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Balkan Report: January 12, 2001

12 January 2001, Volume 5, Number 3

ROYAL HOPES FOR SERBIA. The following are excerpts from the Christmas and New Year's message of Crown Prince Aleksandar Karadjordjevic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2000):

"...We will remember the year 2000 as one of tremendous achievement, but it is still only the beginning, only the promise of a better future which must be realized. The year 2001 will be one of hard work for the good of everyone. All citizens must join in and tackle the job with enthusiasm and pride. The new government has started well, but the major work is still ahead of us. The people are expecting radical reforms that are indispensable for the recovery of society and the state.

"The interest of the people is in the supreme law for those engaged in public affairs, and this interest demands that political priorities at this historic time should be: emergency measures to ensure the basic living conditions of the population during the winter, urgent assistance to the most threatened of the population, the fight against corruption and crime, the establishment of the rule of law, radical reforms of society and economy, the raising of living standards, the consolidation of democracy and democratic institutions, finding a permanent solution for relations between Serbia and Montenegro and the preservation of the union, close relations with [the] Republika Srpska, regulating the status of Kosovo-Metohija, and not tolerating terrorism.

"Also vital: the reform of the national health service and social services, the implementation of an independent judiciary, and the creation and operation of a free market economy that is totally transparent and open to all investors. A national program to create jobs and attract foreign investment, a training program, and concern for the employed and the unemployed must also be among our top priorities.

"By solving all these problems, Yugoslavia will become a modern democratic economic power and a factor of peace in Southeast Europe and in the world, a country that respects human rights, all religious communities, and ethnic minorities..." (Edited by Patrick Moore)

RUGOVA HINTS AT RUSSIAN ROLE IN 'URANIUM SCARE...' AP reported from Prishtina on 9 January that moderate Kosovar leader Ibrahim Rugova regards the current controversy over depleted uranium as an orchestrated anti-NATO campaign (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 January 2001). The correspondent suggested that Rugova feels that "the depleted uranium scare in the Balkans is being misused by those who opposed NATO intervention in Kosovo, in hopes it will lead to the withdrawal of the NATO-led peacekeeping force." The news agency added that "Rugova named no countries, but appeared to be alluding to Russia." In Rugova's words: "One of the aims of the whole issue is the will of some people to take NATO out of Kosova... [The scare campaign is the work of] those circles that were against NATO intervention in Kosova."

Hajredin Kuci, who is vice president of the Democratic Party of Kosova, said in Prishtina on 9 January that the uranium scare is "more a propaganda issue than something based on fact," AP reported. He added that "we still need to check the health of our citizens, to check radioactivity, regardless of what is being said and written about it."

The controversy comes at a time when Belgrade is seeking to improve its ties to the West. It also comes at a time of year that journalists know to be a predictably slow period for news, when a sensational story of general interest is likely to capture headlines. (Patrick Moore)

...WHILE RUSSIA SPEAKS WITH DIFFERING VOICES. The Russian Foreign Ministry on 10 January called for an international expert assessment of the use of depleted uranium in weapons used by NATO in Yugoslavia, Russian and Western agencies reported. Meanwhile, Duma deputy Nikolai Ryzhkov, who chairs the parliamentary committee investigating NATO's operations in Yugoslavia, said that there must be a "special body" convened to investigate what he called "NATO's crimes" in Yugoslavia. Duma Foreign Relations Committee chairman Dmitrii Rogozin went even further, arguing that "NATO must pay in real cash" for both damages and the cost of the investigation." He said that Russia must mobilize public opinion in Western countries so that people in those countries will demand that NATO officials explain themselves.

But Russian Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov told Interfax on 10 January that it is unlikely that the Council will take up the issue. He noted that each of the countries involved is investigating, thus downplaying the need for any international investigation. Colonel General Ivan Chizh, the head of the Defense Ministry's military medical department, said there is no reason to overdramatize the situation, even as the deputy commander of Russian airborne troops said that "no facts clearly indicating that tour servicemen are unwell have been discovered," Interfax reported.

Meanwhile, Duma Deputy Chairman Vladimir Lukin said that the issue should be resolved by specialists rather than politicians. And former Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev cautioned against efforts to politicize the issue, Interfax reported. "We should not be too active" in this area, Kozyrev said, noting that "the Soviet Union used to celebrate 'the increase of opposition within NATO,' until it collapsed itself. I hope Russia will not make the same mistake again." (Paul Goble)

BRITAIN SENDS SPECIAL CRIME SQUAD TO KOSOVA. Great Britain is sending a criminal intelligence squad to Prishtina in hopes of cracking down on organized gangs in Kosova, the "Sunday Telegraph" reported on 7 January. The British officers will become the core of a new Central Intelligence Unit, which will be based at the UNMIK headquarters. The investigators will focus primarily on fighting gangs that are smuggling illegal immigrants, prostitutes, and drugs to western Europe.

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook proposed the creation of the intelligence unit to the UN last summer. The intelligence officers will gather information, which they will then hand over to the international UNMIK Police and to the Kosovo Police Service.

The unit, which will eventually include other international officers as well, is also expected to investigate killings believed to have been committed by organized criminals, "Koha Ditore" reported on 9 January. These will include killings such as that of the politician Xhemail Mustafa on 23 November (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1 December 2000).

"Koha Ditore" quoted an unnamed high-ranking British intelligence officer as saying that organized crime poses a "serious threat" and that it is currently spreading in Kosova. The officer suggested that organized criminals are infiltrating political parties and other institutions in Kosova and that fast action is required to prevent the situation from getting out of hand.

Following local elections last fall, Kosovar Albanians have begun taking more power and responsibility into their own hands. This process will accelerate with general elections expected later this year, but it also increases the dangers of Mafia-like organizations establishing a presence in the public administration right from the beginning.

An unnamed EU official told "Koha Ditore" that "we will not allow organized crime in Kosova to succeed, but the Kosovars must take the lead in this fight." The daily also quoted an unnamed NATO diplomat as saying that "the western media have exaggerated the role of the Albanian and Kosovar Mafia.... But [on the other hand], we should never underestimate organized crime." The official added that organized criminals are cooperating throughout the Balkans: "it is astonishing how many Albanians, Serbs, Macedonians, Bosnian Muslims, and others are involved in smuggling, regardless of their nationality." [Editor's note: During the 1992-1995 Bosnian conflict, criminals did a lively business with each other across the front lines.]

In related news, as an example of the weaknesses of the justice system in Kosova, Reuters reported on 8 January that four UNMIK police officers have been charged with negligence following the escape of a teenage murder suspect. UNMIK did not specify the nationality of the officers.

The 15 year-old Kosovar Albanian escapee is suspected of shooting and killing a Russian peacekeeper in the village of Skenderaj in February 2000. The teenager escaped from prison in Prishtina in early December. It was the sixth time he had managed to escape from custody since he was first arrested nine months earlier. An off-duty Kosova police officer found and arrested him in late December in Skenderaj. The boy is now under 24-hour surveillance in the Prishtina jail. (Fabian Schmidt)

KOSOVAR PARTIES DISCUSS UNION. Top officials from the Alliance for the Future of Kosova (AAK) and the Liberal Center Party (PQLK) have started talks about a possible union of their two parties, "Koha Ditore" reported on 9 January.

Both of the parties emerged from the former Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) and have similar political programs. The party leaders--Ramush Haradinaj from the AAK and Naim Maloku from the PQLK--hope to increase their chances of winning parliamentary seats in general elections expected this year.

The AAK is the third largest party in Kosova and gained 7.7 percent of the votes in the local elections on 28 October. The PQLK gained less than 3 percent of the votes. But together the two parties will be able to position themselves in such a way that they can challenge the two main parties on the political spectrum, Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosova (LDK), and Hashim Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK). The LDK got 57 percent of the votes in local elections and can hope for a majority after the next ballot, while the PDK got 28 percent.

Like the two smaller parties, the PDK emerged from the UCK. It will need coalition partners if it wants to form an administration, and the AAK and PQLK appear to be its natural allies.

For the AAK, a union with the PQLK would make sense in order to increase its voter support and bargaining position for later coalition negotiations. Five smaller parties, including the Civic Alliance of Kosova, have already united under the aegis of the AAK.

For its part, the PQLK also sees advantages in a merger, since the party has little hope of surviving the next elections on its own. Party leader Naim Maloku stressed that his party's program is very similar to that of the Civic Alliance and that it would also fit into the AAK. He added: "I want to make clear that this initiative is not meant in any way as hostile towards any other political party. It is simply an initiative to unite two parties within the AAK." Maloku made clear that both parties will soon form working groups to discuss the details of the union. (Fabian Schmidt)

FIRST AS TRAGEDY, THEN AS FARCE. As Yugoslavia began to unravel just over a decade ago with a bit of help from Slobodan Milosevic, official Serbia and Croatia made great efforts to erase the memory of Josip Broz Tito. In Serbia, Milosevic's wife ultimately formed a neo-communist party of political dinosaurs and young opportunists, but her nationalistic United Yugoslav Left (JUL) had precious little in common with Tito's doctrines.

In Croatia, the late President Franjo Tudjman aped Tito's political style but subscribed to very different doctrines.

Now it is young Croatia's turn to borrow from the past. The context is not politics, however, but fashion. "TV Globus" reports in its 5-11 January issue that the latest trends include take-offs on Pioneer caps for the fashionable. Women are shown in revealing costumes based on the old Yugoslav flag, while male models sport nothing but Pioneer caps and something called an army coat. It is not clear in which social circles one is likely to encounter such fashions. (Patrick Moore)

QUOTATIONS FROM MS. PLAVSIC. The following are from an interview that Biljana Plavsic gave to RFE/RL's South Slavic Service in March 2000:

"I had never been informed about concentration camps. The first time I heard about it was when a French academic, who is Jewish by ethnic origin [Bernard Levy], came to Bosnia and demanded to meet Mr. Karadzic. I did not even know that he was coming to Bosnia. I had seen on the TV news coverage that he asked Karadzic to release some prisoners, and the news [commentator] said that some prisoners were released from a camp to mark the Christmas holidays on 25 December 1992. I don't know how many prisoners were released from the camps, but I know that I asked Radovan [Karadzic]: 'Do we really have imprisoned people?'...

"I have never attended these internal party meetings [of Karadzic's Serbian Democratic Party]. They only let me know what I had to do as a member of the Bosnian presidency and what was agreed at these internal party meetings."

And from her lawyer, Krstan Simic, to the Belgrade media on 11 January 2001: "Biljana Plavsic is a realistic and brave woman, aware of the time behind us and the fact that she was a part of the [Bosnian Serb] leadership, and that by that very fact somebody could suspect her of being responsible for something." (Compiled by Patrick Moore)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "The position of the prosecutor's office is that there will be no trial in Belgrade [for Milosevic or any other senior former Yugoslav official]. I don't believe that in Belgrade it is possible to give the same conditions [of protection] to everybody [that they could get at The Hague]. And witnesses coming from the inside of the Milosevic regime, somebody testifying against Milosevic, [would] not get the protection they could get outside of the country. The Hague is a neutral zone." -- Hague tribunal spokeswoman Florence Hartmann, to RFE/RL on 8 January.

"We fear what will happen in the future, when the care of monasteries and churches is taken over by Albanian policemen, who until recently were members of the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army and who committed numerous crimes against the Serbian people. We beg you to reverse your decision, or you will bear responsibility for any damaged or destroyed church." -- Serbian Orthodox Archbishop Artemije to NATO commander General Carlo Cabigiosu. Artemije was protesting a decision by KFOR to stop guarding religious buildings. Quoted by AP from Belgrade on 8 January.