Saturday, December 05, 2009

Kosovo Case at ICJ: Public hearing transcripts

1. Kosovo's Arguments

2.Serbia's Arguments

3. Arguments by Albania, Germany, Saudi Arabia and Argentina

4.Arguments by Austria, Azerbaijan and Belarus

5.Arguments by Bulgaria, Brazil, Bolivia and Burundi

Bulgaria Summary of main Arguments( as presented by Dr. Zlatko Dimitroff  Director of the International Law Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs).

a)."there can be no doubt that the decision to recognize Kosovo, taken almost two years ago, was the right one. It is quite wrong to argue that the great majority of States opposed the declaration of independence. The fact is, that one third of the United Nations Member States have already recognized Kosovo while many others have not yet taken a position." ( refuting false Serb arguments that most countries are against Kosovo's Independence by the mere fact that the have not taken a position)

b). " With Resolution 1244 the overall sovereignty of the FRY over Kosovo was suspended. Res. 1244 authorized the United Nations to facilitate a political process that will determine Kosovo’s future status “taking full account . . . of the Rambouillet accords” ( Rambouillet accords state that the will of the people of Kosovo should be taken into account when final status is resolved)

c)."It is commonly accepted that declarations of independence are a matter of fact that are neither prohibited nor authorized by international law. A declaration of independence is an expression of will by an entity aimed at the creation of a new State. Whether this result will be achieved depends on a number of conditions and prerequisites,among which are population, territory, effective government over this territory and recognition by other States. The issuance of the Declaration of Independence is governed only by domestic constitutional law."

d)."It is wrong to associate unlawfulness in domestic law with international unlawfulness. It is also wrong to state that the agreement of the parent State is a condition sine qua non for the birth of a new sovereign State. Suffice is to mention the example of the States that emerged from the break-up of the Soviet Union and the former Yugoslav Federation" ( Croatia and Bosnia succeeded without asking Serbia).

e). "Territorial integrity applies only to inter-State relations and it is not related to events within States." ( This is Serbia's main argument, but international law does not regulate infernal affairs of states -only cross country relations).

f). "Resolution 1244 did not preclude any of the possible outcomes for the future status of Kosovo."

g). "The territorial integrity of Yugoslavia is mentioned in resolution 1244 in connection with the interim period."


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Kosovo votes in first election since Independence ( updated with results)

Today Kosovo is holding its first local election since it declared Independence. "Democracy in Action, an association of civic organization monitoring the election, reports the process is going smoothly so far. Gazeta Express is reporting that it has seen a considerable participation from Serbs in the voting station it visited, including the one in Gracanica. If this is true, it will be e severe blow to Serbia who has advised and threaten Kosovo Serbs not to participate in these elections. Kosovo Serbs have boycotted all previous election in Kosovo, but this time they are very divided with a significant number of their leaders encouraging participation.

Another thing I am looking to see is how these election in Kosovo compare, in terms of organization, to the ones held in Albania earlier in the year. Election in Albanian were deemed to be free and fair by the monitoring organizations, but there significant delays and problems in counting the votes.

11am update:

Various parties are reporting that 30% of the electorate has voted by 2pm local time. Central Election Commission says 15 % by 11:30 am.

Serb majority municipalities until 11:30 am: Klotok 6.1%, Ranilug 3%, Gracanica 8.5%, Sterpce 10.5%. Albanian areas average 16%.

Serbs in the North of Kosovo, 35% of overall Serb population in Kosovo, appear to have boycotted the election. Less than 3% by 11:30am.

 11:30am update:

CEC reports the results up to 15:30: says 33% have voted so far.Serb majority areas: Klotok 14%,Ranilug 9.2%, Gracanica 14.3%,Sterpce 23.5%. Serbs municipalities in the north voted less than 3%.  This is a major split between the minority of Serbs who live in the north of  Kosovo and the rest of them who are scattered throughout the country.

Kosovo Serbs voting -sample of comments in Serbian

3pm update:
 Central Election Commission held another  conference saying the voting process has ended without any significant incidents.  It reports the total number of votes at  709,632  or 45% of eligible electorate.. this is bit more than it was expected and several % higher than in previous election.

Turnout in municipalities with majority Serb population: Klotok 25.5%,Ranilug 14%, Gracanica 24%,Sterpce 31%, Novoberd 26% and Zubin Potok 7% . This is way more than in the previous election when only 3% of Serbs voted.

Final Update:11/19: Election Results per Election Commission ( taken from front page of daily Gazeta Express)

Biggest surprise was the almost 100% increase of votes for AAK, the party of former KLA commander Ramush Haradinaj.  This is the only opposition part that has been acting like the proper opposition by criticizing the government. The other opposition parties, AKR and LDD, lost a large chunk of votes especially LDD ( a splinter group from LKD) which lost almost half of it's electorate. Looks like all the losses from AKR and LDD went to AAK. Perhaps voters wanted to vote for an opposition party that stood up to the government.

Break down my municipality:

Results from the Second Round of Mayoral Election  (12-13-09- Fina Update):

Gjilan - PDK 51.4%, LDK 48.6%

Dragash – PDK 53.3%, LDK 46.7%

Istog – LDK 70.8%, AAK 29.2%

Kaçanik – PDK 57.9%, AAK 42.1%

Klinë – PDK 56.3%, AAK 43.7%

Kamenicë – PDK 45.9%, LDK 54.1%

Mitrovicë – PDK 53.0%, AKR 47%

Lipjan – PDK 50.5%, LDK 49.5%

Obiliq – PDK 48.1%, LDK 51.9%

Rahovec – PDK 50.8%, LDK 49.2%

PejëAAK 76.7%, LDD 23.3%

Prizren – PDK 50.00% or 24,982 votes, LDK 50% or 24,940. ( difference of 42 votes, winner undetermined)

Viti – LDD 44.8%, PDK 55.2%

Suharekë – PDK 47.6%, AAK 52.4%

Vushtrri – AAK 36.5%, PDK 63.5%

Malishevë PDK 61.8%, LDK 38.2%

Junik AAK 56.7%, LDK 43.3%

Hani i Elezit Independent Candidate Refki Suma 53.3%, PDK 46.7%

Shtërpcë – SLS ( Serb) 65% ( , 35%

Podujevë – LDK 66.5%, PDK 33.5%

Novobërdë – LDK 80.9%, SNSD 18.1% 

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Kosovo election divides Serbs

By Mark Lowen
BBC News, Kosovo

View of Strpce
A spirit of co-operation is taking hold in Strpce

Deep in the south of Kosovo, near the Macedonian border, the town of Strpce is an isolated little place.

Surrounded by the snowy peaks of Kosovo's neglected ski resort, communication here is poor. The town's one factory stands empty.

Serbs make up 70% of Strpce's population. And, like most of the 120,000 Serbs in Kosovo, they have largely boycotted all previous elections that were not organised by Belgrade. In their eyes, Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia last year was illegal, favoured only by the territory's Albanian majority.

But this time a handful of posters line the centre of town, advertising candidates for Sunday's local election.

It is the first poll in Kosovo since independence and the authorities are hoping for a moderate Serb turnout. Many in Strpce feel cut off from Belgrade. So Serbs here are increasingly working with local institutions, obliged to stomach reality.

Serbs moving on

Armed with a pile of fliers, Serb mayoral hopeful Bratislav Nikolic works his way down the main street. Ten years after Kosovo's brutal war between Serbs and Albanians, he tells me it is time to move on.

Serb mayoral candidate Bratislav Nikolic
Anti-independence feelings do not stop Mr Nikolic running for office

"We have to live and work together. We have to play soccer together," he says. "We can't escape co-operating with Albanians."

He denies that running in the election means he is accepting Kosovo's independence.

"On a local level, we can't recognise a country," he says. "We're fighting for our lives here."

There is little expectation that Serbs will openly recognise Kosovo anytime soon. But if they are beginning to engage with Kosovan government structures on the ground, that is still a significant change.

Among Strpce's Serb population, opinions are divided over whether to take part in the poll.

"I don't want to give legitimacy to what the Albanian government is doing around here", says Ivan. "That's why I'm not going to vote in unfair elections."

Kosovo map

But Dmitry, a local translator, tells me he supports the elections. "They have to be held. We are the minority in Kosovo, but we can take responsibility for what happens in this municipality if we go out and vote."

In the centre of town, Albanian construction workers are re-roofing a Serb-owned house - the two communities slowly building a new future. Surrounded by his tools, Afrim says life here is returning to normal. "I hope the Serbs do vote," he says, "so we can live together like we used to".

Flashpoint town

But about 100km (60 miles) north, it is a very different story. The town of Mitrovica, near the Serbian border, has frequently been the flashpoint for clashes between Serbs and Albanians in the past. It remains cut in two by the Ibar river.

Serb graffiti in northern Mitrovica
In Mitrovica Serbs have scrawled reminders of their loyalty to Belgrade

In the Albanian-dominated south, election posters hang from the lampposts. But cross the bridge to the Serb north, and they are replaced by Serbian flags. No election is being held here - almost two years after Kosovan independence, Pristina still wields no authority.

Mitrovica's concrete walls are plastered with slogans like "EU go home", "Welcome Russian army". And the Serb national sign - a cross adorned with the Cyrillic letter "S" - is scrawled in graffiti on street corners. It stands for "Samo sloga Srbina spasava": "Only unity saves the Serbs".

Partitioning Kosovo along the Ibar river dividing line has long been discussed. But were it to be implemented, it could destabilise the wider region if other ethnically-split areas demanded the same.

In reality, though, de facto partition already exists and as Serbs elsewhere show signs of co-operating with local institutions, the division between north and south is growing ever wider.

"These are illegitimate elections organised by a quasi-state," says Milan Ivanovic, President of the Serbian National Council for Northern Kosovo. "Some of the Serbs running for office have a criminal past. And those who are going to vote are betraying our national interest."

I put it to him that it is simple for him to maintain that stance: close to the Serbian border, the north has always received the bulk of attention - and money - from Belgrade. But down in enclaves like Strpce, Serbs resent the approach of the hardline north - they do not have the luxury of resisting Kosovan independence so easily.

Mr Ivanovic disagrees. "We have to support our own institutions. Anyway, the Serbs calling for people to take part in the election have very little support."

Afrim, an ethnic Albanian builder in Strpce
Afrim, an ethnic Albanian, wants Serbs to help build a new Kosovo

Test of statehood

It is still unclear just how many Serbs will go out to vote - many feel pressurised by Belgrade to boycott the poll and fear for their government-sponsored jobs if they choose to take part.

The Serbian government maintains the line that conditions are not right for Kosovan Serbs to participate.

The first election entirely organised by the Kosovan government is a big test for Pristina, keen to show it can run a free and fair vote.

If Kosovo is to grow into an all-inclusive nation, a lot rests on whether the Serbs will take part. They hold the key to Kosovo reaching its goal of becoming a truly multi-ethnic democracy.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Demography in the Balkans:A birth dearth

As usual, a very good article from The Economist. Slavic population in Serbia and Macedonia declining at an Alarming rate, but I was also very shocked by dramatic drop of birthrate in Kosovo from 3.6 in 1990 to 2.2 now. Albania will grow by a mere 100K in 2050 and Serbia will shrink by 1.2mil to 6mil. They didn't dare publish any prediction for Albs and Slavs in Macedonia...........

From The Economist

The tricky politics of population in the former Yugoslavia

OUTSIDE a hospital in Belgrade, two parking spots are reserved for parents with babies. A placard shows a stork delivering a baby that is then driven off in a car. What is telling is that there are only two spaces. Serbia’s population is shrinking.

Demography is causing alarm in many Balkan countries. In Bosnia and Kosovo, the issue can be fundamental. In Macedonia, a bid by the government to give financial aid to encourage (low-birth) Macedonians to have more children but to exclude (high-birth) Albanians was struck down by the constitutional court in April.

Goran Penev, a Serbian demographer, says his country has 7.2m people (excluding Kosovo). But Serbia has one of the oldest populations in Europe and a low fertility rate, so the population is shrinking by 30,000 a year. This is not because Serbs are becoming rich and want smaller families. Rather, the war years and ensuing economic hardship have knocked the stuffing out of Slavs across former Yugoslavia, leading to fewer children, lots of emigration and high abortion rates.

Mr Penev fears that, at worst, Serbia’s population could shrink by mid-century to only 6m. The population of Croatia, now 4.4m, is also shrinking, if not so drastically. As in Spain and Italy, the influence of the Catholic church has collapsed. Regions inhabited by Serbs who fled in 1995 remain sparsely populated. Plans to repopulate them with ethnic Croats from other countries have largely failed. Similarly, Serbs who saw demographic salvation in the hundreds of thousands of Serbs flooding in from Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo in the 1990s have been disappointed.

In Bosnia, demography is high politics. In the last Yugoslav census in 1991, Bosnia had a population of 4.3m. Now it is estimated at only 3.8m, thanks to emigration and some 100,000 war dead. But nobody really knows, and time is running out to prepare a census in 2011. In October Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) and Croats voted down legislation to get ready for the census. Milorad Dodik, prime minister of the Republika Srpska, the Serb bit of Bosnia, says he will accept a census only if people are asked about their ethnicity. Bosniak leaders fear that Mr Dodik wants to show how few non-Serbs live in Republika Srpska, giving him more reason to ask why a Bosnian state exists.

In Kosovo, as in Bosnia, demography is war by other means. Ethnic Albanians boycotted the 1991 census. A 2006 estimate put the number of people in Kosovo at 2.1m, just over 90% of them Albanian Kosovars. Yet Mimoza Dushi, a demographer, reckons there are now 2.5m people in Kosovo. The implications could be huge. Kosovo gave its minority Serbs big concessions to secure Western recognition, but most Serbs still refuse to participate in its institutions. Oliver Ivanovic, a Serbian government official who deals with Kosovo, believes there are no more than 115,000 Serbs there. Some Kosovars may wonder why so few still merit such special treatment. Mr Ivanovic says Kosovo’s Serbs will not take part in the 2011 census. It would be easy to manipulate, he says, adding that there are actually only 1.7m Albanians in Kosovo.

Kosovar fertility is dropping, too. Ms Dushi believes the rate is 2.2, just above the level needed for a stable population. In 1950, she says, it was 7.8; as late as 1990, it was still 3.6. Even more dramatic is the collapse of fertility in Albania itself, from 2.0 in 2000 to 1.33 in 2007. In 1999 Albania’s population was 3.3m; by 2008 it had fallen to 3.1m (though it will rise by 2050). This is not because Albanians are having fewer children, but because so many women of child-bearing age have emigrated. So much for all those Balkan storks.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

A Jewish Holocaust survivor returns to Albania to meet the family that saved her life.

The Righteous: A Little-Known Secret was that Albanian Hid Jews from the Nazis; Now a Survivor Reunites With Her Savior. Just an amazing human story.

CBS Sunday Morning

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Kosovo unveils giant statue to Bill Clinton

Former US President Bill Clinton has attended the unveiling of a statue of himself in Kosovo's capital Pristina.

The 3.5m (11 ft) bronze statue was inaugurated at Bill Clinton Boulevard - to loud cheers of thousands of ethnic Albanians.

Many of them regard Mr Clinton as a hero for launching Nato's air bombing campaign to drive Yugoslavia's troops out of the Serbian province in 1999.

Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Belgrade last year.

The move was supported by the US and many Western powers, but a number of countries - including China and Russia - still regard Kosovo as part of Serbia.

'Big statue'

Mr Clinton waved to the crowds as the red cover was pulled off from the statue on Sunday.

"I never expected that anywhere, someone would make such a big statue of me," Mr Clinton was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency.

The statue portrays the former president with his left arm raised while holding documents bearing the date when Nato started its air campaign against Yugoslavia - 24 March 1999.

At the time Yugoslav forces of the late President Slobodan Milosevic were attempting to suppress an ethnic Albanian insurgency in Kosovo.

The 78-day bombing forced the Yugoslav army to leave, placing Kosovo under UN administration.

But Mr Clinton's statue is unlikely to be revered by the Serbs who see Washington as the driving force behind a plan to tear away Serbia's cherished southern province, the BBC's Mark Lowen in Belgrade says.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

EU removes visas for Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro but excludes Bosnia,Albania and Kosovo for "technical reasons"

This is the first posting of what I hope will be a weekly update with the latest development in the Balkans. My goal is to write about the major events in the Balkans with a bit of my own analysis of what those events mean for the region, Europe and if applicable to the United States. Suggestion and comments are welcomed and appreciated.


This week brought one of the best news for the people of Serbia in 18 years. The European Commission proposed to the EU parliament that it remove visa requirements for the citizen of Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro. Serbia has been trying to get on the so called white Schengen list for the past 8 years, but has been rebuffed numerous times by some EU countries because of its failure/inability to arrest some of the major war crime suspects indicted by the International Hague Tribunal for the wars in the former Yugoslavia. After Serbia arrested Radovan Karadzic last year, the leader of Bosnian Serbs during the war, most European countries became convinced that Serbia now had the political will to confront its past even though two of the most wanted suspects, Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic, remain at large ( Serbia claims it cannot find them).

What will this mean for Serbia? First and obviously its citizen can now travel throughout Europe hassle free and at will. Second, this will be good news for the party of President Tadic. He has been promising this for years now and if he had failed to achieve it in this term his credibility would have been lost. In the last election held in Serbia the so called Democrats ( Tadic and co) barely won against extremist forces lead by the party of war crime suspect Vojislav_Šešelj and nationalist Vojislav Kostunica. Chances are good now that the "Democrats" will expand their lead against the extremists in the next elections. This is good news for the future development of Serbia and stability of the region.


The third implication deals with Kosovo. In its recommendation, the EU Commission said that this recommendation did not apply to anyone holding a Serbian passport with an address in Kosovo. This is a big blow to Serbia because it was forced to accept this recommendation even though it claims Kosovo as its integral part. Kosovo Serbs and opposition in Serbia cried wolf saying this is a tacit approval of Kosovo's independence. At the same time Kosovo PM Hashim Thaci speculated, I think wishfully, that Serbia was considering recognizing Kosovo. I do not think Serbia is about to recognize Kosovo anytime soon, but its willingness to accept this recommendation which does not apply to Kosovo signals a softening of its positions visa via Kosovo. E.U official have indicated that they will try to find a modality regarding the visa regime for Kosovo in the fall of this year.


As I stated early, Macedonia was also the beneficiary of the visa liberalization move by the EU. Macedonia had meet technical requirements a long time ago, but its dispute with Greece over its name has been a stumbling block on its road to integrating within the EU. Ethnic Albanians in Macedonia have recently warned the government to resolve the dispute with Greece as they are losing patience over a decade long dispute. Albanians basically don't care how Macedonia is called and have kept a hands off approach over the dispute. The removal of visas may give Macedonia some more breathing room on the name dispute with Greece.


The tiny republic of Montenegro has made impressive progress towards the E.U since it split with Serbia three years ago.Its quite possible that it may be the next country to join the E.U together with Croatia and Macedonia.

Albania and Bosnia and Kosovo excluded for "technical reason" or political ones?

All three countries were excluded from the visa liberalization regime. Javier Solana and Olli Rehn insisted this was done for "technical reasons and no political ones". In other words, Albania, Bosnia and Kosovo were not included because they did not satisfy the technical requirements for border and passport controls and not because they were majority Muslim countries. Kosovo public television published an article titled " EU Isolates Albania, Bosnia and Kosovo", with the clear implication that it was done for political reasons. A lot of people have commented on the fact that Albania has much stricter control of its borders and passport issuing process than Serbia. Anyone with a 500 euros and a claim that they live in Kosovo can get a Serbian passport. I am really surprised that EU overlooked this, even though it wrote a provision to exclude Serbian passports holder from Kosovo from the "no visa" regime.

Even some within the EU have criticized the move to leave Albania and Bosnia out.Valter Kolbov of the Social Democratic Party of Germany was quoted by Kosovo Publis Television as saying he regretted the EU move to leave Albania and Bosnia out. Christian Schwarz Schilling, who was the international representative to Bosnia in 2006-2007, told Bild, as quoted by RTK, that the EU should be ashamed "for rewarding genocide", referring to the Srebrenica massacre committed by Serb forces. " In Bosnia and Hercegovina Serbia committed the biggest genocide in Europe since WWII. And now, on the exact 14 anniversary of Srebrenica Massacre the EU gives the Serbs the right to move freely in Europe and denies this right to Kosovo and Bosnia". He went on to say that when when one accounts for the fact that Bosnia and Kosovo exist today because NATO intervened to prevent their wipe out from Serbs, what the EU is doing is " the biggest hit to the European values and it is in direct contrast will all European principles".

Schilling is certainly correct when it comes to Bosnia. The reason Bosnia was not included in the "no visa" regime is precisely because Bosnian Serbs,with active encouragement from Serbia, have blocked the passage of certain laws the E.U wants . Bosnian Serbs won those precise rights to block those laws via the indiscriminate war they committed on Bosnian Muslims, including the Srebrenica Genocide. This is what Schilling is referring to when he says the E.U is rewarding genocide.

I am not to much concerned about Kosovo as it needs more time to establish its authority countrywide, and I think one can make the case that Kosovo has not indeed meet the "technical" requirements. I am more concerned with the fact that Albania was excluded, even though, as I stated earlier, it has a better or the same control of its borders and passports as Serbia. The E.U has not explained how Serbia was qualified but not Albania. This is why a lot of people, including myself, consider the decision to exclude Albania a political one.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

"Israel Prepares to Recognize Kosovo" ?

Saturday, 20 June 2009 (Palluxo Media)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday his cabinet is readying to recognize the indepenedence of Kosovo in August. His decision comes as a result of recent negotiations with the President Barack Obama.

Knesset member Otniel Schneller said she is concerned about Serbia's nazi past and that Israel is in in "no debt" to Serbia.

The United States has consistently shown its support for the government of Kosovo in the defence of its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Netanyahu said that Israel has a very close relationship with the United States and will follow recommendations of Obama administration to recognize Kosovo. Netanyahu explained that negotiated solution for Kosovo was not possible and Israel cannot sit on the sidelines.

As of 20 June 2009, 60 out of 192 sovereign United Nations member states have formally recognised the Republic of Kosovo as an independent state. Notably, a majority of European Union member states have formally recognised Kosovo (22 out of 27). 24 out of 28 NATO member states have recognised Kosovo. Of the four countries that border Kosovo, only Serbia refuses to recognise it.

I don't know what kind of reputation the "Palluxo Media" has ( Never heard of them) but Kosovo's public television RTK has a story alone similar lines. At the same time it should be noted that this story has NOT been reported in any major Israeli media ( Haaretz,Jpost etc). So will see what happens.

Edit: Looks like this "news" was only speculation from the no name Palluxo Media. All the Kosovo media published the story because they wanted to believe it. Israel has not confirmed anything on this.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

No going back for Kosovo, says US

Joe Biden is welcomed at Pristina's airport (21 May 2009)
Kosovans have been keen to show their appreciation of the US

US Vice-President Joe Biden has told Kosovo's parliament its independence is "absolutely irreversible" and the only viable option for regional stability.

"The success of an independent Kosovo is a priority for our administration," Mr Biden said in a speech that received several standing ovations from MPs.

Earlier, he received an enthusiastic welcome from crowds of ethnic Albanians in the capital, Pristina.

However, the Serb minority said it was planning to hold anti-US protests.

The US played a leading role in the Nato bombing campaign which expelled Serbian forces from Kosovo a decade ago.


On the final stage of his three-day tour of the Balkans, Mr Biden became the most senior US official to visit Kosovo since it declared independence in February 2008.

Your independence, is irreversible, absolutely irreversible
US Vice-President Joe Biden

The US and more than 50 other countries have recognised its independence, but more than 100 have not, including Serbia and Russia.

"Kosovo's independence was and remains today in my view, in the view of my government, the only viable option for stability in the region," he told a special sitting of the parliament in Pristina.

"And your independence - as I've said in the countries I have visited - your independence, is irreversible, absolutely irreversible," he added to applause from the ethnic Albanian-dominated assembly.

Earlier, after holding talks with President Fatmir Sejdiu, Prime Minister Hashim Thaci and other leaders, Mr Biden said he had been awarded the Golden Medal of Freedom, Kosovo's highest honour.

"I don't deserve it, but I received it on behalf of the United States," said the vice-president, who many Kosovans credit with helping them gain independence while he was a senator.

Earlier, thousands of schoolchildren waved US flags along the route his motorcade took from Pristina airport, while posters lined the route declaring "Welcome, and thank you".


His reception contrasted markedly with that in his previous stop, Serbia, where police lined the streets amid nationalist anger.

MPs from the hardline nationalist Serbian Radical Party held up banners in parliament saying: "Biden, you Nazi scum, go home."

Woman walks past a mural saying "Kosovo is Serbia" in Belgrade (21 May 2009)
Mr Biden said he did not expect Serbia to recognise Kosovo's independence

Serbian President Boris Tadic told Mr Biden on Tuesday that his country would never give up its claim to Kosovo.

But despite that outstanding issue, and the antipathy of many Serbs to the US because of the Nato bombing campaign in 1999, Mr Biden and the pro-Western Mr Tadic exchanged warm words.

Mr Biden said: "The United States does not, I emphasise, does not expect Serbia to recognise the independence of Kosovo."

"It is not a precondition for our relationship or our support for Serbia becoming part of the European Union," he said.

Mr Tadic said Serbia and the US could move their relationship forward "on the basis of dialogue rooted in mutual respect".

The rare visit by a top US official marks a new effort by President Barack Obama to re-engage with the Balkans, BBC Eastern Europe correspondent Nick Thorpe says.

As well as Serbia and Kosovo, he has also visited Bosnia-Hercegovina. BBC Article

Hero's welcome for Biden in Kosovo

" Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Kosovo on Thursday, receiving a hero's welcome as the most senior US official to visit the Balkan country since Washington backed its split from Serbia last year, AFP reported.

Biden's US Air Force Two plane landed at a NATO-controlled airstrip of Pristina airport, where Foreign Minister Skender Hyseni and students bearing US flags were ready to greet him.
He then travelled to NATO headquarters in a helicopter and arrived at parliament where huge crowds greeted him with banners, reading: "Welcome Mr Biden", "Kosovo loves the USA" and "Thank you USA" ". FOCUS News Agency

Monday, May 18, 2009

Biden seeks new U.S. start in Balkans

By Adam Tanner
BELGRADE (Reuters) - Vice President Joe Biden makes the highest-level U.S. visit to Serbia in a quarter century this week seeking a new diplomatic start in the Balkans, a region where Washington twice intervened militarily in the 1990s.
In visiting two of Serbia's former adversaries, Bosnia and Kosovo on the same trip, the former U.S. senator with much experience in foreign affairs faces a tricky balancing act where sensitivities about the past wars and divisions remain strong.
"The main point really is that, in a sense, the United States is back; the focus that we had in the 1990s on the region is back," a senior U.S. official told reporters.
"We haven't been as focused on the Balkans in recent years, maybe some of the momentum, for example, in Bosnia, has been lost or, in some cases, reversed."
In 1991 just before the start of the wars that ended Yugoslavia, then Secretary of State James Baker said: "We don't have a dog in this fight." But by 1995 Washington and NATO were bombing Bosnian Serbs and then brokering a peace deal to end a war that killed 100,000 people.
In 1999, the United States and NATO bombed Belgrade in an effort to force rump Yugoslavia to withdraw from Kosovo. A few major buildings in the Serbian capital Belgrade remain in rubble and resentment over the bombing endures.
In recent years, the United States has focused on Kosovo, which declared independence last year, after devoting much attention on warring and postwar Bosnia in the mid 1990s.
"We have had an approach in the last 20 years where we have tried to address what we see as the most critical problems," U.S. Ambassador to Serbia Cameron Munter said in an interview. "What that sometimes leads to is a focus so that those problems sometimes become the defining element of the Balkan policy."
Washington now seeks a broader view of interlocking Balkan issues, he said, a region hoping to join the European Union.
The vice president arrives on Tuesday in Bosnia, where he meets leaders from both halves of a country divided along ethnic lines. The Bosnian Serb half has acted more assertively since 2006 on boosting its autonomy and the Muslim-Croat half remains stuck in a political and economic morass.
"What the problems are here is a clear demonstration that appeasement does not work," said Raffi Gregorian, a U.S. diplomat who is the deputy peace envoy to Bosnia. "Messages of keep Bosnia quiet but don't do anything have not succeeded on behalf of the international community."
Highlighting the division is an announced protest during Biden's visit by Serb veterans to draw attention to what they call discrimination of non-Muslims in Bosnia. Diplomats and analysts say the ethnic standoff could endanger the entire region's stability and slow EU integration.
Bosnian Serbs are wary about Biden visit and a big U.S. role, but Bosnia's foreign minister welcomed him.
"It is a very clear sign of the willingness of this new administration to engage in Bosnia-Herzegovina, to finalize the project that was started during the Clinton Administration," Sven Alkalaj told Reuters.

Serbs in particularly are watching Biden skeptically because of his past criticism of Serb actions in Kosovo, its ex-province that remains a sore point in relations with the West. Biden, who visits Belgrade on Wednesday, is the highest-ranking U.S. official to Serbia since Vice President George Bush in 1983.
By contrast, Biden is likely to receive a warm welcome on Thursday in Kosovo, where he is celebrated as a long-time supporter of Kosovo independence during his years as a U.S. senator. Kosovo is strongly pro-American and the capital Pristina has a Bill Clinton Boulevard and will soon rename one of the city's street after George. W. Bush.
The vice president also had a family link to Kosovo. His son Joseph III, now Delaware's attorney general, served as a U.S. Justice Department adviser in Kosovo in 2001.
(Additional reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic in Sarajevo and Fatos Bytyci in Pristina; editing by Alison Williams)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Kosovo was a just war, not an imperialist dress rehearsal

Ten years on, the conflict should be remembered as a responsible western intervention. It is a very different example to Iraq

David Clark
The Guardian, Thursday 16 April 2009

Ten years after Nato jets went into action against Serbia, the Kosovo war remains as controversial as ever. Welcomed by many at the time as evidence of a humanitarian world order in the making, its legacy has been overtaken, subsumed and ultimately distorted by the debate about the war on terror. What Vaclav Havel called "the first war for values" is now more often described as a dangerous precedent. Even Clare Short, a forceful advocate of intervention in the Balkans, attributed Tony Blair's foreign policy errors to the "taste for grandstanding" he acquired in Kosovo.

There are several reasons for this, the most important undoubtedly the effect of the Iraq war in sowing doubt about the legitimacy and efficacy of western military power. In departing from the principle of non-intervention and lacking a UN mandate, Kosovo is often regarded as the original sin that made Iraq possible. Even Russia's invasion and recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia have been characterised as blowback from Kosovo's declaration of independence a few months before.

Comparisons of this kind confuse more than they clarify. The war in Kosovo was a response to a humanitarian emergency, not a geopolitical power play. Even so, this point is still contested. Self-styled anti-imperialists, all too often apologists for the imperialism of any regime that opposes the west, have constructed an alternative history in which Slobodan Milosevic's crimes are minimised or excused and a rapacious west portrayed as the instigator of violence. In this history, his efforts to reach a negotiated solution were sabotaged at the Rambouillet peace conference by Europe and the US; and the deaths and refugee movements inside Kosovo were caused by Nato bombing.

These critics talk as if the destruction of Bosnia was a figment of the imagination. The reality is that by the time of Rambouillet, western leaders had wised up to Milosevic's game of rope-a-dope in which he negotiated peace in bad faith while continuing to unleash ethnic terror on the ground. They had already endured eight years of it. In Kosovo, Serbian forces had killed 1,500 and driven 270,000 from their homes before Nato acted. The violence accelerated immediately before and after the start of the bombing campaign, but opponents deliberately invert cause and effect.

A survey by eminent statisticians in 2002 confirmed what refugees had always maintained - they were fleeing an organised programme of ethnic slaughter. An analysis of available data revealed a strong correlation between deaths and displacements, and Serbian military activity. There was no correlation with Nato or Kosovo Liberation Army actions. And the speed and extent of Serbia's mobilisation was indicative of a preconceived plan, not a spontaneous reaction to Nato bombing.

About 850,000 people - half Kosovo's Albanian population - were driven out of the country, many with their papers seized to prevent them returning. About 10,000 were murdered by Serbian forces. These atrocities may not have passed the legal test of genocide, but the reality was awful enough. The Serbian state carried out a crime against humanity - a ruthlessly executed plan to change the ethnic composition of Kosovo through expulsion and mass murder.
Had Milosevic completed his ethnic cleansing, the Balkans would be a very different place. A nationalist successor regime in Belgrade would be dedicated to preserving his victorious legacy and destabilising the region with unfulfilled dreams of a Greater Serbia. Hundreds of thousands of Kosovan Albanians would still be in refugee camps in Albania and Macedonia. The expulsion of the Kosovans would have joined al-Qaida's rap sheet of "Crusader" crimes against Muslims, an accusation doubtless echoed by the same critics who condemn Nato for preventing it. Let's not forget that Milosevic waged his war in the name of Orthodox Christian supremacy, or that Ariel Sharon, obsessed with the "Islamic threat" of a Greater Albania, was among his most vocal cheerleaders.

Kosovo also differed radically from the Iraq war in its intended effect on the international system. In the case of Kosovo, it was Russia that acted unilaterally in refusing to accept the balance of international opinion. Every member of Nato and every EU country, and all Serbia's neighbours, supported military action. Operations were conducted through the multilateral structures of Nato, with post-conflict authority handed to the UN. The governments carrying out this intervention knew it was a radical departure, but didn't do it to undermine multilateralism or strengthen US dominance. They wanted the international community to accept that the UN's commitment to individual human rights should count for more than the sovereign rights of states and their rulers. They wanted to enforce international legal norms, not undermine them.

Aspects of Nato's conduct can be criticised. The use of cluster munitions, careless and illegitimate targeting, and high-altitude bombing all resulted in unnecessary loss of life. The failure of Nato troops to prevent revenge attacks on Serbian and Roma civilians dishonoured their humanitarian purpose. But it is bogus to compare such serious errors to state-sponsored ethnic cleansing.

A decade on, many problems remain. Reconciliation between ethnic communities has not been achieved; Serbian enclaves are unwilling to co-operate with the Pristina government; and Serbia still refuses to face up to the loss of sovereignty over Kosovo. Yet independence has not led to the predicted upsurge of ethnic violence and extremism. The region's countries are moving steadily, if awkwardly, towards a new kind of unity as EU members. This includes Serbia, whose democratic government has already handed over Radovan Karadzic to The Hague and is committed to meeting its international obligations. Ultra-nationalists are marginalised, and the region has the opportunity of a future free of violence and despair.

The war in Kosovo was ultimately a question of whether the fall of the Berlin Wall would mark a return to the ethnic barbarism and power politics of the pre-cold war era, or a better phase in European history. That legacy has not been honoured as it should have been. Nevertheless, Kosovo should be remembered as an example of western nations using their power, however imperfectly, to do something good and necessary.

David Clark served as Europe adviser at the Foreign Office, 1997-2001

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Kosovo War massacre: sole survivor found by Telegraph ten years on

Massacre survivor Dren Caka, photographed by the Telegraph in 1999, remembers the night his mother and sisters were murdered by Serbian police in one of the most notorious episodes of the war.

By Neil TweedieLast Updated: 5:25PM BST 01 Apr 2009

Vancouver is almost 6,000 miles from Kosovo but Dren Caka visits his homeland most nights.
He goes back in his dreams, to his home in Milosa Gilica Street in the town of Gjakova where he lived with his extended family, and to the neighbouring pool hall owned by Luli Vejsa, a family friend. Finally, in his darkest moments, he makes the journey to Luli’s house, back to the night of April 1 1999, when the Serbs came.

A decade on from the Kosovo War, that last great exercise in 20th-century European blood-letting, Dren Caka, 20, is a casualty still.
“I have nightmares a lot,” he says, looking out over Vancouver’s glistening waterfront. “I can’t sleep at night and feel constantly tired; I usually have bags under my eyes.”
He speaks with a Canadian accent now, and looks and behaves like a typical young Canadian, but his history separates him from friends who have known nothing but peace and affluence by the Pacific Ocean.
“If you were to look at me walking along you would think ‘he’s just a normal a kid’, but I’m not just a normal kid. When I tell them, when I tell my friends, they are speechless.”
Dren Caka is the sole survivor - the miraculous survivor - of one of the most notorious episodes of the war: the massacre of 19 women and children, including his mother and three sisters, by Serb police. Kosovo has already faded from the popular memory, overtaken by the seismic events of September 11 2001 and their aftermath. Slobodan Milosevic is dead and many of the henchmen responsible for the ethnic cleansing of the former Serbian province have stood trial before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, but the war continues to cast a shadow over people like Dren.
He was 10 years old in March 1999 when the Serbs began their campaign of deportation and murder against the predominantly ethnic Albanian population of Kosovo. On the night of April 1, a week after Nato began bombing Serb forces, the paramilitary police arrived in Milosa Galica Street.
Gjakova - Djakovica to the Serbs - was a particular target, standing as it does in the shadow of the Accursed Mountains, which separate Kosovo from Albania. Members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), fighting for independence from Serbia, were using mountain tracks to import weapons from Albania and the Serbs wanted to choke off the insurgents’ supply routes. That meant clearing Gjakova of its majority Albanian population and fortifying the area.
To escape Nato bombs and Serb reprisals, women and children living in Milosa Galica Street slept in the basement of Luli Vejsa’s pool hall. The men, including Dren’s father, Ali, hid elsewhere - it was thought only males of military age were at risk.
“Ever since I was a kid I’ve known when bad things are going to happen,” says Dren. “Things were getting bad and the adults were talking about it. Helicopters overhead were telling us we must hand in our weapons and no harm would come to us. I didn’t know who was doing the bombing but it didn’t scare me much - my sisters would scream but I would just carry on watching TV. That night, though, I had a really bad feeling.”
Valbone, his mother, said he could stay in the house with his grandparents and aunt and uncle if he wanted, but that she was taking his sisters, Dalina, 14, Delvina, six, and Diona, aged two, to Luli’s basement. Reluctantly, Dren accompanied them.
There were 21 people in the cellar that night: women, children - most of them under 10 years of age - and one man aged 60. Dren and the other children were given sleeping pills. Between two and three o’clock in the morning the door opened, revealing a Serb policeman. One of the men was a neighbour of the Caka family. “He was an okay kind of guy”, says Dren.
“My mom woke me and the first thing I said was ‘I told you so’. There were about six police yelling in Serb and Albanian saying we were KLA and hiding the men. My mother spoke and said we just women and children trying to stay safe.”
The group was taken to Luli’s house. As they arrived a little girl ran for the door. One of the police opened fire, narrowly missing the child. Once inside mothers and children were ordered to sit down in the living room. Then the shooting began.
“A girl called Flaka - she was in her teens - got up to make tea. A policeman pushed her back and fired at her. Her mother got up to get hold of her and was shot, and then the policeman started shooting everybody.”
Luli’s wife and baby daughter were shot next, then Dren’s mother. She fell on top of Diona, shielding her from the bullets. Dalina and Delvina collapsed in a hail of Kalashnikov fire.
“My mother had been changing my baby sister, who turned two that night. One man was shooting inside the house and there was another man shooting through the window.
“I was sitting behind a woman who was quite big and I was kind of lying down when I was shot. There was smoke everywhere because they had set fire to the closet and the guy got his flashlight out to check that everyone was dead. He shot and I could feel the bullet move between my hair. I dropped my head and he took off.”
Diona was still alive under her mother but Dren had lost the use of his right arm and could not help her.
“I tried to save my baby sister but I only had one good arm and the house was smoking up. I knew if I stayed there I would be gone too.”
He lay for five minutes before running from the house, Diona’s cries ringing in his ears. He thinks his oldest sister, dying from her wounds, passed him a glove to cover his nose and mouth from the smoke. He managed to escape over a wall.
When he reached his own home his aunt did not believe what had happened.
“She told me I had a bad dream.”
His grandfather was similarly unimpressed.
“He kind of slapped me – he said ‘snap out of it’. Then he took off my jacket and saw I was soaked with blood. He bandaged me up.”
His father returned at daylight to learn that most of his family had gone.
“He was crying, saying ‘go with your aunt and uncle and I’ll see you in Albania’.
“I said ‘dad can I have one last kiss in case I don’t see you ever again’, and he gave me a kiss and said ‘don’t worry son, you’ll see me’.
Patched up in the local hospital, Dren then travelled by car to the Albanian border with his aunt, uncle and cousin. They were specks in a human tide. Some 700,000 Kosovans were expelled from their homeland between March and June 1999.
The boy spent two months in hospital in the Albanian capital, Tirana, believing his father was dead. until one day he walked through the door.
“I was learning to accept that he was gone. That day when he came to the hospital it was a most amazing day. I was asleep and when I woke up the first thing I saw was my dad. ‘Dad!’ I said, and jumped up and kissed him.”
It was Canada which offered Dren and Ali Caka sanctuary. Dren works as a carpet fitter now; his father remarried and had a second son, Dennis. Dren wears his half-brother’s name in a tattoo on his arm.
“My dad still hasn’t learned to let go. I hope for happiness for my dad - I really do.”
For himself there is memory and a sense of dislocation.
“Vancouver can be fun but boring at the same time. If you don’t have money you get stuck in the boring part.”
Dren loves football and still dreams of returning to Kosovo. He misses the sociability of life there, the evening gatherings in cafes.
“The Serbs and Kosovans in Vancouver play football together now,” he says, before laughing: “Then they have a fight.”
Seaplanes are landing and taking off in Vancouver’s harbour as he speaks. The Rockies provide an impressive backdrop to his adopted home, not unlike the mountains he crossed to escape the war that claimed his loved ones.
“In some ways I’ve had the most amazing life. At that age I didn’t know what Canada was. It is another life here but not the one I wanted.”
The conflict refuses to leave him alone. He has testified twice before the tribunal in The Hague, the first time as a protected (anonymous) witness in the trial of Milosevic. During his second appearance as a witness, in the trial of senior Serb politicians and officers indicted for war crimes, he shed his title of Witness K13 and used his own name. He may be soon be going to The Hague again.
“I want to do it to show people that I haven’t forgotten. I will never forget. I am more than glad to go and testify and get these guys locked up.”
Kosovo is independent of Serbia now, its self-proclaimed status guaranteed by a Nato garrison. The hearings in The Hague are due to conclude in 2011. Will the fate of his mother and sisters ever cease to haunt him?
“Maybe when I get a family of my own - my dad wants me to find a girl in Kosovo - but I will never be 100 per cent. I have nightmares, can’t sleep sometimes. Sometimes when I smile it is the most fake smile I will ever give because I’m just not happy. It’s just something I’m going to have to live with.”
And why, why did he survive?
“I ask that question every day of my life. Is there a purpose for me to be here? I don’t know. “

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Kosovo's independence: One year on

Feb 12th 2009
The Economist
Confounding the sceptics, up to a point

NEXT week Kosovo will be one year old. It was the seventh state to emerge from former Yugoslavia. Sceptics predicted dire consequences: the Serb minority would leave, the region would see a new round of violence, Serbia would fall into the hands of extreme nationalists. Happily, none of this has actually happened.

Unlike the other six former Yugoslav countries, Kosovo was technically a province of Serbia in the old Yugoslavia, not a republic, even though over 90% of its 2m people are ethnic Albanians. That distinction gave Russia an excuse to block a United Nations resolution on Kosovo’s status. It also explains why only 54 countries recognise Kosovo’s independence.

The greatest success of Kosovo has been to avert a Serb exodus. Kosovo’s Serbs live mostly in enclaves or in the north of the country, under de facto Serbian control. They are under pressure from Belgrade not to participate in any of Kosovo’s institutions. Yet Serbia now has a firmly pro-European government; in the wake of Kosovo’s independence, the extreme nationalist threat has evaporated, not exploded.

After a slow start EULEX, the European Union’s police and justice mission, deployed across Kosovo in December. For most of 2008 it was hampered by Serbian opposition and by splits within the EU. The former UN administration, which was meant to leave with Kosovo’s independence, has shrunk but not completely disappeared. A 15,000-strong NATO-led force remains.

The bad news is that Kosovo remains poor and its administration weak. Serbia’s government has led a highly effective diplomatic campaign against it and Kosovo has a bad image abroad. Yet it is often unfairly singled out for blame. It lies on a main drug-trafficking route, for instance; but so do some EU members, such as Bulgaria and even Austria.

It is widely believed that Albanians, including Kosovars, play an inordinately large role in Europe’s drug cartels, but research does not often bear this out. According to a report by the Kosovar Stability Initiative, a think-tank, in 2006 only 6% of those arrested for heroin smuggling in Italy were ethnic Albanians; 65% were Italians and 19% were north Africans. Some stereotypes widely believed and repeated about Kosovars abroad are merely racist.
So are Kosovars downcast? Far from it. A recent survey by the European Fund for the Balkans and Gallup found that, among seven western Balkan countries, Kosovo’s people are the most satisfied. They will certainly enjoy their birthday.