Accessibility links

Breaking News

Balkan Report: January 30, 2001

30 January 2001, Volume 5, Number 8

MORE OF TREPCA'S GRISLY SECRETS? Washington-based U.S. National Public Radio recently quoted Serbian eyewitnesses as saying that Serbian forces burned the corpses of up to 1,500 ethnic Albanian atrocity victims in 1999. The burnings allegedly took place at the Trepca lead mining and metallurgical complex near Mitrovica. If the story is true, the figure would account for about one-half of the Kosovars still reported missing from the 1998-1999 conflict, AP reported on 25 January.

One witness said that the bodies were first dug up from mass graves that NATO satellites had identified in their search for evidence of war crimes. The bodies were too large to fit inside Trepca's furnaces, so they were first ground up in an ore-processing machine, the witness added. The witnesses gave only their first names.

Another of the men said: "The point was not to hide the bodies in mass graves but to totally destroy them. It would be as if these people never existed." He added: "I think our people understood that sooner or later some of these Western organizations, like the Hague tribunal, might come into Kosovo. We needed a good way to destroy the evidence," Reuters reported. Another witness added: "This was a horrible scene because there were so many -- like a factory assembly line, but with bodies."

On 26 January, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said that the U.S. has information that by early 1999, Serbian forces did engage in massive killings and a subsequent cover-up campaign. He added, however, that he could not confirm that Trepca was one of the sites used to destroy the evidence, AP reported.

Alastair Graham, who is a Kosova spokesman for the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, said that the court can neither confirm nor deny NPR's report on the basis of the evidence it currently has. He called for "witnesses to come forward and speak to us." Graham added that it is possible than bodies were thrown down mine shafts at Trepca as well as burned, Reuters reported.

Officials of the OSCE added that they have no evidence that Trepca was used in the cover-up, noting that French forensics experts found no such evidence at the complex in 1999.

So the mystery remains, as does the question of who NPR's witnesses were and what they did and saw. Might the tribunal now follow up on the report and seek out the witnesses in order to clear up the story once and for all, at least for the benefit of the families of the missing? (Patrick Moore)

THACI ON THE PROBLEMS OF COOPERATION. Hashim Thaci, former Kosovar guerrilla commander and now chairman of the Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK), told the weekly "Zeri" of 22 January that all citizens of Kosova, regardless of their ethnic background, should work together in joint institutions. He added, however, that there is little willingness to do so among either the Serbs or the other ethnic Albanian political parties, including the moderate Democratic League of Kosova, which won last fall's local elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 November 2000).

Thaci's remarks were made on his return from the U.S., where he held meetings with high-ranking officials, including outgoing Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former NATO commander General Wesley Clark, as well as with Senator Joseph Biden.

Thaci said that his hosts reaffirmed that the U.S. will not withdraw all of its troops from Kosova, but he also stressed that Kosovar politicians will have to work towards reconciliation: "Kosova has emerged from a war, and one of the problems that we are facing in the postwar period is integrating minorities into institutional life here." He stressed that the main problems with integrating minorities involve the Serbian residents of Kosova, but added that "with the exception of the Serbian minority, we have achieved great results. All the other minorities in Kosova take part in the social, political, economic, and cultural life of Kosova through their elected representatives."

Thaci added that "the representatives of the Serbs must understand that Belgrade cannot decide for Kosova anymore, and the local Serbs must begin to feel themselves as equal citizens of Kosova in the sense that they also take responsibility for the general state of affairs, together with the other citizens of Kosova. That means that the local Serbs must take responsibility for the joint creation of a future for all citizens of Kosova, [and do so] through the institutional structures."

Besides Thaci, Ramush Haradinaj, who is the leader of the Alliance for the Future of Kosova (AAK), also attended the meeting with Senator Biden in Washington. Both Kosovar politicians appeared in the same picture afterwards. Asked whether this indicates the establishment of closer cooperation between the two parties, Thaci responded by saying: "Of course I welcome appearing in pictures with other [Kosovar] political leaders, but I really...want cooperation [with them]. I believe that our people like to see the leaders of Kosova in group pictures, but they would welcome it even more if we were to work together for a better Kosova."

In early January, however, Rifat Jashari, who heads a prestigious family in Prekaz, proposed a meeting among prominent Kosovar leaders to jointly discuss a common political strategy (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 January 2001). The family lost 53 members in early 1998 in a battle that marked the beginning of the Kosova war. But neither Thaci nor his moderate rival Ibrahim Rugova, who is the chairman of the Democratic League of Kosova (LDK), responded to the invitation.

Asked why the meeting did not take place, Thaci said: "Long ago I was in the tower [a fortified Ottoman-era family house] of the Jashari family, when the [late] legendary commander Adem Jashari invited us [to stay there]. We worked together and lived together in the tower. I feel like a part of the family, and in this sense I share and always feel the pain...of the Jashari family. After the war I again visited the Jashari family, even without an invitation. And I will visit them again as a friend of this honorable family."

"Zeri" recalled that in early January Thaci invited Rugova to discuss key problems of Kosova, but Rugova declined to accept. Kosovar media at the time suggested that the invitation to the LDK leader came too late, since the LDK had won local elections in the fall of 2000 and did not feel any further need to discuss general strategy with other political parties.

Thaci, however, stressed that it was always difficult to get access to Rugova: "The invitation did not come too late. I have known Mr. Rugova since the early 1990s. Even then, when I was a leader of the student movement, he ignored the questions that I posed to him. I met him again in 1993, when we discussed stepping up the resistance, but he once again ignored our intentions and ideas. Also on the eve of the outbreak of war in Kosova I requested a meeting with him, looking for political, financial, and operational support. I requested yet another meeting before the negotiations in Rambouillet, again after he left Belgrade for Rome [during the war], and once again after the war. All this was meant just to discuss things [openly], but...[I got no response]. Therefore, I think that our invitation was not 'too late.' He does not honor invitations to discuss the great questions of the nation. For my part, I do not think that I can win any political points or prestige by talking to Rugova -- on the contrary."

Meanwhile, Alush Gashi, a senior LDK official, hailed the idea of direct consultations between the different Kosovar political parties. He nonetheless ruled out the possibility that such cooperation would lead to a coalition with the PDK.

Thaci nonetheless argued: "To make it clear: We need to meet, to discuss, and to take decisions about important questions [regarding the constitutional future of Kosova] and not just to meet for consultations. Consultations do not oblige anybody to do anything. We need agreements and joint decisions."

He acknowledged, however, that a coalition with the LDK is unlikely: "During the first three months, since the local government began to work, it has become clear that this party is not ready to govern in a coalition. In those communities where we have won, however, we opened all doors to other political parties to join our local governments."

Looking to the future, Thaci said that the Kosova Protection Corps (TMK) should eventually become the army of Kosova and integrated into NATO. He added that UN Special Representative Hans Haekkerup has promised to involve local experts and the broader public closely in the process of drawing up a constitution for Kosova. Four constitutional experts from the University of Bern in Switzerland are currently working on a draft constitution. Thaci said that he is in close contact with these experts, some of whom he knows from his time as a student in Switzerland. (Fabian Schmidt)

RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER ON 'SEPARATISM.' The Interfax news agency carried the following item from Moscow on 25 January:

"Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev has said he is worried by separatist tendencies evident in Kosovo and the Balkans as a whole. 'We are closely following the situation in the Balkans and in Kosovo, and we are concerned about the centrifugal and separatist tendencies in the work of a number of political and public organizations,' Sergeyev said during his [25 January] meeting with Macedonian Defense Minister Ljuben Paunovski in Moscow.

"'Russia is for strengthening peace and stability in Southern Europe and against the re-drawing of state borders,' he said, adding that it is extremely important to take 'all the necessary political and organizational measures to prevent the emergence of a new hotbed of tension in this region.'

"'This task must be tackled by all the parties concerned. The states' political moves in the face of separatism are particularly important here,' he said, and 'negotiations must be initiated in order to settle the situation peacefully.'" (Patrick Moore)

CONTROVERSY BEDEVILS BULGARIA'S MEDIA LAW. A controversy surrounding the selection of the next director of Bulgaria's National Radio has spotlighted the country's broadcast media laws. Current Bulgarian legislation contains the same kinds of provisions now being called for in the Czech Republic after a crisis over alleged political influence on public television. But RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz reports the Bulgarian law may not be functioning fully as intended. Here is his report.

About 200 Bulgarian journalists signed a petition recently to protest the way the country's broadcasting council is handling the selection of the next director of national radio.

The journalists are demanding the resignation of the seven-member National Council for Radio and Television. They say that after one failed search for a new radio director, the council has proven itself unable to fulfill its duties. The journalists also accuse council members of violating procedures that are outlined in Bulgaria's state broadcasting laws.

Bulgarian media law now looks very much like what striking public TV journalists in the Czech Republic would like their country to adopt. But the Bulgarian variant does not appear to be working well in practice.

Members of Bulgaria's broadcast council are nominated by non-governmental organizations from a broad section of society. They are supposed to be journalists, critics, or artists. Four of the seven council members are appointed by the parliament, and three are named by the presidency.

But Bulgarian journalists say the law, although good on paper, has not prevented partisanship from creeping into public media.

Earlier this month, the Bulgarian council rejected five candidates who were nominated for the job of directing national radio. As called for by law, each candidate was nominated by a non-governmental journalists' organization. Among those rejected by the council was outgoing National Radio Director Alexander Velev, whose term of office expired this month.

Journalists complain that the council exceeded its powers by naming an interim director while it conducts a second search. There also are complaints that some candidates in the first round of nominations were rejected because of their political affiliations rather than on the basis of their ability to do the job.

Opposition members of parliament have called for an extraordinary meeting of the legislature's culture and media committee to look into the matter. In making the call for the sessions, committee Deputy Chairman Dimo Dimov said concerns have been raised about the possibility that the next director of National Radio may be chosen on the basis of political affiliation.

Dimov says the parliamentary committee meeting should take place before a final decision on the next National Radio director is reached by the council. He also says the commission's session should be open to members of the broadcasting council as well as to National Radio journalists.

To be sure, no one in Bulgaria questions the fact that political affiliations play a factor in the appointment of national media directors. Bulgaria went through a series of short-lived governments in the early 1990s. In every case, one of the first steps of each successive government was to replace the state's previous radio and television directors with their own appointments.

President Petar Stoyanov's chief spokeswoman, Neri Terzieva, knows from her own personal experience during the early 1990s about the political nature of the top state broadcasting posts. As a pro-Western reformist who openly supported the anti-communist Union of Democratic Forces, or UDF, Terzieva was the manager at state TV responsible for creating the country's second national television channel, Efir 2, in 1992.

Terzieva attempted to foster a new kind of journalism in Bulgaria based on Western standards of objectivity rather than on the political patronage system of the totalitarian era. But Terzieva herself was forced to leave her state TV director's post after the resignation of UDF Prime Minister Philip Dimitrov in December 1992.

In the mid-1990s, the former communists in the Bulgarian Socialist Party passed laws giving the legislature power to directly appoint state broadcast media bosses.

The current media law was passed after UDF election victories in 1997 gave anti-communists control over both the parliament and the presidency. At first, the law gave the UDF-dominated parliament the exclusive right to name the bosses of state radio and TV. But complaints from journalists led to the creation of the National Council for Radio and Television as a way of reducing parliament's control over broadcasting.

Terzieva told RFE/RL that in the current case, President Stoyanov thinks the laws have been followed properly by the council. She says regulations on the appointment of a National Radio director allow the possibility of a candidate for the post to be nominated or chosen through a contest with rules that are specifically created by the council. But Terzieva says President Stoyanov acknowledges that he has no right to deliberate on the activity of the council because it is an independent public body. (Ron Synovitz)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "We shall not organize a witch hunt, but we won't let the members of the former regime hold on to the assets they plundered from the people." -- Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, in Belgrade on 25 January. Quoted by AP.

"We won't lie to you, we won't steal, and this is a solemn pledge." -- ibid.

"We're a bit disappointed that this initial visit [by Carla Del Ponte to Belgrade] was not more successful." -- U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, quoted by RFE/RL on 25 January.

"The U.S. military is now devoting about 25 percent of its Kosovo resources -- soldiers, aircraft, and intelligence -- to interdicting the flow of rebel supplies and volunteers" between Presevo and Kosova. -- Michael R. Gordon in the "New York Times" of 26 January.

"The happiest people here [in Bosnia] are the 4,900 U.S. troops serving with NATO. 'It's a great opportunity for someone like myself to lead people,' explains Colonel Hain [of SFOR]. 'Everyone here feels that they're doing something important.' This is not spin. You hear this from all U.S. troops: We're keeping the peace and getting experience in everything that an army does -- patrols, intelligence, transport, operations -- except killing people. It beats marching around a flagpole in Germany. It is no accident that the highest rate of re-enlistment in the U.S. Army today comes from troops in Bosnia and Kosovo." -- Thomas L. Friedman in the "New York Times" of 26 January.

"One American soldier on the [Kosova] border has more [psychological] impact than any European soldier." -- Unnamed NATO official in Brussels. Quoted in "Die Welt" on 25 January.