero to extreme nationalists.

Boris Tadic, the more liberal-minded president, has taken a somewhat softer line, agreeing last week to participate in face-to-face U.N.-sponsored talks with Kosovo's leaders in Vienna today. But Mr. Tadic has resorted to repeating veiled threats that independence for Kosovo could cause demands for border changes elsewhere in Europe -- beginning in neighboring Bosnia, where ethnic Serbs dream of adding territories they control to Serbia. That gambit has been embraced by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has threatened to use the example of Kosovo to legitimize Moscow-backed separatist regimes in Georgia and Moldova.

All of this means that the West's attempt to resolve the legacy of the Balkan wars of the 1990s and position the region inside the liberal Europe of the 21st century is in jeopardy of being defeated by Serbia's 20th-century-style nationalism and Russia's 19th-century game of power politics. If so, the main victims will be not the Albanians of Kosovo -- who in any case will never again be subject to Serbia -- but the Serbs, who could find themselves isolated in Europe and dependent on the patronage of an autocratic and imperialistic Russia. The country remains, at least, a democracy: There remains the hope that, if its leaders cannot adjust, its people will eventually choose better leaders.

Enclave trouble

Jul 20th 2006 | LIPLJAN
From The Economist print edition

Kosovo's Serbs worry about their future in an independent country

WHEN elephants fight, the grass gets crushed. The old proverb is worth recalling before next week's “elephant round” of talks on Kosovo's future. Kosovo is part of Serbia and Vojislav Kostunica, Serbia's prime minister, says it will remain so for ever. Yet it is under the jurisdiction of the UN, which has been holding talks on its future since February. The elephant round would involve Kosovo's premier and president, Mr Kostunica and Serbia's president, Boris Tadic. If all four men turn up, their meeting will be in Vienna on July 24th.

Ethnic Albanians, who make up over 90% of Kosovo's 2m people, are sure that independence is coming. Yet it may not arrive by the end of the year, as they had hoped. Meanwhile, Kosovo's 100,000-odd Serbs are frightened and confused. More than half live in enclaves surrounded by ethnic Albanians; the rest live in a compact area abutting Serbia proper (see map). Although vehemently rejected by Kosovo Albanians, the idea that this bit might be hived off into Serbia is being discreetly floated in diplomatic circles.

Even if that does not happen, the north may get a special status. But that is little comfort for Serbs elsewhere in Kosovo. Clustered around the church in the town of Lipljan are some 800 Serbs, surrounded by 6,500 Albanians. Talks in Vienna have discussed decentralisation or effective autonomy for Serbian areas; but Lipljan has too few Serbs to make a viable Serb-run municipality.

One clue as to what keeps people there is the Serbian health centre, which has 400 staff, all paid by the Serbian government twice what they would get in Serbia proper. Serbia does this to keep Serbs and their families in Kosovo. If Kosovo became independent, say the nurses, they might have to go. Striking a patriotic pose, one says, “We are staying!” Others shout her down, yelling “You'd be the first to leave.” The Serbian church in Kosovo is just as split: one bishop says that, if Kosovo gets independence, Serbs should leave, another says the opposite. Agim Ceku, Kosovo's premier, insists that he will do everything to “accommodate Serbs in Kosovo, but not Belgrade in Kosovo.” But the Serbs do not trust him—or foreign promises that they will be safe.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Dogs of war from Serbia fighting in Iraq

18 July 2006 | 11:57 | Source: B92 BELGRADE -- Serbian mercenaries are fighting in Iraq, not for the money, but for the thrills. The training camp is located near Belgrade.

From Serbia, too
From Serbia, too

The 90’s wars brought the mercenary stories with them. First, about mercenaries and volunteers fighting for the enemy, and then, there was a man nicknamed ‘Captain Dragan’, the first Serbian mercenary, or at least the first talked-about Serbian mercenary. The list went on and on, and one of the last names on it is that of Milorad Ulemek. The Blic daily had a story about the new breed of mercenary.

The man hiding behind the name of ‘Gabrijel’, and whose true identity is known to the paper, says he is doing what he does best, what he has dedicated his life to, and adds there is no other job he would take on. Gabrijel is a special forces operator, originally from Sarajevo, for the past four years working in Iraq for the world’s leading companies providing security. A year ago he and another ex-Serb secret services member decided to open a training camp in Obrenovac, for the personnel bent on continuing their military careers in one of the crisis-stricken regions. Due to his duties in Iraq, he has not been in daily contact with the training camp for the past three months, but says he often meets the trainees in Baghdad and Mossul.

Gabrijel says his motive is always one and the same: the thrill. ‘Sometimes I get sick of the job I do, sometimes I’m forced to work in places I wouldn’t choose to work in and with the people I would rather not be around. I can’t say that the word ‘pleasure’ is what describes it best, but it is closest to what I feel during an operation. Of course, the money is excellent, too. However, I have managed to earn more or less the same amount in my own country’, he says. The earnings range from $ 4 000 per month, for convoy escort, to $ 30 000 per month, for body-guarding officials. Gabrijel says he first arrived in Iraq in 2003, within the scope of the job he did in the Balkans. ‘The plane landed on an improvised runway, it was pitch-dark, and Saddam’s regular army troops were still fighting the Coalition forces. The second time I came to Iraq was in 2004, working for a British company with a Sarajevo field office. We entered Iraq virtually illegally, via the Turkish-Iraqi border. There were comic reliefs during these trips, but also moments when we were on the verge of bloodshed. We were both lucky and clever. We didn’t suffer a single loss in six months, neither from among the personnel we were guarding, nor the field operatives. I would say that even with the thorough preparations and planning to the last detail, credit to dear God that we are alive’, Gabrijel says.

While he worked for a foreign company performing the so-called deep reconnaissance in the Sunni triangle, Gabrijel received an offer to join one of the world’s leading companies. ‘Two days later, I was in Baghdad. The process was relatively simple. I received a business letter via the internet that is used as a basis for getting a one-month temporary visa at the Baghdad airport. The usual route is via Vienna or Frankfurt to Amman, Jordan, and then to Baghdad. Most of the large companies employ tourist agents who meet people in Amman. If you have been in the business for long enough, you always have a few addresses you can contact and let them know you are available and ready and often you get work within a couple of weeks. In our trade we say that the address-book is often more important than the wallet’, he says.

Gabrijel has had a chance to meet many people from the former Yugoslavia in war-time Iraq. Most come from Bosnia, mostly those previously employed by SFOR. There are Serbians, Macedonians, Kosovars. ‘Most are engaged in logistics, with big companies such as KBR and others. Very few work in security. Ex-Yugoslavs are known as good mechanics, although the best money in that area is taken by the Philippinos, Indians, Sri Lankans, etc’, he says.

‘The most important thing of all is not to go if your only motive is the money. You will make the wrong choices, with the highest degree of risk, least well paid, with no insurance, inadequate equipment and support. This has been proven a hundred times, and a few people from our part of the world died as a consequence, including a good friend of mine. People who enlist personnel know about this weakness, but they have no emotions, in their eyes, you’re just a number’, he concludes.

Serbia has no legal regulation determining the rules of that game, so it is quite possible that the mercenary training ground can turn into a terrorist training camp.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Flashback to Kosovo's war

Kosovo hit the international headlines in the late 1990s when forces under Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic attempted to suppress the ethnic Albanian majority's independence campaign.

Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic
Milosevic was the first acting head of state to be indicted on war crimes
Serbs and ethnic Albanians had vied for control in the region throughout the 20th century.

While Serbs latterly only made up about 10% of the population, the historic and emotional importance of the province for them was enormous.

Serbs consider Kosovo the cradle of their culture, religion and national identity.

The 1974 Yugoslav constitution laid down Kosovo's status as an autonomous province of Serbia. Pressure for independence mounted in the 1980s after the death of Yugoslav President Tito.

In the latter part of the decade, when Milosevic was number two in the Serbian Communist Party, he harnessed resentment over Kosovan influence within the Yugoslav federation.

At the same times, Serbs were complaining about persecution by the majority Albanians.

Milosevic, motivated by political opportunism became a champion of Serbian nationalism.

1989: Milosevic begins to remove Kosovo's rights of autonomy
July 1990: Ethnic Albanian legislators in the province declare Kosovo independent from Serbia
1991: Albania recognises Kosovo as independent
Sept 24 1998: Nato issues ultimatum to Milosevic to stop crackdown on Kosovo Albanians or face air strikes
March 1999: Peace talks end in failure
June 1999: Nato suspends air operations
In 1987, he was sent to Kosovo and, spotting an opportunity, seized it.

In an impromptu televised address that made his reputation overnight, Milosevic promised Serbian demonstrators in Kosovo that "no-one dare to beat you again".

Two years later, when he became Yugoslav president, he set about stripping Kosovo of its autonomy. Serbian nationalism was on the march.

Mass protests

A passive resistance movement in the 1990s failed to secure independence or to restore autonomy, although ethnic Albanian leaders declared unilateral independence in 1991.

In the mid-1990s the ethnic Albanian rebel movement, the Kosovo Liberation Army stepped up it attacks on Serb targets.

By the summer of 1998, Albanians were mounting mass protests against Serbian rule and police and army reinforcements were sent into crush the KLA.

Graves in the town of Velika Krusa of ethnic Albanian killed in March 1999
Graves in the town of Velika Krusa (Krusha e Madhe) of ethnic Albanian killed in March 1999
A deal to end the crisis was brokered by the international community in early 1999. The autonomy plan was reluctantly accepted by the ethnic Albanians but rejected by Milosevic.

The continued persecution of Kosovo Albanians led to the start of Nato air strikes against targets in Kosovo and Serbia in March 1999.

Meanwhile, a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Kosovo Albanians was initiated by Serbian forces. Hundreds of thousands of refugees fled to Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro. The international tribunal in The Hague said its investigators had found at least 2,000 bodies.

After 11 weeks of Nato bombing, Milosevic was forced to withdraw his troops and police, some 750,000 Albanian refugees came home and about 100,000 Serbs - roughly half the province's Serb population - fled. The UN was put in charge, pending agreement on whether Kosovo should become independent or revert to Serbian rule.

In May of that year, as the bombing was still going on, Milosevic became the first serving head of state to be indicted for crimes against humanity, by the International Criminal Tribunal.

According to the indictment, Mr Milosevic and a number of his colleagues bore direct responsibility for crimes that are alleged to have included the deportation of almost 750,000 Kosovo Albanians and the murders of about 600 individually identified ethnic Albanians.

The indictment listed six specimen charges of crimes against humanity. It detailed massacres of ethnic Albanians in the towns of Srbica, Djakova and Velika Krusa, where men were separated from women and machine-gunned.

New trial

Later in 1999, investigations by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, including the interview of some 3,000 witnesses or survivors, uncovered a grim catalogue of murder, mutilation and rape.

It found that Serbs had carried out human rights abuses on a massive scale - but had also suffered appalling revenge attacks following the war.

Milosevic's trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity got under way in earnest in early 2002 at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague. By the time of his death in March 2007, the prosecution had completed its case but the defence was continuing.

The court was unable to establish legally what had actually happened in Kosovo

Ethnic Albanians were angry that Milosevic's death robbed them of a verdict.

As a result, the trial of senior Serbian officials on similar charges, that began on 10 July took on a new importance.

Srebrenica victims laid to rest

Bosnian Muslim woman in front of the remains of Srebrenica victims
The UN says the Srebrenica atrocity was genocide
Thousands of Bosnian Muslims have attended a ceremony to mark the 11th anniversary of the massacre in Srebrenica.

The remains of 505 victims were reburied in the presence of chief UN war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte.

She again called for the arrest of the Bosnian Serb wartime leaders, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic.

More than 7,000 Muslim men and boys died when Bosnian Serb troops overran the UN-protected enclave in 1995.

Ms Del Ponte boycotted the 10th anniversary events last year in protest at Serbia's failure to hand over Mladic - the man she holds responsible for the worst atrocity in Europe since World War II.

"I'm here for the ceremony, for the victims, for the survivors and for the criminals Karadzic and Mladic who are still at large," she told reporters.


In a statement from Belgrade, Serbian President Boris Tadic said all war criminals should be punished.

1: Bosnian Serb forces advance on Srebrenica. Thousands of Bosnian Muslims flee
2: More than 20,000 people flee to Potocari, seeking help from Dutch peacekeepers. But Serb forces enter the camp, killing the men and boys
3: Killing sites include a football field in Nova Kasaba
4: Thousands of males are killed trying to reach the Muslim-controlled city of Tuzla

But he voiced dismay at the two-year sentence handed down this month by the UN tribunal to a former Bosnian Muslim commander of Srebrenica, who allowed his men to launch murderous raids on Bosnian Serb villages.

Earlier, hundreds of Bosnian Muslims, among them many survivors, arrived at the Potocari cemetery at the end of a 100km (60-mile) march in honour of the victims.

"We walked down the path known as the 'trail of death' where many Srebrenica men had been killed in the most brutal way in 1995," one of the survivors, Ejub Pilav, told the AFP news agency.

The victims, Muslim men aged 15 to 78, were hastily buried by Bosnian Serb forces in numerous mass graves around Srebrenica.

More than a decade after the massacre, forensic experts are still exhuming and identifying victims' remains.

Last month, one of the largest mass graves was discovered, in the village of Kamenica, some 30km from Srebrenica.

So far, the remains of at least 200 people have been exhumed there and identified as Srebrenica Muslims by personal documents found with the skeletons.

In all, about 2,500 victims of the massacre have been identified.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Serbians set for war crimes tria

Milan Milutinovic at the war crimes tribunal in January 2003
Ex-Serbian President Milan Milutinovic is one of those charged
The trial of six top Serbian officials is to begin at the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.

The men, including ex-President Milan Milutinovic, are charged with alleged war crimes committed by Serb troops during the conflict in Kosovo in 1999.

They deny murdering, persecuting and deporting ethnic Albanians.

The case comes four months after ex-Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic died in his cell during a trial on similar charges.

The BBC's Geraldine Coughlan in The Hague says that because the Milosevic trial was not concluded, this case is central to establishing legally what happened in Kosovo in 1999.

Lengthy proceedings

The six men are accused of forming a joint criminal enterprise with Mr Milosevic.

Milan Milutinovic ex-Serbian President
Nikola Sainovic ex-deputy PM of Yugoslavia
Dragoljub Ojdanic ex-army chief of staff
Nebojsa Pavkovic ex-Kosovo army commander
Vladimir Lazarevic ex-commander, Pristina Corps
Sreten Lukic ex-Kosovo police chief

Mr Milutinovic will be in the dock alongside former Yugoslav deputy prime minister, Nikola Sainovic, ex-army chief of staff Dragoljub Ojdanic and three others.

They are charged with involvement in the murder, sexual assault and forced deportation of Kosovo Albanian civilians, as well as the destruction of their religious sites.

The indictment alleges that the accused aimed, among other things, to change the ethnic balance in Kosovo to ensure continued Serb control over the province.

The proceedings at The Hague may be lengthy.

The prosecution says it needs at last a year to submit its evidence and the defence is likely to take at least as long. BBC