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Balkan Report: March 2, 2001

2 March 2001, Volume 5, Number 17

NATO CAUTIOUS ON PRESEVO SECURITY ZONE. The Atlantic alliance is preparing to take steps toward reducing the size of the security zone between Kosova and Serbia. NATO's caution in readmitting Serbian forces seems well founded, but the alliance still runs the risk of disappointing Serbs while alienating Albanians.

At a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels on 27 February, Secretary-General Lord George Robertson said that the alliance is "prepared to implement a phased and conditioned reduction of the Ground Safety Zone" along Serbia's border with Kosova (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 16 February 2001). He added that the allies are "still working on the details of how this will be done."

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook called the decision a "significant step." Details of the plan are expected to emerge soon, Reuters reported, citing unnamed NATO sources. Referring to the Serbs' Covic plan for the region, an unnamed NATO source told Reuters that the Serbian proposals "created more questions at the point where we thought we were going to get answers."

Yet another unnamed "senior NATO diplomat" observed that ethnic Albanians will regard any reduction in the size of the zone as a concession to the Serbs, so NATO must be "careful not to spark new tensions." He added that Serbia must free Kosovar prisoners and take other, unspecified measures to win the Albanians' confidence. The Serbian military presence in the area must be reduced, he added. The "Wall Street Journal" argued that the Serbs must quickly begin integrating Albanians into local political and police structures.

Speaking on 28 February, Robertson was blunt. "We will move as quickly as we possibly can. But we will also do it with prudence and with care because this is a dangerous situation and we don't intend to make it worse. We are looking for urgent military advice on the [latest Serbian] proposal and on the principle of a conditioned [return to Serbian control] of some parts of the Ground Safety Zone and we will act with speed depending on the advice that we get."

But the Serbian military are in a hurry. General Vladimir Lazarevic, who commands the Yugoslav Third Army in southern Serbia, told a press conference in Nis on 28 February that he sees no reason to withdraw the elite Prishtina Corps from the Presevo region, as NATO has suggested Serbia do as a confidence-building measure. Lazarevic stressed that the army is "impatiently" waiting for details of NATO's ideas on reducing the size of the security zone so that it can implement its own plan for the area. He added that the military aspects of the operation "will not be easy because of the resistance of the Albanian terrorists," "Vesti" reported.

Lazarevic, who commanded the Prishtina Corps during the 1999 ethnic cleansing campaign in Kosova, said that he "hopes" that the reduction in the size of the zone will be a first step toward the return of Serbian troops and police to the province. One of Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's advisors wrote two articles in "NIN" in December in which he suggested that Serbia could "return to Kosovo" with the help of the international community.

This Serbian strategy is well known to Kosova's ethnic Albanian leadership. Representatives of Kosovar political parties issued a declaration in Prishtina on 28 February in which they warned that any reduction in the size of the security zone on the Serbian frontier with Kosova could increase tension in the province by bringing Serbian forces closer. Former guerrilla leader Hashim Thaci said that the zone should be widened rather than narrowed, Reuters reported. Moderate leader Ibrahim Rugova noted that "we agreed that the safety ground should not be reduced because it can endanger the safety of Kosova and also NATO soldiers' lives."

In fact, the news agency noted that "some NATO allies...have lingering doubts about the durability of the new friendship with Serbia that has blossomed since hard-liner Slobodan Milosevic was ousted.... They're asking 'what if the situation changes?'" Observers note that the head of the General Staff, General Nebojsa Pavkovic, commanded Serbian troops in Kosova during the 1999 ethnic cleansing campaign. The commander of the Serbian Interior Ministry special police and deputy interior minister, General Sreten Lukic, commanded Interior Ministry forces in Kosova at that same time (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 February 2001).

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told a news conference in Brussels on 27 February that the problem of the zone should be resolved without turning the nearby Serbian forces into "belligerents...[which would lead to] a more difficult situation than we have now," the "New York Times" reported. An unnamed U.S. official noted that Serbian "tanks are in a very, very aggressive position [and able to] run roughshod over [the zone]."

Reuters observed that NATO does not want to send its own forces into the zone, conduct joint patrols with the Serbs, or allow the Serbs to take on the Albanian insurgents by themselves. Shawn Sullivan, who is political advisor to KFOR commander General Carlo Cabigiosu, said that there is a "definite danger" of a clash between KFOR and Serbian forces if the Serbs are allowed into the zone (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2001). Sullivan noted that there are "still people [in the Yugoslav army and police] who do not want to see a peaceful solution," the "Daily Telegraph" reported.

Reuters noted that the delayed decision on exactly how to reduce the size of the zone is "likely to come as a disappointment to Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, who confidently predicted [the day before] that NATO will soon hand back most of the buffer zone." In Belgrade, Yugoslav Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic nonetheless welcomed the NATO decision, saying that the "security zone was the least secure place in Europe," the "New York Times" reported. But government political leader and parliamentary deputy Cedomir Jovanovic warned that "if NATO does not fulfill its obligations [to prevent armed infiltrators from entering Presevo from Kosova], then we will do it."

Robertson told the Brussels news conference after the ministers' meeting that NATO will send "a political and military mission immediately to Skopje to see what the situation is on the ground," Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2001). He stressed that "NATO is committed to supporting the stability and security of...Macedonia, including the enhanced security of its borders."

Reuters quoted an unnamed "Macedonian defense official" in Skopje as saying that "the situation cannot stay like this. Eventually we have to attack with military force." Later, other Macedonian officials expressed disappointment with the NATO delegation's visit, saying that the guests came with no new ideas and appeared to be "buying time" until the alliance develops more definite ideas.

Elsewhere, President Boris Trajkovski and Defense Minister Ljuben Paunovski prepared a document on the crisis, which they will soon send to NATO and the UN. But the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" noted on 28 February that the long border between Kosova and Macedonia is so rugged that it is not possible for KFOR to control it completely. Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski has nonetheless repeatedly criticized this view.

The Serbian authorities have similarly said that they expect KFOR to exercise control over Kosova's border with the Presevo Valley. KFOR says it is doing its best. Some observers suggest that Belgrade knows this full well but is keeping up the pressure in order to strengthen the case for its own return to the province. (Patrick Moore)

KOSOVAR ALBANIANS UNVEIL DRAFT CONSTITUTION. Representatives of the Dardania Kosovar political association presented a draft constitution in Prishtina on 22 February, "Koha Ditore" reported. Well-known communist-era dissident Adem Demaci, who is now chairman of Dardania, told the daily that "the main aim was to show to the world that we had a constitution once, that we were a state once, and that we cannot return back [to where we were before that]. We cannot accept any framework...that is narrower in nature than what we deserve. And what we deserve is to be a state, like all other states."

Two Kosovar lawyers, Kurtheh Salihu and Fatmir Fehmiu, drew up the constitution in the course of the past two years. The team also included some of the authors of Kosova's shadow-state constitution of 1990. Salihu explained that "according to our draft...Kosova will be a democratic, unified state...with the highest contemporary [provisions for] freedom and human rights. [There will be]...a division of powers and checks and balances between those holding the powers, with wide-ranging local self-government and an effective, [politically] neutral administration."

Fehmiu stressed that the authors of the constitution turned to numerous relevant legal sources in preparing their draft. They include the previous constitutional regulations of Kosova; resolutions of the UN General Assembly, the European parliament, and the U.S. Congress on Kosova; UNMIK regulations of a constitutional character, as well as the relevant UN and EU conventions on human rights and the protection of minorities.

Fehmiu rejected the idea of calling the constitution a "legal framework," arguing that such a term lacks clarity. "After carefully considering the situation and being confident of what we are doing, we have insisted that the text be called a constitution and not a framework."

Fehmi Baftiu, who is an official of Dardania, argued that there are three reasons why the draft should be enacted. The first is that any people needs to have basic legal principles set down in writing. The second is that Kosovar society is sufficiently modern and developed to be able to take such a step. The third is that "incompetent people are currently taking [the affairs of] Kosova into their own hands."

Finally, the chairman of the Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms, Pajazit Nushi, praised the draft as the first one in Kosovar history that gives human rights a central role.

It remains unclear, however, what UNMIK's position is regarding the Dardania draft. UN Special Representative Hans Haekkerup intends to draft a constitution for Kosova before the general elections, which are expected to be held before the end of the year. (Fabian Schmidt)

ALBANIA'S NEW DEMOCRATIC PARTY WANTS COMMITTEE ON ORGANIZED CRIME. The secretary-general of the New Democratic Party, Genc Pollo, has suggested setting up a parliamentary committee to investigate organized crime, "Albanian Daily News" reported on 23 February. Pollo made the proposal following charges that ranking investigator Sokol Kociu was involved in a drug-trafficking ring (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 February 2001).

Pollo stressed that "we want state institutions to strike hard at organized crime." He added that "we are aware that Albanian and international criminal organizations make all manner of attempts to corrupt or implicate senior state officials."

Meanwhile, Kociu has accused Prosecutor-General Arben Rakipi and other senior officials of themselves being corrupt. Pollo said that Rakipi should offer his resignation. He also urged President Rexhep Meidani to intervene in the matter, as the president is entitled to nominate or dismiss the prosecutor-general.

In other news, Zef Bushati, who is chairman of the Christian Democratic Party, said on 22 February that the long-standing polarization of Albanian politics between the Socialists and the Democratic Party (PD) has been very damaging.

Bushati stressed that the current party system "has in the past 10 years not been able to produce a stable and effective government for our country." Bushati's tiny party is represented in the parliament because its candidates ran on joint lists with the PD in 1997. The party, which is strong in some Roman Catholic northern communities, has traditionally been a close ally of the PD. (Fabian Schmidt)

TIRANA STARTS CLEAN-UP CAMPAIGN FOR CITY PARK. A spokesman for Tirana's city hall told "Albanian Daily News" of 23 February that they plan to build a two-kilometer fence around the city's main park to protect it from illegal construction activities.

The spokesman added that a project is under way to secure lighting in the park, repair roads, plant trees, and demolish illegal buildings.

A gate will be built on the eastern boundary of the park, on Elbasan Street, where cafes and other illegal buildings have mushroomed. As many as 82 illegal buildings have been established in the park, and the city plans to tear down most of them as part of a campaign to revitalize parks.

City Hall officials did not comment on the source of funds for the project or say when work will begin. Mayor Edi Rama planted dozens of trees in the park as part of his electoral campaign last year. (Fabian Schmidt)

IS THE KING THE WILD CARD IN BULGARIA'S ELECTION? Could a former king -- who still claims the throne -- run for political office? That seemingly hypothetical question has sparked a heated debate in recent months in Bulgaria, where the country's last pre-communism monarch is said to be considering a return to political life. RFE/RL correspondent Julia Guechakov examines the implications of the issue as the country prepares for elections later this year. Here is her report:

Simeon II acceded to the Bulgarian throne at the age of six in 1943 after the death of his father, Boris. He ruled under regencies until 1946, when a referendum called by the country's then-communist regime abolished the monarchy and sent the royal family into exile.

Fifty years later, the deposed monarch returned for the first time to his homeland and was enthusiastically welcomed by hundreds of thousands of Bulgarians. Since then, he has come back for several more visits, and has had his Bulgarian citizenship and former property restored. But despite numerous contacts with politicians and other public figures in Bulgaria, Simeon has not played an active role in domestic politics.

That, however, may be changing. Earlier this year, Simeon expressed a desire to resettle permanently in Bulgaria. The statement prompted a group of lawmakers to ask the country's constitutional court for an interpretation of residency requirements for presidential candidates.

No mention was made of Simeon's case. But some politicians and analysts were quick to conclude that the lawmakers were aiming to clarify if the former monarch could run in the country's presidential elections due near the year's end.

The court ultimately ruled that a presidential candidate must live in Bulgaria for the greater part of the five years preceding a given election. That condition rules out any current presidential ambitions on the part of Simeon, who now lives in Spain.

However, the constitution does not rule out a possible run by the former monarch for a parliamentary seat. Simeon has been deliberately vague regarding his political ambitions, and has never laid out a political agenda. But in an emotional statement following the court ruling, he said those supporters "who were looking for a way to vote for Simeon will have the opportunity to do so." Many took this to mean the former king had cast his sights on the country's June parliamentary elections.

Political analyst Ognian Minchev says Simeon's possible ambitions may cause a shift in Bulgarian politics. He adds that many politicians may try to use the popular former king to improve their own political fortunes. "Because of [these politicians being pushed to the sidelines of Bulgarian politics], the personality and the intentions of Simeon II are a very useful means which could be used, under certain circumstances, to bring those marginal political figures back to the center stage in political life."

A recent independent poll suggests that up to 8 percent of voters would support a party backed by Simeon, which would place it a comfortable third behind the anti-communist Union of Democratic Forces, or SDS, and the oppositionist Socialist coalitions.

The SDS, which polls estimate would win 22 percent of the popular vote in the parliamentary vote, could lose a substantial portion of its supporters if a Simeon-backed party becomes an election-season reality. Earlier this month, senior SDS officials ruled against backing Simeon in parliamentary elections, and on 27 February expelled two prominent members who called for such support. Minchev explains the threat to SDS this way:

"Simeon does not enter Bulgarian politics saying that he is ready, together with the SDS, to work toward a common goal. He enters Bulgarian political life independently and thus becomes a SDS competitor for votes in June parliamentary elections."

Minchev says Simeon's popularity is in large part due to voters' disillusionment with the political establishment and the hardships suffered during the country's difficult transition to a market economy. He adds that as an outsider, Simeon could give voters a fresh, untarnished alternative: "We could say that Simeon is the last illusion of many ordinary Bulgarians -- that someone could come in from the outside and put Bulgaria in order."

For now, the two main political forces in Bulgaria seem unwilling to face the challenge of a potentially strong third force, even though such a force might turn out to be more imaginary than real. (Julia Guechakov)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "Our findings led us to the conclusion that the massacre had in fact taken place [at Recak] and that killings had been carried out by members of the Serbian security services. The evidence that was available to us was sufficient to justify an indictment against the people most responsible for those killings and for the policy of what appears to be state-sponsored terrorism. And the person who is ultimately responsible for those events, of course, is the person indicted...Slobodan Milosevic, the former president of the FRY." -- Dennis Milner, chief of the Hague court's Kosova group. Quoted in "Tribunal Update" of 28 February (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 26 January 2001).

Italy's policy toward the Balkans was "never appreciated by CIA laborers, who operate in Rome by making propaganda against the action of my ministry." -- Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini, quoted by AP in Rome on 28 February. He was hinting that the CIA might have been behind reports in the Italian press about alleged kickbacks in connection with Italy's role in the privatization of Serbian Telecom.

"The operation in Serbia of President Kostunica's government -- which needs the full support of public opinion, the international community, and all countries of the region so it can stabilize the situation in its country -- must not be undermined." -- Greek Defense Minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos. Quoted by AP in Athens on 28 February.