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Balkan Report: February 27, 2001

27 February 2001, Volume 5, Number 16

SECURITY ISSUES OVERSHADOW BALKAN SUMMIT. The fourth summit of the Southeast European Cooperation Process (SEECP), which took place in Skopje on 23 February, ended with declarations typically based on the lowest common denominator. Participants all appeared concerned about the security situation in the region. Belgrade seems determined to quickly regain the central political position it lost under Milosevic.

The summit was attended by heads of state or government from Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Romania, Turkey, and Yugoslavia, as well as an "observer" from Croatia. They approved a plan for economic cooperation which stresses cooperation in energy and in cross-border transportation links. The EU's Bodo Hombach appealed to regional leaders to "help yourself so that we can help you."

Although the main purpose of the summit was to discuss economic cooperation, the meeting was overshadowed by security issues in Kosova and the Presevo Valley. The final document did not specify concrete measures to end the violence but condemned the "use of violence, terrorism, and extremism" in Kosova. It also slammed unspecified "violent and illegal terrorist actions by the ethnically-motivated extremist armed groups in South Serbia, which could have the effect of destabilizing the situation in the region."

The EU's Chris Patten and Javier Solana warned the Kosovar Albanians that international patience with the violence in Kosova is wearing thin. Patten called on "every Kosovar to make a stand" on the issue: "It is time for every Kosovar leader, every Kosovar to make a stand -- time to abandon silent indifference, time to make clear that you will not tolerate this violence, time to stand up against it and outlaw its perpetrators. If that does not happen, it will be a tragedy. Because the rest of this region is moving forward now, along the road to a peaceful, prosperous future. Most people across the region are sick and tired of conflict and war," Reuters reported. He stressed that "the people of Kosovo need a wake up call, because it is the whole of Kosovo that risks paying -- literally and figuratively -- if this barbarism carries on," AP noted.

For his part, Solana warned that continued violence will jeopardize the Kosovars' long-term political hopes. "The continuation of violence will affect the fledging stability of the region as a powerful deterrent to direct foreign aid. [If ethnic Albanian leaders do not act soon], some members of the international community will raise unpleasant but valid questions about whether Kosovars are ready for substantial autonomy" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 February 2001).

Individual leaders from the region were similarly blunt. Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski said that one "should not underestimate" the danger of regional destabilization, dpa reported. Trajkovski called for unspecified measures to "stop and disarm the violence, disarm armed groups, and launch the search for a true and constructive dialogue. I warn you that it would be very dangerous if the world underestimates the need to urgently solve this problem," he said, referring to the armed clashes in the Presevo Valley.

Trajkovski doubtlessly also had in mind recent reports of the appearance of armed, uniformed ethnic Albanian guerrillas on Macedonian territory, as reported in the "International Herald Tribune" on 26 February. And on the sidelines of the summit, he and Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica signed an agreement regulating their joint border, despite Kosovar objections that Belgrade has no right to speak for Prishtina (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 February 2001).

Meanwhile at the summit, Albanian Prime Minister Ilir Meta noted that the ouster of President Slobodan Milosevic makes easier the "struggle against extremism in the Presevo Valley, Mitrovica, and other places." He appealed to Kosovar Albanians to improve "cooperation and their common life with the Serbs and other peoples," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Meta also called on Kosovar Serbs to take part in the development of "democratic institutions." Referring to his talks with Kostunica, Meta added: "We are tired of and bitter over the past that we have put behind us. I agree with President Kostunica that terrorism and atrocities do not have color and ethnicity."

Kostunica, for his part, once again used a well-publicized event to keep up political pressure on the West and perhaps foster feelings of guilt that could potentially be transformed into political and economic dividends. Like Milosevic, he blamed a goodly portion of Serbia's troubles on NATO air strikes and sanctions rather than on the legacy of more than half a century of communist dictatorship. (Nor did he seem ready to consider that there might have been good reason for the air strikes and sanctions.)

The Yugoslav president chose to criticize UNMIK and NATO and portray Serbia as the victim of "Albanian extremists and terrorists," rather than discuss why Belgrade might have difficulties with its ethnic Albanian neighbors and fellow citizens. He demanded unspecified "energetic steps" to "support Yugoslavia's political efforts" in the region. He stressed that "terrorism" undermines the role of KFOR and the UN civilian administration in Kosova. He added that the Presevo security zone has become a "base for terrorist activity."

After returning to Belgrade, Kostunica told reporters on 24 February that he expects to begin talks "in the next few days with representatives of the EU and NATO about concrete measures against terrorism," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Two days later, an unidentified "senior NATO official" told Reuters in Brussels that some unspecified change regarding the security zone is in the offing but declined to say more than "watch this space."

Meanwhile in Prishtina, a KFOR spokesman said on 24 February that there is "nothing new" in Kostunica's renewed call at the Balkan summit for Serbian forces to return to Kosova. The Milosevic regime also frequently called for the re-admission of Serbian forces to the province, ostensibly to improve the security situation. Some observers have noted that the return of any Serbian forces would, however, most likely aggravate the security situation by serving as a provocation to Kosova's 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority. One of Kostunica's advisers wrote two articles in "NIN" in December, in which he nonetheless called for gaining the support of the international community for Serbia's "return" to Kosova.

In any event, Serbia urgently needs to clear up the problems left over from its heritage of being the dominant power in the region and to concentrate instead on political, economic, legal, and social reforms at home (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 January 2001). Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic said on 24 February that vital foreign investment will not reach Serbia until the status of Kosova is settled, the relationship with Montenegro redefined, the Presevo crisis ended, and the issue of cooperation with The Hague clarified. (Patrick Moore)

MILOSEVIC'S SECRET POLICE BOSS UNDER ARREST. The arrest over the weekend of the former head of Serbia's state security service, Rade Markovic, sends the clearest signal yet that the authorities in Belgrade are moving toward arresting former President Slobodan Milosevic. RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele reports that Markovic's arrest is likely to help solve numerous politically based murders and disappearances in the final years of the Milosevic regime. Here is his report:

Ever since several hundred thousand Serbs took to the streets of Belgrade last October and persuaded Milosevic to concede defeat in elections he tried to manipulate, the new government has zigzagged on its intentions to bring the former dictator to justice.

Milosevic's successor, Vojislav Kostunica, has pledged not to hand the ex-president to the UN war crimes tribunal at The Hague.

Visiting Slovakia on 26 February, Kostunica again indicated that Milosevic will have to answer to courts in Belgrade rather than The Hague. He said the rule of law will prevail over any sense of "revolutionary justice" that, according to Kostunica, had existed in Yugoslavia for more than half a century. "As far as the fate of the former President Milosevic is concerned and a trial that could take place in regard to his accountability, this is a question for our judicial organs, the laws, and the courts. We'll do everything that has to be done."

Also on 26 February, the UN tribunal convicted the first senior politician from the former Yugoslavia of crimes against humanity. The court sentenced the former vice president of the Croat para-state known as Herceg-Bosna, Dario Kordic, to 25 years in prison for persecuting, killing, and detaining Muslims in central Bosnia from late 1991 to 1994.

Hague court Judge Richard May's words were clearly addressed as much to Milosevic and others indicted of war crimes and still at large as they were to Kordic, who stood in the dock as May read out his sentence. "The fact that you were a politician who took no part in the actual execution of the crimes makes no difference. You played your part as surely as the men who fired the guns. Indeed, the fact that you were a leader aggravates the offenses."

But it was Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic who announced on 24 February the arrest of the once-feared head of Serbia's secret police, Rade Markovic, whose alleged crimes were of a more domestic nature. "I'd like to inform you that the Serbian Interior Ministry, acting on a warrant from the public prosecutor and the Belgrade district court, today took into custody the former commander of the department for state security, Mr. Radovan Markovic, on suspicion of having committed murder according to article 57, paragraph 2/6 of the penal law of the Republic of Serbia and of the crime specified in the official document article 248, paragraph three."

On 25 Februay, Batic told a local radio station that Markovic's arrest was "just the beginning of the story, and probably at the top of the pyramid is Slobodan Milosevic. But we want everything done according to the law, backed up by facts, evidence, and arguments." He said it is logical to expect that Markovic's arrest was a step that will, in Batic's words, "tighten the net."

In announcing Markovic's arrest on 24 February, Batic said that two other Interior Ministry employees were also charged with murder in an October 1999 attack on the Belgrade-Cacak highway. In that incident, a Mercedes-Benz truck, owned by the Serbian Interior Ministry, slammed into a vehicle carrying leaders of the opposition Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO), including the party's chairman Vuk Draskovic. Draskovic was slightly injured, but four of his aides, including his brother-in-law, were killed.

Batic noted that murder in Serbia carries a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum penalty of death.

He declined to say when Markovic was arrested but noted that the former security chief did not put up any resistance.

Draskovic, in an interview with RFE/RL's South Slavic Service, was quick to criticize the authorities for taking so long to arrest Markovic. "It's good that Markovic [has] been arrested, but this raises the question of why only now. Why weren't they arrested 6 October [when Milosevic resigned] and how many of their many crimes have they managed to cover up in the last three-and-a-half months?"

Draskovic says that in the last two to three years, several hundred Serbian citizens were the victims of political murders, including newspaper publisher Slavko Curuvija and former Serbian President Ivan Stambolic, who has been missing for the past six months. He also says that most evidence of state security involvement in these murders has probably been destroyed since October.

A journalist with the Belgrade weekly "Vreme," Filip Svarm, agrees with Draskovic that the new regime has been slow to prosecute. He says that certainly much evidence, but equally certainly not all evidence, of the highway attack has been destroyed since the fall of the Milosevic regime.

Still, Svarm says, Markovic's arrest is a positive signal. "It is the first indication by the new authorities that they are bringing to account all those in Serbia who created one of the most corrupt and dangerous countries on earth, a country where connections among top politicians, organized crime figures, and the police was a way of life."

Svarm says the Markovic case shows that what he terms "political corruption" went right to the top of the former regime and that Milosevic's arrest is inevitable, though when it will occur remains unclear.

But Svarm says it remains to be seen whether the arrest of Markovic will shed any light on the disappearance of Stambolic, which he describes as "one of the most difficult and murkiest issues."

Stambolic's wife, Kaca, expressed relief at Markovic's detention. "Whether [Markovic's arrest] was due to Ivan or to his close relationship with Slobodan Milosevic [and his wife] Mira Markovic -- he's a person who didn't just contact them on official business, they meet privately. He was an absolute friend, he carried out his orders. But those who gave the orders also know that he'll give their names."

But whether Markovic will, in fact, tell all remains far from certain. (Jolyon Naegele)

QUOTATIONS FROM THE HAGUE. "What the evidence shows is that the rapes were used by members of the Bosnian Serb armed forces as an instrument of terror, an instrument they were given free rein to apply whenever and against whomsoever they wished." -- Hague tribunal Judge Florence Mumba, quoted by RFE/RL on 22 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 February 2001).

"What the evidence shows are Muslim women and girls, mothers and daughters together, robbed of their last vestiges of human dignity. Women and girls, treated like chattel, pieces of property at the arbitrary disposal of the Serb occupation forces, and more specifically at the beck and call of the three accused." -- Mumba.

"The three accused were not just following orders, if there were such orders to rape Muslim women. The evidence shows free will on their part." -- Mumba.

"Although in these cases before this tribunal it is generally desirable to prosecute and try those in the higher echelons of power, the trial chamber will not accept low rank or subordinate function as an escape from criminal prosecution." -- Mumba

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "I do not speak Serbian, Croatian, or Bosnian. I speak the language of competitive economic skills, because that's the only language that will help us survive." -- Bosnian Prime Minister Bozo Matic. Quoted by AP in Sarajevo on 22 February.

"It's them [the UCPMB]," says a Serbian policeman who gives his name as Branko, pointing at a shadow that disappears into an unfinished three-storey house. "During the day, they man their checkpoints, wearing arms and uniforms. In the evening, they put on civilian clothes, sit in their cars and go to Bujanovac for a coffee. They cross our checkpoints without a problem. We know it's them. This is so weird...It would not be a problem for us to clear those armed guys out," Branko says. "It would take two to three days. It could not be done without numerous casualties among their civilians and on our side. But it is a no-go for us. We have to do what the politicians say," he adds. -- from London's "Independent" of 23 February.

"Yugoslavia is the key to the security and stability of the Balkans." -- Kostunica. Quoted by CTK in Bratislava on 26 February.

"The whole world is against us. And now they're killing us." -- Kosovar Serb at memorial service for victims of the bus bombing. Quoted by AP in Gracanica on 25 February.