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Balkan Report: May 27, 2004

27 May 2004, Volume 8, Number 18

THE WESTERN BALKANS: WAITING AT NATO'S DOOR. As NATO's June Istanbul summit draws closer, the countries of the western Balkans have again made their wishes for closer ties to the alliance known.

Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia seek an invitation to join NATO or at least a clear timetable for doing so. They were somewhat disappointed by the November 2002 Prague summit, at which they received encouragement to pursue their goal of membership in close cooperation with each other but no timetable.

In May 2003, the three countries were buoyed in their hopes by the founding of the U.S.-Adriatic Partnership Charter, which aims at preparing them for NATO membership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 9 May, and 23 June 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 2002). President George W. Bush said at the time that the agreement reflects both Washington's determination to integrate the three states into the Euro-Atlantic community and their commitment to NATO values and principles.

On 19 and 20 May 2004, the foreign ministers of Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia -- Kastriot Islami, Miomir Zuzul, and Ilinka Mitreva, respectively -- discussed their countries' future cooperation within the framework of the charter. During a joint press conference on 20 May, the ministers said they hope they will receive a clear signal in Istanbul that their countries will be included in the next round of NATO enlargement.

Dpa quoted unnamed "international experts" as saying, however, that it is doubtful that the three countries will be seriously considered for NATO membership before 2007. It is not clear what effect, if any, such disappointing news will have on the three countries' respective political scenes. Croatia hopes to join the EU in 2007, but Macedonia and especially Albania can scarcely expect EU membership at such an early date (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 February 2004).

At the Skopje press conference, Mitreva nonetheless stressed that much has been achieved in the field of military cooperation, adding that the three countries are particularly determined to fight terrorism and organized crime. She announced that Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia plan to send a joint military medical team to Afghanistan.

Mitreva also said the three countries will support Bosnia and Serbia and Montenegro in their efforts to join NATO's Partnership for Peace program. These two countries lag considerably behind Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia in their efforts at integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions.

Serbia and Montenegro's primary problem has been the slow pace of reform aimed at establishing clear civilian control over a slimmed-down military and eliminating persons tainted by war crimes from the officer corps. Its government also needs to improve its cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal.

After meeting with his colleagues from Macedonia, Croatia, and Albania in Skopje, Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic said on 20 May that he hopes that his country and Bosnia will be admitted to the Partnership for Peace program in Istanbul. He stressed, however, that Belgrade must meet its obligations to the tribunal if it wants to join the program. Draskovic nonetheless argued that his country already has better relations with NATO than do some unspecified members of the Partnership for Peace program.

Bosnia is often regarded as a dysfunctional state in which the two entities hold more power than the central authority. It needs to continue reforms aimed at establishing a unified, smaller military under civilian control, and especially to arrest indicted war criminals. The authorities of the Republika Srpska have yet to apprehend a single Hague indictee.

It already seems clear that Bosnia has few hopes for Istanbul. High Representative Paddy Ashdown and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said in London on 20 May that failure to meet its obligations to the tribunal is Bosnia's main obstacle to joining Partnership for Peace. The two men added that Bosnia's chances of being admitted to the program at the summit are slim unless there is a serious improvement in Bosnia's cooperation with the tribunal in the meantime.

In Bijeljina, Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Dragan Mikerevic said that the Republika Srpska and its people will face "big problems" unless war crimes indictees there turn themselves in to the tribunal. He called on indictees to show their patriotism by giving themselves up.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer also indicated in Brussels on 24 May that it is unlikely that Bosnia will be invited to join Partnership for Peace in Istanbul. While noting Bosnia's progress in reforming its military structures, he suggested cooperation with the tribunal remains the main sticking point.

The countries of the western Balkans are clearly proceeding at different speeds on the path to Euro-Atlantic integration. How quickly they do so -- and if they do so -- depends largely on themselves (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 8 August 2003). (Patrick Moore, with Ulrich Buechsenschuetz)

GHOSTS OF DEAD MIGRANTS HAUNT FORMER MACEDONIAN INTERIOR MINISTER. In late April, the investigation of the killing of six Pakistani migrants and one Indian by Macedonian police outside Skopje on 2 March 2002 finally produced results.

A Skopje court ordered the detention of three high-ranking Interior Ministry officials and one businessman on 29 April. Only days later, it successfully asked the parliament to lift the immunity of Ljube Boskovski, who was interior minister in March 2002 and is now a member of parliament for the opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3, 5, and 6 May 2004).

However, Boskovski avoided arrest by fleeing to Croatia, where he repeated his initial claims that the slain migrants were terrorists planning attacks on western embassies in Skopje (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 11 May 2004).

During a 30 April press conference, a Macedonian Interior Ministry spokeswoman summed up the preliminary results of the investigations. According to those findings, Buckovski, General Goran Mitevski, who then headed the Office for Public Security, General Goran Stojkov, the head of the special police unit known as the Lions, and Aleksandar Cvetkov, the director of the special operations technical unit, met in late 2001 to discuss how to improve the government's international standing.

The meeting resulted in the plan to lure foreign migrants into the country and to kill them in a staged shootout, so that the Interior Ministry could claim that it killed Al-Qaeda members who were planning to attack western embassies in Skopje. By mounting that operation, the conspirators allegedly hoped to convince Washington that the Macedonian government was taking active measures in the global war on terrorism after the 11 September attacks.

But the plan was also designed to discredit the former ethnic Albanian rebels of the National Liberation Army (UCK), who had fought the Macedonian government forces in the 2001 interethnic conflict. During that conflict, and after 9-11, Boskovski and other leading VMRO-DPMNE members tried to brand the UCK as a terrorist organization. In spring 2002, the UCK was in the process of transforming itself from a rebel organization into a political party. This party was to become the Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) in June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May and 6 June 2002 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1 February 2002).

According to the Interior Ministry, the conspirators contacted human traffickers in eastern Macedonia to find suitable victims -- young men from the Middle East. With the help of Interior Ministry officials, the six Pakistanis and one Indian were brought to Skopje before they were executed. Then, early on 2 March 2002, two police officers brought them to a village outside Skopje called Rastanski Lozja. When the immigrants got out of a car, members of the Lions hiding nearby opened fire at them. Some of the victims were reportedly hit by as many as 53 bullets.

Already at that time, many Western diplomats suggested that the killing was staged and urged an independent investigation. There were simply too many open questions. Moreover, Boskovski himself made contradictory statements immediately after the killings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 4 March 2002 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 May 2002). A subsequent official investigation into the shootings in summer 2002 ended with what western diplomats described as a "cover-up," as most police involved were exonerated of any wrongdoing.

In a first reaction to the Interior Ministry's press conference, Boskovski insisted on 30 April 2004 that he did not order the killings, adding that such a "monstrous scenario could be made only by a totalitarian government."

What followed were confusing reports as to whether Boskovski was arrested by police, as his legal team initially claimed, or whether he went into hiding, as the Interior Ministry said. But on 7 May, a spokesman for the Croatian police said Boskovski was hiding in that country, probably in Istria. Boskovski lived in Croatia for much of the 1980s and 1990s and holds Croatian as well as Macedonian citizenship (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 April 2004).

Meanwhile, the Macedonian media have begun speculating whether former Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski can also be held responsible for the killings. Boskovski, for his part, refused to return to Macedonia unless the parliament restores his immunity. While the Macedonian Justice Ministry was preparing an extradition request, Boskovski said he was ready to face trial in Croatia rather than in Macedonia.

The material costs of the case -- a lawyer for the Pakistanis' relatives demanded some $12 million in damages, according to London's "The Guardian" -- can be dealt with relatively easy. However, the killing of the migrants also caused considerable damage to Macedonia's international image and to its democratic institutions. To help counter that damage, the Macedonian judiciary needs to provide a fair and impartial trial for the perpetrators. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "I am convinced that in our dialogue there should not be someone who leads and someone who follows.... Our partnership is capable of giving the European continent greater weight in international politics, economic life, and trade, in resolving global security issues, and we intend to take one more step towards accomplishing this goal during today's Russia-EU summit." -- Russian President Vladimir Putin, meeting with EU officials in Moscow on 21 May. Quoted by RFE/RL.

"Germans have questions about whether and to what extent the United States still supports European integration; Americans need to be reassured that the European project is not being hijacked and converted into an instrument of national power by its two largest members." -- Walter Russell Mead in "Goodbye to Berlin?" in "The National Interest," Spring 2004.

"If the price of a good relationship with Europe is the acceptance of a non-reciprocal European veto over American actions, no American president will ever accept it." -- Mead in ibid.

"They defended our people during the war. We suffered more than others." -- Jovan Jovic, a 19-year-old medical student in Banja Luka, speaking about Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic. Quoted in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" on 24 May.