Sunday, December 31, 2006

UNEDITED SADDAM HANGING VIDEO


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

Friday, December 29, 2006

Saddam’s Lawyer to defend Sheshel

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





Bushra Al Khalil: Sheshel’s savior?



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

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

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

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

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

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

Vecernji List

Express

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Kosovo's Back-It Never Really Left

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

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

So it was that Naser Rugova--head of

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 16, 2006

26 Bosnian Serbs arrested in U.S.

Story Highlights

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

story.serbs.afp.jpg

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

From Terry Frieden
CNN

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

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

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

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

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

Thirteen others detained only on administrative immigration violations face deportation.

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Raid on Bosnian Serb war criminals in U.S.

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

BY MATTHEW MCALLESTER
Newsday Staff Correspondent

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

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

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

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

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



Incredulous over arrests

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

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

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

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

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



Living quietly in America

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 11, 2006

Kosovo ‘top priority’ for German EU presidency

By Hugh Williamson in Berlin and Daniel Dombey in London

Financial Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Kosovo's future: Delay, delay

Dec 7th 2006
From The Economist print edition

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

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

EPA Local views of the United Nations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 02, 2006

INVESTIGATION: Ex-Serb Policemen Running Kosovo Passport Scam

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KOSOVO - THE IDEAL MARKET

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WORKING THEIR PITCH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


WELCOME TO MONTENEGRO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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