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Balkan Report: January 14, 2005

14 January 2005, Volume 9, Number 2

TENSE TIMES IN SOUTHERN SERBIA. The killing of an ethnic Albanian teenager by a Serbian soldier has led to renewed tensions in southern Serbia's Presevo region. Repercussions are being felt not just in Belgrade but in Prishtina as well.

About 20,000 ethnic Albanians gathered in the Presevo region on 9 January for the funeral of 16-year-old Dashnim Hajrullahu, who was killed by a Serbian border guard two days earlier as he tried to cross illegally into Macedonia in the border triangle region between southern Serbia, Macedonia, and Kosova. On 8 January, about 1,500 protesters had stormed a government building to demand that local officials talk less and act more in defense of Albanian rights.

Some 5,000 ethnic Albanians then demonstrated in Presevo on 10 January to protest Hajrullahu's killing. Some speakers called for international troops to replace Serbian soldiers and police in the region. Presevo Mayor Riza Halimi said that "if it is the desire of the state to defend its integrity and sovereignty by murdering a child, then such a state has no chance of survival."

The teenager had reportedly visited relatives on the Macedonian side of the border and was returning home when he was shot under still unexplained circumstances. Local Albanians were used to visiting relatives and friends throughout the region in Yugoslav times and still often disregard the relatively new frontier boundaries.

The Presevo-Bujanovac-Medvedja region of southern Serbia was the scene of an armed Albanian insurgency in 2000-01 that was ended by a NATO-backed peace plan (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 16 February and 2 March 2001).

Tensions nonetheless remain as the Albanians suspect Belgrade of seeking to curtail their rights and staging periodic crackdowns in order to intimidate the Albanians. They also note that -- unlike in Kosova, Slovenia, and Croatia -- Serbian law does not provide for guaranteed representation for minorities in the parliament. Local Albanian parties, therefore, do not generally participate in Serbian elections on the grounds that it is impossible for those parties to surmount the nationwide 5 percent hurdle to obtain representation in the legislature. For its part, Belgrade fears that calls for more home rule in the region are a prelude to the secession of an area many Albanians call "eastern Kosova."

Meanwhile, Serbia and Montenegro's defense minister, Prvoslav Davinic, reacted quickly to Hajrullahu's killing, saying on 8 January that the border patrol "acted according to [standard] procedure." The next day, the minister called the teenager's death a "tragic incident," adding, however, that it did not constitute evidence of military repression of the Albanians.

In Prishtina, several Kosovar dailies on 10 January called for international peacekeepers to be sent to the Presevo Valley area in response to the killing. In Podgorica, Nikola Gegaj, who is an ethnic Albanian deputy in the parliament of Serbia and Montenegro for Montenegro's governing Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service that he was expressing his views and not those of the DPS when he recently said that the killing of the teenager was not accidental. Gegaj argued that the shooting reflects what he called Belgrade's policy of killing Albanians rather than including them in the political system and its institutions.

Davinic again sought to defuse tensions on 11 January. He said in Belgrade that police will soon replace soldiers in the border area of the Presevo region and promised to increase the number of legal border-crossing points there. He also told RFE/RL that the authorities will replace border troops with police along all frontiers, not just along the Macedonian border. He stressed that the move will meet one of the criteria required for admission to the EU. Davinic noted that the apparent policy change was linked to Hajrullahu's death but did not say when police would replace the soldiers. Croatia has long called for the removal of Serbian troops along their common border in response to several apparently isolated incidents, and the EU has reportedly urged Serbia to replace border troops with specially trained police in order to cut down trafficking in drugs, goods, and humans headed for EU countries.

But Davinic is not the only Belgrade official involved with the Presevo issue. On 10 January, Serbia and Montenegro's minister for human rights and minority rights, Rasim Ljajic, and Nebojsa Covic, who is Belgrade's point man for southern Serbia and Kosova, paid separate visits to the Presevo region, each warning unnamed people against "misusing" Hajrullahu's death for political purposes.

The following day, top Serbian government and security officials decided that Covic's Coordination Center will deal with the Presevo situation and invited local Albanian political leaders to take part in that body's work. The Albanian response was noncommittal, but RFE/RL's broadcasters noted that Albanian politicians are unlikely to work for an institution that their voters regard as a vehicle to facilitate Belgrade's involvement in the affairs of Kosova. In Prishtina, some media commentators suggested that Belgrade was deliberately stirring up trouble in Presevo in order to destabilize the situation in Kosova and thereby further delay the resolution of the province's final status.

Mayor Halimi told the BBC's Serbian Service on 12 January that the only meaningful role the Coordination Center and other government bodies can play in Presevo is in promoting demilitarization. He added that most of the progress made in establishing equality, as set down in the 2001 agreement, has been thanks to the involvement of international organizations and diplomats and not to Belgrade. He stressed that the key issue is how to find a feasible and realistic way of establishing equality and security without changing borders, as was agreed in 2001.

Meanwhile, in the Serbian capital, President Boris Tadic said the situation in southern Serbia is "very delicate," adding that "a war must not be allowed to start." Elsewhere, Covic argued that demilitarization is out of the question. For his part, Ljajic also distanced himself from Davinic's proposal to replace troops with police, calling instead for troops to stay out of Albanian villages and avoid "provocative behavior," Deutsche Welle's Serbian Service reported. On 13 January, Ljajic announced that an official investigation confirmed that the soldier who killed Hajrullahu acted "according to military rules and regulations," RFE/RL noted. (Patrick Moore)

DOES MACEDONIA NEED A NEW AMNESTY? A debate is under way in Macedonia about a new amnesty for crimes linked to the 2001 interethnic conflict between the Macedonian authorities and ethnic Albanian insurgents of the National Liberation Army (UCK). Most legal experts and commentators doubt, however, that an additional amnesty would make any sense.

An amnesty for minor crimes linked to the 2001 conflict was one of the preconditions for the UCK to end its insurgency. After lengthy debates, parliament passed the amnesty law in March 2002. The delay in the adoption of the law mirrored the opposition to the amnesty of then-Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski and his conservative nationalist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2002 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 November 2001 and 15 March 2002). As a result of the amnesty, the Macedonian authorities released most UCK members who were under arrest or already sentenced.

In December, however, the question of an additional amnesty surfaced. The debate was triggered by two separate developments. The first took place in the village of Kondovo outside Skopje. Leaders of an armed Albanian group that controlled the village for several weeks subsequently demanded that they be included under the 2002 amnesty (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7, 16, and 20 December 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 and 10 December 2004).

The second development was a call for a new amnesty from a rather unexpected source: the prestigious Macedonian PEN center. "The new amnesty law must benefit all Macedonian defenders, including former Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski, who in those days was also a poet," "Dnevnik" on 10 December quoted PEN member Katica Kjulafkova as saying. Macedonian politicians and media refer to the police and army members who fought against the UCK as national "defenders," which is a term also used in Croatia for most veterans of the 1991-95 conflict. The PEN center argued that if the state tries and sentences government officials in connection with the armed conflict, it acknowledges that the state was responsible for the conflict.

The background to the PEN club's demand is the fact that Boskovski and a number of high-ranking Interior Ministry officials are being held in detention. They are under investigation in connection with two separate incidents: a police operation in the village of Ljuboten in the last days of the conflict in August 2001 in which about 10 civilians were killed, and the killing of six Pakistanis and one Indian outside Skopje on 2 March 2002.

The case of Ljuboten might have fallen under the 2002 amnesty because it took place during the conflict. But the killing of the Pakistanis and the Indian occurred after the peace deal. As the investigation has so far shown, the Pakistanis and the Indian were ambushed by the police in an apparent setup so that they could later claim that they had killed Islamist terrorists (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 10 August 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 May and 20 August 2004).

In a reaction to the PEN center's proposal, the ethnic Albanian journalist Daut Dauti accused the writers and poets of "intellectual blindness." Dauti wrote in "Dnevnik" of 18 December that "if the intellectuals demand that Boskovski be granted an amnesty, this means that they acknowledge that he [is guilty] of conducting his own war." He added that "the liquidation of a group of young Pakistani citizens [and one Indian] is one of the most shameful events in peacetime Macedonia, about which the Macedonian authorities cannot and must not remain silent."

For the new political party of former Prime Minister Georgievski, the VMRO-Narodna, such arguments do not hold water. When the relatives of the detained high-ranking police officials began setting up roadblocks outside the Skopje courthouse and the parliament in late December, the VMRO-Narodna followed the PEN center in its demand for a new amnesty law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 2005). The VMRO-Narodna argues that only members of the UCK have benefited from the 2002 amnesty, while members of the Macedonian Army and police can still be prosecuted.

At present, it is unclear which political parties will support the VMRO-Narodna's draft amnesty law. Janevska said that the opposition VMRO-DPMNE, the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH), the ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD), and the Liberal Party will support it. There are conflicting reports as to whether the governing Social Democrats (SDSM) or the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) will back the proposal.

In the meantime, legal experts argue that granting a new amnesty could open the door for endless calls for yet further amnesties. Nazim Maliqi, who is a law professor at Skopje University, told RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters on 10 January that "the best thing would be for those who propose the new amnesty law to take a look at the questions [presented to Macedonia by the EU], especially the questions pertaining to the country's judiciary." (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

QUOTATION OF THE WEEK: "It is necessary for all citizens to see Kosovo as their country, including the Serb community. We all want Serbs to see Kosovo as their home and Prishtina as their capital." -- OSCE Chairman Dimitrij Rupel, who is also Slovenia's foreign minister. Quoted by RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service in Prishtina on 11 January.