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Balkan Report: May 10, 2002

10 May 2002, Volume 6, Number 19

ASHDOWN CALLS FOR CONTINUING U.S. ROLE IN BOSNIA. Paddy Ashdown, who will become the international community's high representative in Bosnia on 27 May, wrote in the "Financial Times" of 3 May that it is in the interest of the U.S. to maintain a presence in Bosnia (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 26 April and 3 May 2002).

Ashdown argued that Washington "cannot afford to let today's weak states become tomorrow's havens for organized crime and terrorism, to let today's Bosnias become tomorrow's Afghanistans." He added that the U.S. now accounts for less than 15 percent of the military force in Bosnia.

By staying until the job is finished, the U.S. will ensure that the EU will then be able to manage things in the Balkans effectively and also be able to help in Afghanistan and elsewhere further afield. Ashdown argued that "11 September strengthens the case for U.S. involvement in the Balkans." In Sarajevo, "Oslobodjenje" wrote on 3 May that it is confident that the U.S. will remain true to its global responsibilities, including those in Bosnia. The U.S. is the one true economic and military power in the world and the only one that can make a real difference, the daily concluded. (Patrick Moore)

RUGOVA CONFRONTS MILOSEVIC: DAY ONE. Kosova's first president, Ibrahim Rugova, testified on 3 May in the war crimes trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Rugova gave evidence about the Serbian campaign against ethnic Albanians which culminated in the 1999 NATO air war against Yugoslavia. He was also cross-examined by Milosevic, who is representing himself in the trial in The Hague.

Rugova confronted his long-time political foe, accusing him of wanting "to destroy Kosova through violence and war." Rugova told the tribunal that Milosevic began a campaign of violence against Kosova Albanians in the 1990s in an effort to put down a bid for independence.

The Kosovar leader described how thousands of ethnic Albanians were fired from their jobs "because of their ethnicity." Rugova explained how he helped develop an underground political system and network of schools to counter the repression and attacks. The schools were run out of private homes after ethnic Albanian children were no longer permitted to study in their own language.

Rugova said that throughout the 1990s he led a peaceful resistance movement, but that as the violence increased, he worried that ethnic Albanians would begin to take up arms. "We were for peaceful solutions, for a peaceful policy, and we naturally were frightened because if there were no results, and [there were no peaceful solution], the citizens and the people of Kosova might react [violently] because the general repression was very strong."

The Kosovar leader described a meeting with Milosevic in 1998. He said Milosevic justified the violence and oppression against ethnic Albanians in Kosova as a necessary state response against terrorists.

Rugova "said that the situation in Kosova was bad and that there was much violence and repression, and [Milosevic] of course justified it by saying that the state must respond because there were groups of terrorists [at large]. I also mentioned the issue of independence."

Rugova gave a brief overview of his meeting with Milosevic in the spring of 1999 after NATO had already begun its air campaign. After that meeting, Rugova appeared on television shaking hands with Milosevic and appealing to NATO to resolve the conflict peacefully. Rugova did not fully explain why he made the televised appeal, saying only that it was Milosevic's idea to make a statement before the press.

Tribunal spokesman James Landale told RFE/RL that Rugova was one of the most important prosecution witnesses to take the stand since Milosevic's trial began in February. He says Rugova's role as a pacifist enhances his credibility as a witness. "The prosecution will be asking him about his peaceful struggle for independence, what measures he took along with other Kosova Albanian leaders to try and resolve the various difficulties and differences with the Serb authorities in Belgrade."

Early that same afternoon, Milosevic began his cross-examination of Rugova, focusing on the role of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) in the violence that broke out in Kosova. In a brief line of questioning before the tribunal took an afternoon recess, Milosevic questioned Rugova on whether the UCK was a "terrorist" movement.

Rugova dismissed the question, saying that the rebels were "an organization that responded to repression and violence for the purpose of winning freedom for the people." (Alexandra Poolos)

RUGOVA CONFRONTS MILOSEVIC: DAY TWO. On 6 May, Rugova accused Milosevic of lying and "mixing up" details about what had happened in Kosova during the 1990s. He made the allegation after Milosevic said that the reason he first sent Yugoslav troops into Kosova had been to deal with what he called "genocide" against the Serbian community there.

Rugova said he had met with Milosevic on three different occasions during 1998 and 1999. But Rugova said that despite those meetings, he was unable to provide any evidence on the way decisions were made by Milosevic's cabinet. "I do not know much because I was not in those circles or a part of that system. It is known who were the leaders at that time. And it was the accused and the other [indictees]."

Prosecutors from the tribunal also asked Rugova if he could provide specific evidence that would help them prove a key point in their case against Milosevic -- the allegation that Milosevic had been involved in decisions to ethnically cleanse Kosova. But again, Rugova said he had no new evidence to offer other than events that are already well-known. "The facts I know are those that I have seen, those that have happened. The accused had the office he had. He was president, commander in chief of the armed forces and head of the police of Belgrade. This doesn't need further comment."

Milosevic's cross-examination of Rugova included questions aimed at linking Rugova's Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) party to the UCK. Milosevic's defense has been focusing on the UCK's role in the violence that broke out across Kosova during the late 1990s. His questions appeared aimed at supporting his claim that the UCK was a "terrorist" movement responsible for "terrorist activities."

But Rugova brushed aside those allegations. The ethnic Albanian leader said the UCK was "an organization that responded to repression and violence for the purpose of winning freedom" for ethnic Albanians. Rugova stressed that he had neither a role in, nor any knowledge of any attacks planned by the UCK during 1998 and 1999. He also said his records show he had tried to bring an end to the anti-Serb violence that erupted in Kosova in June 1999 after Yugoslav military forces left the province and a UN administration took over.

"I know nothing about [any] killings [in 1998 and early 1999]. But as far as the killings after the war are concerned, we opened investigations in cooperation with the United Nations Mission in Kosova (UNMIK) and the [shadow-state] government of Kosova. We arrested people. They are in jail, and they will be punished. Of course, now we must continue the investigations with the cooperation of the institutions -- with UNMIK and KFOR and with the Kosova police force."

Rugova admitted there were some contacts between members of his LDK party and the UCK during 1998 and early 1999. "We received information [about the UCK] from the district level, and that information did reach us.... But it [wasn't our main source of information because it was] very difficult to communicate at that time."

Rugova told the UN court that his main source of information about the UCK was to monitor television, radio, and newspaper reports. "The UCK activity was shown in the media -- the confrontations that occurred between the UCK and the Yugoslav army and the [Interior Ministry] police of Belgrade. And everybody saw the consequences of these confrontations."

In Belgrade, there were fresh complaints about the way the UN tribunal is operating in the Milosevic case. Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's party -- the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) --issued a statement at the weekend criticizing the tribunal for calling on Rugova to testify on Good Friday of the Orthodox Christian calendar.

A statement from the party said that by calling for Rugova's testimony during such an important Orthodox Christian holiday, the tribunal had undermined every attempt to establish normal relations with the state institutions of Yugoslavia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May 2002). (Ron Synovitz)

MACEDONIAN MEDIA UNDER FIRE. World Press Freedom Day was marked on 3 May, and in Macedonia, a number of broadcast journalists staged a five-minute work stoppage, reportedly to protest government interference. Many Western diplomats and Macedonian analysts agree that the news media in Macedonia are often manipulated by the government for its own purposes. Meanwhile, public trust in the country's media outlets is low.

In one example, Macedonian news media recently reported that an Albanian gunman had been killed and two others injured in a shootout with Macedonian forces near the country's border with Kosova.

The source was an army spokesman who said the gunmen had been in a truck trying to cross the border illegally into Macedonia and had opened fire on a border patrol, after which a second group of gunmen on the Kosova side of the border opened fire. There were no outside witnesses, and the Macedonian forces claimed to have dispersed the alleged gunmen.

It was the latest in a series of unverifiable reports about Macedonia's security forces over the past several months that invariably place the government in a positive light and provide a justification for the deployment of security forces along the border with Kosova. Western diplomats and Macedonian analysts, however, express skepticism about the veracity of such reports and the way they are disseminated in the local news media.

Over the last two months, Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski has publicized a variety of incidents in a way that -- in the view of his critics -- constitutes an attempt to manipulate the news media.

More than 10 years after Macedonia declared independence amid the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia, the country still has not enacted a law on public information. As one senior Western diplomat in Skopje put it, "The level of journalism in Macedonia is of very poor and of uneven quality."

Biased and inaccurate media reportage was a contributing factor in the wars throughout the former Yugoslavia, and Macedonia was no exception. The ethnic Albanian insurgency resulted in a government crackdown on Albanian language programs on public TV and radio, including suspension of such broadcasts for several days.

Public trust in the media is minimal. According to a recent Swedish study, barely 15 percent of Macedonians and less than 8 percent of ethnic Albanians believe Macedonia's mass media are independent. More than four-fifths of each nationality believe the media are influenced by powerful people and organizations.

Parliamentary elections are due to be held on 15 September, and polls suggest the ruling Macedonian nationalist party (VMRO-DPMNE), which is in coalition with the Democratic Party of Albanians (PDSH), is likely to lose to the opposition Social Democrats (SDSM).

Some Western diplomats and political analysts believe Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski and Interior Minister Boskovski are eager to provoke some sort of a resumption of last year's conflict between Albanian rebels and Macedonian security forces to improve their chances of re-election. The conflict ended with the signing last August at Ohrid of a U.S. and European Union-brokered framework agreement granting Albanians greater civil rights. But VMRO-DPMNE has dragged its heels in implementing the accord.

One of the most glaring incidents occurred on 2 March, when Macedonian security forces north of Skopje shot seven men, apparently of South Asian origin, who were said to be wearing uniforms of the disbanded ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (UCK).

Interior Ministry officials and some in the media speculated that the men were somehow affiliated with the Al-Qaeda terrorist network, though no proof beyond their dark skin was proffered.

Shortly after the shootings, Boskovski told reporters the seven men were armed and had opened fire after police had told them to surrender. "This group was eliminated. That means the seven were killed. In all likelihood, they were foreigners. The autopsies will show this."

Western diplomats who saw the bodies at the morgue and visited the site of the police ambush say the shooting appears to have been a massacre. They suspect the seven may have been illegal migrants who were duped by Macedonian security forces into dressing in military fatigues, only to be slaughtered for propaganda purposes.

Several weeks after the shooting, the Macedonian news media reported that only one of the seven, a Pakistani citizen, had been positively identified. Diplomats say that information was leaked by Boskovski to a single reporter without attribution and was never officially confirmed by the Interior Ministry. The identities of the other six remain a mystery.

Boskovski has not responded to repeated requests for an interview.

On 25 March, the fledgling Coordinating Council of Albanians in Macedonia, which groups the three main Albanian parties with commanders of the disbanded UCK, was attacked in the Tetovo suburb of Mala Recica. Several news media, quoting police sources, reported an attack the same evening on the former UCK's headquarters in Sipkovica. In fact, Western diplomats and monitors insist there was no shooting of any kind in Sipkovica that day.

Saso Colakovski edits the domestic politics pages of the independent daily "Utrinski Vesnik." Colakovski says it is up to journalists to resist government attempts at manipulation. "It's up to the journalist or the media outlets how they receive those efforts of some ministers of the government to force any information to be published.... [Just] one TV station nationwide, not television as a whole, but just one or two journalists, are under [Boskovski's] control."

Former Interior Minister Pavle Trajanov says the news media's weakness -- that is, its frequent inability to avoid being manipulated -- is part of the widespread corruption and organized crime that he says pervade state structures. "What's true is that Macedonia is unstable, that there's shooting, that there are paramilitary formations, that there are huge quantities of weapons. More than 200,000 illegally held firearms are at large in Macedonia. The whole state of affairs is marked by turbulence. It all depends on whom you pay for information, [and on] who gives you the information."

But Magdalena Cizbanovska, a news editor at Kanal 5, a private TV station, insists Macedonian reporters sought to present all sides of last year's conflict and its aftermath. "There hasn't been a single case when Macedonian journalists have provided a twisted picture of what's been going on in the field. They're reporting as required about the army, and they are not under pressure from the government."

Vladimir Milcin, who heads the Open Society Institute in Macedonia, offers a more skeptical view. He says it is difficult for the public to have well-informed opinions about the issues given the partial information available in most of the country's media. "If one wants to come to the facts, then he has to watch more than one TV station, he has to read more than one daily. Basically, you have parts of the truth and you have to put together pieces and you have to eliminate the false news or you have to become aware that some things have been ignored by some of the media."

Milcin says the primary cause of this situation is the opaque way the news media is financed in Macedonia, which he says is related to the nontransparent funding of political parties. Political parties in the government influence the media, Milcin says, by allocating advertising and ensuring income for some media and none for others. "The other issue which is influencing [the media] is that there are threats, there is violence used against journalists and also there have been issues of wiretapping a number of journalists. So it is a combination of factors. Some of the journalists are bribed -- it's obvious -- because you have cases where suddenly overnight you have a complete change of position by some journalists."

Milcin says editors often inject their own political views into TV news programming, so that on one station on one day, the news will have a pro-reform, pro peace-with-the-Albanians slant. The next day, as Milcin puts it, "You have completely the opposite -- xenophobic reporting that is opposed to the Ohrid framework peace agreement."

Presidential adviser Ljubomir Frckovski alleges that private Macedonian news broadcasters have shown greater responsibility than the Albanian-language media. "[The independent Macedonian-language TV stations] more or less keep a line in relatively objective information. And we avoid a situation like in the Albanian camp where the media are completely, 100 percent, covered by the parties' influence."

The ethnic Albanian coalition partner, the PDSH, which was already controlling the daily "Flaka," is alleged to have gained control over the private Albanian-language newspaper "Fakti," too, leaving the Albanian minority with no independent daily.

But "Fakti" editor Arben Vratkovci denies this. He insists "Fakti" remains independent while "trying as much as possible to promote unity among the Albanian political parties."

The chairman of the Coordinating Council of Albanians in Macedonia, the amnestied political commander of the disbanded UCK, Ali Ahmeti, says some media outlets, particularly Macedonian-language ones, are encouraging groups to undo what has been achieved so far.

Nevertheless, he says, modest progress is being made, though much still remains to be done. (Jolyon Naegele)

QUOTATION OF THE WEEK. "We were not used. The great powers and the international community came out in our defense and the human rights of our people, and the massacres were perpetrated by Belgrade and you. No people can be used by someone else. That is the truth." -- Kosova President Ibrahim Rugova, replying to Slobodan Milosevic in The Hague. Milosevic had asked Rugova if the Albanians had been "used" by the West for unspecified ulterior motives. Quoted by RFE/RL on 3 May.