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Archive for the ‘Crime Land of Kosovo’ Category

Kosovo’s president to be questioned in war crimes inquiry

July 08, 2020

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Kosovo’s president said Wednesday that he would go to The Hague to be questioned by prosecutors investigating war crimes allegedly committed during and after a 1998-1999 armed conflict in Kosovo between ethnic Albanian separatists and Serbia.

Hashim Thaci said in a statement posted on Facebook that he was “invited by the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office to be interviewed” on Monday. The prosecutor’s office connected to an international court set up in The Hague to look into allegations that members of the Kosovo Liberation Army committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during the 1990s war announced the indictment last month of Thaci and other former fighters.

Thaci was a commander of the Kosovo Liberation army, or KLA, that fought for independence from Serbia. Both the president and former Kosovo assembly speaker Kadri Veseli, who also was indicted, have denied responsibility for war crimes.

The indictment accuses them of being criminally responsible for nearly 100 murders of Serbs, Roma and Kosovo Albanian political opponents, as well as forced disappearances, persecution and torture. A pretrial judge at The Hague-based Kosovo Specialist Chambers hasn’t made a decision on whether to proceed with the case or throw it out.

Hundreds of former Kosovar independence fighters have been questioned by the Hague-based court since January of last year. War veterans have planned a demonstration for Thursday. Thaci has said that if the indictment stands he “will immediately resign as your president and face the accusations.”

The fighting in Kosovo left more than 10,000 dead, most of them ethnic Albanians. It ended after a 78-day NATO air campaign in 1999 that forced Serbian troops to stop their brutal crackdown against ethnic Albanians and leave Kosovo.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, a move Serbia refuses to recognize. Thaci called on Kosovo’s majority ethnic-Albanian population “to stand united in dealing with the challenges that our country is facing.”

“Civic unity, inter-ethnic coexistence, institutional stability, trust in the institutions, are necessary for Kosovo to make its vision to be part of NATO, of the European Union, and to maintain eternal friendship with the United States of America a reality,” he said.

Thaci’s indictment led to the postponement of a White House meeting between the leaders of Kosovo and Serbia that was organized by U.S presidential envoy Richard Grenell. Thaci was traveling to Washington for the discussions when the indictment was announced.

Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic are scheduled to hold European Union-supervised talks in Brussels on Sunday, the first negotiations to normalize relations between the two countries in more than 19 months.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell will host the meeting. French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel plan to hold virtual preparatory talks with the three on Friday.

Semini reported from Tirana, Albania.

US opposes Kosovo’s ‘new barriers’ to Serbian goods

April 01, 2020

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — The decision of Kosovo’s government to phase out the country’s 100% tariff on imports from Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina starting Wednesday did not ease international pressure on the tiny Western Balkans country and sparked more domestic tensions.

Although the United States and the European Union had pushed for lifting the import taxes, Prime Minister Albin Kurti announced early Wednesday that his caretaker Cabinet would instead require goods from Serbia to be certified for quality, a mandate already in place for Kosovar products shipped to Serbia.

Marko Djuric, head of Serbia’s office for Kosovo, rejected Kurti’s move, saying “the situation did not deescalate or return to the previous state when uncivilized taxes were introduced.” Kosovo imposed the punitive tariffs in November 2018 over Serbian efforts to block Kosovo from joining international organizations. The dispute led to the suspension of European Union-mediated talks to normalize ties between Pristina and Belgrade.

Most Serb goods stopped arriving in Kosovo after the import taxes were introduced, except for products that were mainly smuggled into Kosovo’s Serb-dominated Mitrovica. Annual trade between Serbia and Kosovo was valued at about 400 million euros ($440 million) before the tariffs were adopted, and inflation in Kosovo rose to about 3% in 2019 after the import taxes took effect compared to 1.1% the previous year.

Kosovo was formerly a part of Serbia and won independence after a 1999 NATO bombing campaign that ended a bloody Serb crackdown on an armed uprising by members of Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority. Serbia refuses to accept Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence.

Since the start of the Pristina-Belgrade talks in 2011, 33 deals have been signed to ensure the country’s recognition each other in areas such as education and professional degrees. Kosovo claims Serbia has not fulfilled its side of the agreements. Kosovo recognizes diplomas from Serbian universities, but Serbia does not accept the degrees of Kosovar university graduates. It’s the same with drivers’ licenses.

Kurti said the government would monitor whether Serbia moves toward reciprocity until June 15 and if not, the tariffs will be restored. The junior partner in Kurti’s coalition government, the Democratic League of Kosovo, or LDK, initiated a successful parliamentary vote of no-confidence vote in his Cabinet last week. His government now is acting in a caretaker capacity.

The motion came after an LDK minister was fired for not supporting the restrictions on movement the government imposed to stem the spread of the coronavirus. The LDK also wanted Kurti to fully revoke the 100% tariff and not damage ties with the Kosovo’s most important ally, the United States.

The United States argued that Kurti’s actions would strangle Kosovo’s economy. “We remain opposed to the latest move to implement reciprocal measures on the movement of goods from Serbia.” the U.S.Embassy in Kosovo said in a statement Wednesday.

Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, hailed Kosovo’s move as “an important decision.”

Associated Press witers Dusan Stojanovic and Jovana Gec contributed from Belgrade.

Kosovo president: Decision to form army ‘irreversible’

December 16, 2018

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — The decision to transform Kosovo’s security force into an army is “irreversible,” the country’s president said Sunday while offering assurance that a new national military does not threaten ethnic Serbs living in the former Serbian province.

President Hashim Thaci gave a briefing on the army plan before he left for New York, where the United Nations Security Council is expected in coming days to discuss the small Balkan nation’s decision.

Kosovo’s parliament overwhelmingly approved the army’s formation Friday. Neighboring Serbia has warned that an army in a place it considers Serbian territory could result in an armed intervention. “Whatever happens at the Security Council, despite the concerns of a certain individual or a country, the formation of the Kosovo army is an irreversible act,” Thaci said.

Serbia does not recognize Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence. Its government insists the army would violate a U.N. resolution that ended Serbia’s crackdown on Kosovar separatists in 1998-1999. Serbia’s government has warned it might use its own military to respond, with Prime Minister Ana Brnabic saying that’s “one of the options on the table.” An armed intervention by Serbia could bring a confrontation with the NATO-led peacekeepers stationed in Kosovo since 1999.

The U.N. Security Council held closed consultations late Friday on the format of a meeting on the dispute. Russia, Serbia’s close ally, wants the council to meet publicly, and European nations have sought a closed session.

NATO’s chief has called Kosovo’s action “ill-timed.” The United States has expressed support for “Kosovo’s sovereign right” as an independent nation that unilaterally broke away from Serbia. Thaci said the army would be a professional and multiethnic one, with 5 percent of the troops coming from the ethnic Serb minority; He advised Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic to take a cue from Serbs residents in Kosovo “who feel calm and who take part in the army.”

Llazar Semini reported from Tirana, Albania.

Tensions soar in the Balkans over plans for Kosovo army

December 04, 2018

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbia sought support from allies Russia and China on Tuesday in opposing the formation of a Kosovo army, warning that a military in its former province could lead to renewed clashes in the Balkans.

Kosovo’s parliament is set to vote Dec. 14 on transforming the country’s security forces into a regular army. Serbian officials claim the army would be used against the Serb minority in Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008.

Serbia has threatened unspecified retaliatory measures if the army is created. Serbia, Russia and China don’t recognize Kosovo as a country, while the United States and most of the West do. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic met separately with the Russian, Chinese and U.S. ambassadors in Belgrade on Tuesday, saying that “continuous provocations” from Kosovo could leave Serbia with no choice but to “protect” the Serb minority.

Vucic said Kosovo’s plans to form an army jeopardize peace and stability in the region. “The irresponsible behavior of Pristina could lead into a catastrophe because Serbia cannot peacefully watch the destruction of the Serbian people,” Vucic said in a statement.

Tensions between Serbia and Kosovo soared after the Kosovo government last month introduced a 100-percent tax on Serb imports — an apparent retaliation for a failed Kosovo bid for membership in the international police organization, Interpol, after intense Serbian lobbying.

Vucic said it’s “completely clear” that both the formation of the army and the tariffs are intended to “force Serbs out” of Kosovo. Kosovo split from Serbia after a 1998-99 war for independence that left more than 10,000 dead. Serbia’s brutal crackdown in the province prompted NATO to launch airstrikes to stop the conflict.

An armed intervention by Serbia in Kosovo would trigger a direct clash with NATO-led peacekeepers stationed there. Serbia recently increased its saber-rattling, including raising the combat readiness of its troops over a series of small incidents.

Meanwhile, Kosovo police stopped a Serbian basketball team from entering the country. They were to attend a daily protest by Kosovo Serbs against the 100-percent tariffs on Serbian goods.

Llazar Semini contributed from Tirana, Albania.

Kosovo lawmakers occupy office over tax on Serbian imports

December 02, 2018

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Lawmakers representing Kosovo’s ethnic Serb minority are refusing to leave the parliament building to protest a 100 percent tax on all goods imported from Serbia. Ten lawmakers from the Serb List party said on Sunday they would remain closed inside their Parliament office and express their concerns about the tax to the European Union’s enlargement commissioner, Johannes Hahn. He is scheduled to visit Kosovo on Monday.

Kosovo’s government imposed the tariff on Serbian imports last month and said it would stay in place until Serbia recognizes Kosovo’s independence and stops preventing it from joining international organizations.

Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008. The EU has said that normalized ties between the two are a condition for the countries to become members.

Kosovo police arrest 4 Serbs, sparking protests in the north

November 24, 2018

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Tensions in Kosovo rose again Friday after police arrested three ethnic Serbs, including two police officers, on suspicion of involvement in the killing earlier this year of a leading Serb politician in the north of the country.

The three men were arrested in the Serb-dominated town of Mitrovica, 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of the capital, Pristina, as suspects in the January slaying of Oliver Ivanovic, police said in a statement. A fourth Serb was arrested for resisting police. A fifth person is still at large, police said.

Police said they seized evidence for the investigation into Ivanovic’s killing during raids in four locations. Police showed photos of a drone, automatic weapons and ammunition and other equipment found in the raids.

Prosecutor Syle Hoxha said they have questioned more than 40 witnesses to date in the case. Nobody has yet been charged in the slaying. Thousands of Serbs protested in Kosovo towns, some blocking all main roads leading to Northern Mitrovica, as well as several border posts with Serbia. No violence was immediately reported.

Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians fought a bloody war with Serbia from 1998-1999 which ended with a 78-day NATO air campaign in June 1999. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 which Belgrade still refuses to recognize.

Earlier this week, tensions soared after Kosovo failed to become a member of the international police organization, Interpol, following intense lobbying by Serbia. Kosovo slapped a 100 percent tax on goods imported from Serbia in apparent retaliation.

In Belgrade, Serbia President Aleksandar Vucic said the arrests were a “demonstration of force” that he said was designed to frighten the Serbs in Kosovo and avert attention from the taxes that Kosovo imposed in violation of a regional trade agreement.

“We must prepare ourselves for long-term support for our people (in Kosovo) that won’t be easy, simple or cheap,” said Vucic. “Serbia will not agree to new rules and new blackmail against our country and our people.”

Vucic spoke after a meeting with the members of the Serbian government. He held meetings earlier on Friday with security officials and the ambassadors or Russia and China, Serbia’s allies in its refusal to recognize Kosovo’s independence.

Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj’s Cabinet appealed for calm and said the police operation was not linked to any political development. NATO-led peacekeepers in Kosovo, a force known as KFOR, also urged calm and said “there was no unlawful operation or military action and there has never been any threat to safety and security of the citizens.”

KFOR said in a statement that the situation “remains stable and under control on the ground,” but acknowledged rising tensions “at political level due to some international and economic developments.”

Haradinaj met with ambassadors of Western powers including the United States, Britain, Germany, and France, for talks on the country’s situation and to explain the tax on Serb and Bosnian goods. Ethnic Serb leaders in Kosovo also called for calm and asked Serbia and the international community to assist them.

Goran Rakic, mayor of Northern Mitrovica, told The Associated Press that ethnic Serb leaders had formed a crisis center and called on the international community and Serbia for help. He said he had talked by phone with Vucic.

Vucic’s adviser Nikola Selakovic said the arrests of four Serbs in Kosovo were designed to “spread fear, intimidate and demonstrate force” against the Serbs in Kosovo. “This is a game of nerves, a walk on thin line. The goal is to provoke our reaction which would be immediately used for measures against us,” Selakovic said.

Llazar Semini reported from Tirana, Albania. Dusan Stojanovic and Jovana Gec contributed from Belgrade, Serbia. Bojan Slavkovic contributed from Northern Mitrovica.

Kosovo celebrates 10 years of independence, Serbs boycott

February 18, 2018

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — The Kosovo Assembly, or Parliament, convened in a special session Sunday to celebrate the country’s 10 years of independence — a ceremony boycotted by the country’s ethnic Serb lawmakers.

Speaker Kadri Veseli pledged that “the second decade of independence would be focused on the economic well-being of Kosovo’s citizens.” The second day of celebrations continued with a parade of military and police forces and a state reception.

In Feb. 17, 2008, Kosovo’s Parliament unilaterally declared independence from Serbia nine years after NATO conducted a 78-day airstrike campaign against Serbia to stop a bloody crackdown against ethnic Albanians.

Kosovo, one of poorest countries in Europe, has taken a first step to European Union membership by signing a Stabilization and Association Agreement. But the country faces serious challenges besides its relations with Serbia, including establishing the rule of law and fighting high unemployment, corruption and organized crime.

Kosovo is recognized by 117 countries, including the U.S. and most Western powers but Serbia still sees Kosovo as part of its own territory and has the support of Russia and China. A day earlier in Serbia’s capital, Belgrade, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said Kosovo’s independence remains fragile and won’t be concluded without an agreement with Serbia.

Llazar Semini in Tirana, Albania contributed.

Challenges ahead as Kosovo, Europe’s newest nation, turns 10

February 16, 2018

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Every country has a national anthem, a musical compilation that aims to stir patriotic emotion, and Kosovo is no exception. Except for one peculiarity: its anthem has no lyrics.

Ten years after the former Serb territory declared independence and nearly two decades after it was engulfed in war between ethnic Albanian separatists and Yugoslav government forces, there is still difficulty in finding someone able to pen words of unity for Europe’s newest country without causing offense to one of its ethnic groups.

“The text should be written in a way that does not leave the impression to the minorities they are threatened or offended,” said Mendi Mengjiqi, who composed the anthem in June 2008, just a few months after Kosovo’s Feb. 17 declaration of independence.

So far, no attempts have been successful. A decade after its independence, Kosovo seems to have all the trappings of a modern, if rather poor, Balkan country. The bombed-out buildings and tank tread-destroyed streets of the 1998-1999 war have been replaced by highways and shopping malls, bustling cafes and shiny new office complexes.

Construction cranes can be seen on the drive into Pristina, the capital, as workers busily build new homes and businesses. “Kosovo is a joint success story, of the international community and the Kosovars,” President Hashim Thaci, a former commander of the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army, or KLA, told The Associated Press.

It was he who declared Kosovo’s independence in 2008, nearly nine years after NATO conducted a 78-day airstrike campaign against Serbia to stop a bloody Serb crackdown against ethnic Albanians. Kosovo is recognized by 115 countries, including the United States and most Western powers, and has joined about 200 international organizations.

But Serbia, which for centuries has considered Kosovo the cradle of its civilization, still sees it as part of its own territory, and has the support of Russia and China. Five European Union members also do not recognize Kosovo’s independence.

A close look reveals a young country still struggling with nationhood. The Serb minority, which was the territory’s politically dominant ethnicity before the war, lives in enclaves. Although people generally are no longer physically attacked for entering a different ethnic area, tension can be easily sparked. Some 4,500 NATO-led peacekeepers are still stationed in Kosovo to ensure nothing gets out of hand. Crime and corruption are rampant.

Kosovo Serbs, who live mostly in the northern Kosovo neighboring Serbia, are adamant that they not come under direct rule from Pristina. Serbia has rejected Kosovo’s statehood, but is pressed by the West to compromise with ethnic Albanians on “good neighborly relations” or jeopardize Serbia’s prospects of joining the EU.

Serbian officials have hinted they would recognize Kosovo as an independent state only if northern Kosovo is handed over to Serbia — a proposal flatly rejected by Pristina. EU-mediated negotiations between Pristina and Belgrade, which began in 2011, will be key in the country’s progress, and have achieved significant improvements in the nation’s governance and conditions for minorities.

But substantial hurdles remain. “Both Kosovo and Serbia should make drastic compromises, which I see as very difficult,” said Momcilo Trajkovic, a Kosovo Serb analyst and former politician living in the Serb enclave of Gracanica, near Pristina.

In January, moderate Kosovo Serb politician Oliver Ivanovic, one of the few who promoted the idea of Kosovo Albanians and Serbs living together, was gunned down outside his office in northern Mitrovica, the edge of the Serb-dominated part of northern Kosovo. His murder was condemned by both Pristina and Belgrade.

The key issues facing Kosovo now are “rule of law, fighting unemployment, corruption and organized crime and progressing in the talks with Serbia face Kosovo,” said U.S. Ambassador to Pristina Greg Delawie.

Kosovo hopes one day to join the EU and has begun the first step but still has a long way to go. “I very much hope that with good homework we could increase the speed of our expectation toward EU, NATO, United Nations and other memberships,” said Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, also a former KLA commander.

The EU’s special representative to Kosovo, Nataliya Apostolova, said progress had been made in the past decade between the nation’s two ethnic groups but “fragility persists, and can be easily tested even by a train, a wall or an improper initiative.”

But, she noted, the biggest concern for Kosovo’s people is economics. If there is one issue that the country’s Serbs and Albanians can agree on, it’s the lack of job prospects and the nation’s crushing unemployment, which in 2017 ran at 30.5 percent. Youth unemployment stands at 50.5 percent, according to the Kosovo Agency of Statistics.

A Pristina apartment can easily go for 1,000-1,500 euros ($1,238-1,857) per square meter and it costs half a million euros ($619,000) for a villa at the Marigona Residence, five miles from Pristina, where the country’s prime minister lives. But that is not affordable in a nation where the average salary is about 360 euros ($450) a month.

With their future looking bleak, many youngsters long to leave. “When will we have visa-free travel so I can get to Germany or Switzerland and build a better life?” wondered Shait Krasniqi, a 28-year-old economics graduate who works as a waiter in Pristina. “There are no prospects here, especially for us, the young people.”

Kosovo has a young population and with the jobless rate so high, many pack the capital’s cafes, nursing a single coffee for hours. “If my uncles did not live in Switzerland and support us, my family would die,” said Ilir, a young cafe client who was too embarrassed to give his last name. “My father gets a little money from selling agricultural products he grows from our small land. No other jobs for me or my sister.”

In the Serb enclave of Gracanica, home to a medieval Serb Orthodox monastery, the sentiments are the same. “Regardless of ethnicity, the situation is grave for all the people,” said Mirjana Vlasacevic, a 57-year-old court employee in Gracanica. “That is the reason that they, the youngsters, are looking to leave.”

Florent Bajrami in Pristina, Sylejman Kllokoqi in Gracanica, Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade and Elena Becatoros in Athens contributed.

Kosovo Serb politician is gunned down; police start manhunt

January 16, 2018

MITROVICA, Kosovo (AP) — A leading Serb politician in northern Kosovo was gunned down Tuesday morning, an attack that raised ethnic tensions in the Balkans and prompted the suspension of EU-mediated talks between Kosovo and Serbia.

Assailants opened fire on Oliver Ivanovic, 64, close to the offices of his political party in the Serb-controlled northern city of Mitrovica. He was taken to a hospital but doctors were unable to save him.

The doctors said Ivanovic had received at least five gunshot wounds to his upper torso. The assailants escaped in a car that was later found burned out. Kosovo police sealed off the area of the shooting and began a manhunt for the attackers.

Ivanovic was one of the key politicians in Serb-dominated northern Kosovo, a former Serbian province where tensions still remain high a decade after it declared independence in 2008. Serbia does not recognize that independence.

Ivanovic was considered a moderate who maintained relations with NATO and EU officials even after Serbia lost the control of its former province following NATO’s 1999 bombing to stop a deadly Serb crackdown against ethnic Albanian separatists.

A Kosovo court convicted Ivanovic of war crimes during the 1998-99 war. That verdict was overturned and a retrial was underway. In Pristina, the Kosovo government strongly denounced the slaying, saying it considers the attack a challenge to “the rule of law and efforts to establish the rule of law in the whole of Kosovo territory.”

In Belgrade, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic held a top security meeting to discuss the shooting. Afterward, he called the killing “a terrorist act” and said Serbia is demanding that international missions in Kosovo include Serbia in their investigation into the slaying.

“Serbia will take all necessary steps so the killer or killers are found,” he said. At the news of Ivanovic’s slaying, the Serb delegation at the EU talks in Brussels immediately left to return to Belgrade.

Delegation leader Marko Djuric said “whoever is behind this attack … whether they are Serb, Albanian or any other criminals, they must be punished.” European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini called the presidents of Serbia and Kosovo to express the EU’s condemnation of the killing. She appealed for both sides “to show calm and restraint.”

The head of the OSCE Mission in Kosovo, Ambassador Jan Braathu, said he was “shocked and deeply saddened” and considered Ivanovic “among the most prominent Kosovo Serb representatives for almost two decades. ”

He also urged “all sides to avoid dangerous rhetoric and remain calm at this sensitive time, and recommit themselves to continue the work toward the normalization of relations and improvement of the lives of the citizens of Kosovo and Serbia.”

Dusan Stojanovic and Jovana Gec in Belgrade; Llazar Semini in Tirana, Albania; and Raf Casert in Brussels contributed to this report.

Macedonia’s Zaev set to warm up ties with Greece, Kosovo

December 12, 2017

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Macedonia’s prime minister reiterated his will on Tuesday to reach a solution with Greece following more than two decades of disputes over his country’s name. Zoran Zaev said Macedonian and Greek officials were working “to reconfirm their will of resuming essential talks … to reach a solution.”

Zaev, in power since spring, has vowed to improve relations with Greece, which has opposed Macedonia’s name since it declared it and won recognition by the United Nations after Yugoslavia’s breakup in 1991.

Greece says Macedonia’s name harbors territorial pretensions on Greece’s northern province of the same name. Greece blocked Macedonia from joining NATO in 2008 under its provisional name. In Kosovo on the first-ever visit by a Macedonian prime minister to its neighbor, Zaev also vowed to warm ties there.

He said Skopje would acquiesce to Kosovar demands for a new, international investigation into a 2015 attack by militants from Kosovo in the northern Macedonian town of Kumanovo. Eight police officers and 10 militants were killed in fighting that was hotly disputed by both sides and was the worst outbreak of violence in Macedonia since a nine-month insurgency by fighters from its Kosovar minority in 2001.

“Such an issue is in the interest of our cooperation and that should not remain an obstacle to our ties,” Zaev said at a news conference with his host counterpart Ramush Haradinaj. Macedonia has a large ethnic Albanian minority — which is the main single ethnic group in neighboring Kosovo and also Albania — that regularly plays an important part in creating governing coalitions.

“We share the same aspirations for membership into the European Union and NATO because the future of the whole Western Balkans is in EU and NATO,” said Zaev.

Associated Press writer Llazar Semini contributed from Tirana, Albania.

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