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Balkan Report: April 3, 2001

3 April 2001, Volume 5, Number 24

THE MILOSEVIC ARREST: GRAND THEATER OR A FIRST STEP TOWARD THE HAGUE? Is the glass half full or half empty? Is the arrest of Milosevic a first step toward sending him to The Hague, or just an attempt by Belgrade to play political games with its neighbors and the West?

Serbian police arrested former President Slobodan Milosevic at his Belgrade home in the early hours of 1 April. Milosevic and a rowdy crowd of his supporters had resisted the arrest for more than 24 hours. Many observers were skeptical as to whether the attempt to arrest Milosevic was real or just a photo opportunity for the benefit of the U.S., which is to rule soon on maintaining financial aid to Serbia. A deputy of the Montenegrin parliament remarked to your editor that the raid looked more like a performance from the Serbian National Theater than an operation by Belgrade's tough security forces.

Whatever the case may be, Milosevic is now in a relatively comfortable wing of Belgrade's central prison -- nicknamed The Hyatt -- on a series of financial charges, to which have been added charges of inciting his body guards to fire on police. Milosevic maintains his innocence and plans to appeal. The authorities are holding him on 30 days preventive detention, but his lawyer demands his immediate release.

The Hague-based war crimes tribunal will present Milosevic with an arrest warrant within a few days. The Belgrade authorities maintain that they want to try Milosevic in Serbia and that there is no legal provision for his extradition. Croatian President Stipe Mesic recently remarked, however, that Belgrade's legal excuses are "words for little children." He urged Belgrade to change its constitution and send the indicted war criminals to the tribunal, noting that Croatia has changed its legislation.

The arrest led to a bizarre twist. Police found a large arms cache -- including two armored personnel carriers -- and plans for an armed uprising in Milosevic's villa, Deutsche Welle reported on 2 April. AP added that the weapons include some "30 automatic weapons, three heavy machine guns, an antitank grenade launcher, 23 pistols of varying calibers, 30 rifle grenades, two cases of hand grenades, and several cases of machine gun clips and other ammunition." It is not clear exactly what the former president was planning to achieve with the weapons and whom he was counting on to help him do it.

Meanwhile, authorities at The Hague-based tribunal are determined to see Milosevic extradited. They do not want to face another of Belgrade's periodic displays of "inat," or spiteful defiance. Florence Hartmann, who is spokeswoman for chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, told RFE/RL on 2 April that "we are very happy that the Yugoslav and the Serbian authorities [arrested the indicted war criminal] and now we are working on the transfer of Milosevic to The Hague."

She added that the court is expecting Milosevic in Holland within months. Hartmann stressed that the Belgrade authorities "have the legal international obligation to [extradite] Milosevic, because even if there is a local proceeding against him for charges [like] corruption, there is also a proceeding against him for crimes against humanity [in Kosova,] and he is also under investigation for his role in the war in Bosnia and in Croatia." Regarding the extradition, Hartman stressed that the Belgrade authorities "have to do it and if they don't do it, it is a violation, and we have different legal instruments to oblige them bring him to The Hague." A few hours earlier, she told the BBC that Belgrade's attitude has been a "total refusal" to cooperate with The Hague.

In Washington, President George W. Bush said in a written statement on 1 April: "I welcome today's arrest of Slobodan Milosevic, the former president of Yugoslavia. His arrest represents an important step in bringing to a close the tragic era of his brutal dictatorship." The U.S. president added that "Milosevic's arrest should be a first step toward trying him for the crimes against humanity, with which he is charged," Bush noted that Belgrade has begun to cooperate with The Hague, adding: "I call on President [Vojislav] Kostunica to continue this cooperation and to see that Milosevic is likewise brought to justice," Reuters reported.

Bush stressed that "Milosevic was responsible for great suffering throughout the Balkan region. He deserves to be tried for his crimes against the Serbian people. He also deserves to be tried for violations of international law."

Back in Europe, the arrest of Milosevic was widely hailed by most leading politicians, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" and "Die Presse" reported on 2 April. Some, such as EU Commission President Romano Prodi and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, stressed that the arrest shows Belgrade's commitment to the rule of law. Others, such as Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner, her German counterpart Joschka Fischer, and unnamed NATO spokesmen, emphasized that the arrest is just a first step toward Milosevic's eventual extradition to The Hague.

Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic said in Sarajevo on 1 April that the arrest of Milosevic is a first step and that he should now be sent to The Hague. Beriz Belkic, who is the new Muslim representative on the joint presidency, said he hopes that "Milosevic's role in the genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina will now be completely revealed," dpa reported.

Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic pointed out that the arrest took place without bloodshed or upsetting internal peace. He said that the Serbian authorities can now bring Milosevic to justice, but that they should also cooperate with The Hague, "Pobjeda" reported.

Croatian Foreign Minister Tonino Picula said in Zagreb that normalization of his country's relations with Belgrade will depend on whether Milosevic is sent to The Hague. President Mesic hailed the arrest but also stressed that it must be the first step on the road to The Hague.

Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski implicitly criticized the U.S., saying that it is wrong to tell Belgrade that it may receive further aid money only if it arrests and extradites Milosevic. Georgievski added that "Milosevic must answer for his crimes, but not in this manner," "Die Presse" reported. (Patrick Moore)

MACEDONIA: MAFIA CONNECTIONS? After Macedonian police and army units attacked the rebel hideouts in the hills above Tetovo just over a week ago, the situation seems to be relatively quiet. There are no reports about further military operations in the foreign media. The international community is pleased with the Macedonian government�s "reasonable" conduct and limited use of force.

Still, some fighting continues. Macedonian newspapers report that some villages north of Tetovo are still under rebel control. The aim of the Macedonian authorities is to "cleanse" the area of "terrorists" within the next few days. Even though there were a number of wounded among the soldiers and rebels alike, so far no casualties have been reported, at least officially. Unofficial sources, cited in "Dnevnik" 29 March, speak of about 50 dead guerrillas.

In addition to the Macedonian armed forces' actions, KFOR troops arrested about 80 persons inside Kosova on the suspicion of being members of the guerrilla bands in Macedonia. In Macedonia itself, police arrested an unspecified number of persons of ethnic Albanian origin.

The arrest of the UN security chief's Albanian driver in Skopje attracted special interest from the Macedonian press. The driver faces not only a charge of illegal possession of firearms, but also accusations of having acted as a liaison officer between his employer and the insurgents.

While the ethnic Albanian minister for labor and social affairs is said to have intervened on behalf of the driver -- who is "very respected within the Albanian community of Macedonia," as "Dnevnik" put it -- other arrested Albanians were not so lucky. On the contrary. The publisher of the Albanian-language daily "Fakti," Emin Azemi, complained that most of the arrested people were innocent, and that the Albanian party represented in the government -- the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) -- did not react to those arrests.

While the Macedonian authorities try to cope with the "terrorists," Saso Ordanoski -- who is editor-in-chief of the Macedonian biweekly magazine "Forum" and a former World Bank official in Skopje -- poses questions to the Macedonian government and the international community. Under the headline "The Crisis Will Escalate," he tries to show a direct link between the international community�s inability to disarm organized criminals in Kosova ("the Albanian mafia") and the internationalization of the conflict in Macedonia.

Starting with the so-called "sugar-affair," Ordanoski argues that the Macedonian government is already undermined by mafia-style practices. Economics Minister Besnik Fetai secured himself a monopoly on sugar imports at a fixed price earlier this year. Ordanoski questions whether such a government is able or even willing to cope with organized crime (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 March 2001).

In Ordanoski's view, the Tanusevci and the Tetovo attacks were staged by mafia groups from Kosova that were trying to destabilize the whole region, because only under politically unstable conditions is smuggling a lucrative busniess. Ordanoski sees the fact that the guerrillas did not evoke a particularly positive response from Macedonia's Albanian community as a further indication that the community knew very well who the insurgents were, and that they were not fighting for minority rights.

This fact had to be covered up by the Albanian politicians who tried to profit politically from the insurgency. They had to avoid being linked to organized crime or to political terrorism.

But the international community had to cover up its inability to cope with organized crime and the messy political situation as well, especially in Kosova. This aim was to be achieved by portraying the attacks on Tanusevci and Tetovo as political in nature.

This brought the Albanian political parties of Macedonia back into the game, Ordanoski continues. And it gave the Macedonian government the chance to react against the "occupation" of the border territories by "separatists" with all the military firepower it possessed. The crackdown on mafia structures was thus portrayed as a fight for the territorial integrity of Macedonia.

Even if Ordanoski's hypothesis sounds much like a classic Balkan conspiracy theory, there might be something to it. This is especially true of his view that the international community will now likely press for a number of dubious compromises that will serve only to alienate the trust of the Macedonian and Albanian communities alike in state institutions. The rift between the two communities could thus become deeper.

And this would mean that any future conflict, be it ethnic or just criminal, would lead inevitably to a much bigger interethnic explosion of uncontrollable dimensions: "And because both the Albanians and the Macedonians implicitly understand this, they are already preparing themselves for this 'encounter,' each in his own manner." (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz is a Ph.D. candidate at the Free University of Berlin. He specializes in Macedonian and Bulgarian history. E-mail:

ALBANIAN PRESIDENT SETS ELECTION DATE. Rexhep Meidani ruled on 30 March that the next Albanian parliamentary elections will take place on 24 June, "Koha Jone" reported. The date coincides with the Assembly of the Council of Europe (CoE), so that no high-ranking CoE legislators will be able to monitor the ballot, "Albanian Daily News" suggested. Instead, the CoE will send lower-ranking officials to monitor the vote.

The absence of high-ranking CoE officials will likely spark protests by the opposition, and in particular from the Democratic Party (PD), which has favored CoE monitors over those from the OSCE in the past. The PD's preference for the CoE monitors originated in the parliamentary elections of 1996, when the PD charged OSCE observers with bias. At that time, the OSCE issued a more critical report on the PD's victory than did the CoE. The question of whether the OSCE or CoE will monitor the elections has been a hotly debated issue in Albania ever since.

It was the OSCE, however, that regularly provided the essential monitoring infrastructure and expertise through its Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). CoE monitors often did their job within the framework of OSCE operations.

Meanwhile on 30 March, the parliamentary commission on election complaints ordered a check of all the voter lists at the civil register offices. The order is a response to complaints from the PD, which claimed that up to 300,000 voters were not included on the rolls for last October's local elections and thus prevented from voting. The PD claims had little credibility, however, since that election involved the highest number of registered voters in Albanian history.

The Socialist Ylli Bufi, who is chairman of the parliamentary commission, said: "We hope this [checking of the voter lists] will end the political disputes over the process." Central Election Commission Chairman Ilirjan Celibashi said: "I am convinced that the election process can go well only if the parties show the political will to ensure it�. I hope that this first step will be followed by others."

Spartak Ngjela, from the monarchist Legality Party, expressed hope that the Socialists and Democrats will also settle other issues concerning the election preparations. Ngjela said that "the very decision is a sign of compromise," according to the "Albanian Daily News."

Ngjela gave an interview to "Shekulli" on 30 March, in which he said that PD leader Sali Berisha sent a letter to his party as well as to numerous other right-of-center parties in which he proposed a new coalition under the name "Fresh Start." Berisha also invited the Democratic Alliance (AD) and the mainly ethnic Greek Union for Human Rights Party (PBDNJ) to join the new coalition. Both of these parties are now in coalition with the Socialists, even though they have a center-right, liberal platform.

Ngjela said that "Berisha's initiative is neither an isolated action nor totally self-serving. It is a reflection of the spirit of the times." The monarchist politician explained that the political right in Albania is fragmented and needs to unite again if it is to pose a serious challenge to the Socialists.

Ngjela added that the philosophy of "Fresh Start" is a revival of the broad 1990 democracy movement, which brought about the end of communism. He stressed that the invitations to the AD and PBDNJ reflect that "spirit, because if a fresh start is indeed under way, it must operate under the same guidelines" as in 1990 and integrate all suitable parties.

Observers note, however, that neither the AD nor PBDNJ representatives are likely to agree to a coalition if Berisha has a leading position in it. (Fabian Schmidt)

'WATER POLITICS' IN ALBANIA. Minister of Public Works Spartak Poci has promised to spend $1 million for urgent repairs in water supply systems. The ministry also plans to spend a total of $37 million on 305 water supply projects this year. Two-thirds of the money comes from foreign donors.

"Albanian Daily News" reported that Poci told his staff to seriously address the water supply problems before the general elections. Albania is rich in water in the winter but faces hot and dry summers. Last summer witnessed a particularly severe drought. Furthermore, the country has significant problems in the management and maintenance of the water system and in collecting fees.

The government has partly addressed the problem by giving management contracts to foreign companies. Albania is almost fully dependent on hydroelectric power. (Fabian Schmidt)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "The cream of society is here." -- Belgrade central prison guard in "The Hyatt" wing, referring to the fact that several of Milosevic's cronies are already there. Quoted by Reuters on 2 April.

"The vigorous measures by the Macedonian government made the forthcoming political dialogue possible." -- Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov. Quoted by BTA on 2 April.

"[The presumed arrest of former Muslim General Naser Oric for war crimes] is absurd, horrifying. They have been hunting Karadzic and Mladic for years, but there are no results. If 10,000 rabbits had been killed, the perpetrators would have been in jail by now -- but we're talking [about thousands of dead] people here." -- Srebrenica survivor Huso Mehmedovic, quoted by AP in Sarajevo on 2 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April 2001).