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Watch List: June 24, 1999

24 June 1999, Volume 1, Number 23

KOSOVAR REFUGEE FLOW IS NOW TWO-WAY AND BICULTURAL. News agencies report that as of June 23, less than two weeks after the signing of the peace accord, more than 200,000 ethnic Albanian refugees returned to Kosovo while some 70,000 Serbs fled the province. On June 22, for instance, 30,000 ethnic Albanians went home--13,000 from Macedonia and 12,000 from Albania. UN refugee agency spokesman Chris Janowski identified water and sanitation as the major problems of the return flow and characterized security in Kosova as "laden with anxiety," due largely to a desire for retribution. From Montenegro, Veseljko Koprivica of the Athens-based Alternative Information Network reports on June 17 that in 10 days 15,000 Serbs fled to Montenegro, including women and children, as well as members of the Serbian police, the Yugoslav army, and paramilitary units, but that "Belgrade media have not carried a word about the latest flight of Kosovo Serbs and their unfortunate destiny." The reporter learned that some of the refugees are determined to return home if conditions are right. "This is shameful and disgraceful because there is no justice and no state when this can be done to us," the reporter quotes a villager from Gorazdovac as saying. But on June 21, a "New York Times" correspondent accompanied 70 Serbs returning to the ruined city of Peja. NATO protected their convoy of civilian cars with nearly as many military vehicles and three battle helicopters hovering overhead.

YUGOSLAV NGOS URGE BELGRADE TO DECLARE AMNESTY. On June 11, 47 Yugoslav nongovernmental organizations, including the trade union federation Nezavisnost, issued a sharply-worded demand for an immediate cancellation of all criminal proceedings and sentences targeting individuals who "refused to participate in the war that had been forced upon them" or committed "political criminal acts related to war, except for war crimes." Addressing Yugoslavia's parliament, government, and president, and with copies to the chairman of the Council of Europe and the UN secretary-general, the appeal asserted that the first step to peace and reconciliation is permitting the return of citizens who left the country during the war. The NGOs noted that they had prepared a draft law on amnesty, "to be offered to the citizens of Serbia and Montenegro to sign." The draft, the appeal said, would begin the "democratization and reconstruction of the destroyed legal system of Yugoslavia."

SRPSKA HUMAN RIGHTS LEADER BLAMES MILOSEVIC. The president of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Republika Srpska, Branko Todorovic, accused Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic on June 11 of being "the exclusive perpetuator" of the war in Kosova. He charged that the Belgrade regime conducts "anti-civilizational and anti-Serb politics," which led to the "unceasing misfortune that overtook Serbian people."

SERBIAN ATROCITY EVIDENCE IS MOUNTING. "By the hour," NATO troops are uncovering additional evidence of atrocities such as mass murder, rapes, and torture carried out by Serbian soldiers against ethnic Albanian civilians, according to "Boston Globe" reporters. On June 18, the reporters quoted NATO officials as having collected hard evidence that Serbian forces had killed more than 10,000 Kosovars in at least 100 separate massacres. The report identified Peja as "nearly a ghost town" where Serbian forces destroyed houses and stores owned by ethnic Albanians but left Serb-owned structures intact. Speaking in Paris the same day, U.S. President Bill Clinton said that along with resettling the refugees, documenting war crimes is NATO's highest priority.

MEDIA GROUP URGES HELP FOR FREE KOSOVA PRESS TO REESTABLISH ITSELF. The World Press Freedom Committee appealed on June 22 to the UN, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and NATO that in the process of restoring democracy in Kosova they must not infringe on the freedom of the press and the independence of journalists and the media. The committee, which includes 44 journalistic organizations on six continents, cautioned against repeating the mistakes made in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where "Western authorities created entities that have placed restrictions on the press, declared which news media could exist, and dictated news content." The appeal cited the tradition of an independent press in Kosova and suggested that it "should be encouraged to reestablish itself."

BRITISH SCHOLAR OFFERS BALANCE SHEET ON KOSOVA WAR. Europe failed to prevent another racial mass murder, and many criminals responsible for it may evade justice, says Jonathan Eyal of London's Royal United Services Institute writing in the "Irish Times" on June 21. He argues that unlike in Croatia and Bosnia in the early 1990s when local Serbs did most of the killing "settling old economic and social grievances," in Kosova the specific orders and the killing machine came directly from Belgrade, and the technique was "almost identical" to that used by the Nazis during World War II. Eyal praised the courage of Patriarch Pavle, the head of Serbia's Orthodox Church, who called for Milosevic's resignation. But, Eyal notes, at no point did the patriarch even allude to the horrors committed against Albanians. Eyal finds the war crimes tribunal investigating and indicting individuals "the sole source of satisfaction" in the Kosova war," even though "most of the perpetrators of the current massacres will never have to answer for their deeds."

BELARUS POLICE CLUELESS ON THE DISAPPEARANCE OF OPPOSITION LEADER. Belarusian Minister of Internal Affairs Yury Sivakou told reporters on June 14 that the police "are doing everything possible" to find Yury Zakharanka, a former Minister of Internal Affairs and a prominent opponent of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who disappeared on May 7. "The investigation into the disappearance is being carried out in line with all the procedures, but is progressing very slowly," the minister said. "It is impossible to find any clues." Sivakou said the police had no evidence and no witnesses. A month earlier, the Public Committee on Zakharanka's Disappearance said that it found several people who had witnessed the kidnapping.

BELARUS REGIME FAILS TO ATTEND OSCE-ARRANGED DIALOGUE WITH OPPOSITION. On June 11-13, 20 representatives of the Belarusian opposition and parliamentarians and diplomats from various parts of Europe took part in a high-level conference in Bucharest under the auspices of the OSCE, reports the New York-based International League for Human Rights newsletter "Belarus Update." However, the Belarusian government ignored the meeting. Out of nine representatives of the executive, legislative, and judiciary branches invited, only a trade union leader showed, insisting that he was not a government official.

SENATORS CONDEMN RUSSIAN ANTI-SEMITISM. A letter signed by 99 U.S. senators condemned the rise of anti-Semitism in Russia and urged President Boris Yeltsin to condemn the phenomenon more forcefully. Sponsored by Senators Gordon Smith (R-Oregon) and Joseph Biden (D-Delaware), the letter dated June 18 was handed to Yeltsin prior to his meeting with President Clinton in Cologne. According to Chairman Dennis Braham of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, Clinton spoke to Yeltsin about U.S. concern over continuing manifestations of anti-Semitism in Russia, and Yeltsin "committed himself to taking forceful action."

TURKMEN POLICE HARASS BAPTISTS. On June 9, three agents from Turkmenistan's secret police and one from the regular police raided the Ashgabat home of Vladimir Chernov, pastor of an Evangelical Baptist Church, Keston News Service reports. Without stating their purpose or asking for permission, the four agents ransacked all the rooms, opened cupboards, and left with personal belongings such as letters, photographs, a slide projector, and an amplifier. Also confiscated were Christian publications and audiocassettes. Local believers describe the action as "the latest instance of persecution against Christian Baptists" in Turkmenistan. Their churches, like all Protestant communities in the country, do not have official registration, Keston adds, and government harassment this year has included one hefty fine for using a home for worship, one two-year prison sentence on trumped-up charges, and the beating of two individuals.

WORLD BANK PUTS OFF VOTE ON FUNDING CHINESE POPULATION TRANSFER TO TIBET. The World Bank is considering a low-cost loan of $160 million to fund the transfer of 57,800 ethnic Chinese to Tsonub (Haixi) Tibetan and Mongolian Prefecture, an arid highland traditionally inhabited by Tibetans and Mongolians. The International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) has received two separate statements from Tibet protesting the planned population transfer, which Beijing characterizes as a "poverty reduction project." The two statements warn that the plan would create ethnic conflicts in which many Tibetans would die. In the West, Tibetan exiles express their objection to a further dilution of what has already become a Tibetan minority in the area, and environmentalists protest the impact of a large influx on the fragile ecosystem. According to ICT President John Ackerley, projects to resettle members of the ethnic majority to minority lands "are littered with failure," and he attacked the idea of World Bank funding for moving ethnic Chinese to the Tibetan Plateau as "a travesty." According to AP, 12 of the World Bank executive board's 24 members, including representatives of the United States, France, and Germany, are opposed. Two days before the vote, scheduled for June 24, board member Andrei Bugrov of Russia asked for a postponement so the bank's president, James Wolfensohn, could negotiate a compromise with Beijing. According to Reuters, some board members charged that the loan violated the bank's policy on indigenous people and that the bank failed to release data on the project in a timely fashion. Earlier this year, China threatened to re-evaluate relations with the bank if it fails to approve the loan.


By Charles Fenyvesi

The writer many Americans regard as Serbia's hereditary standard-bearer of democracy does not believe that what the Serbs did in Kosova was genocide. Maybe some massacres, maybe some rapes did take place, perhaps even some crimes against humanity, but reports of Serbian atrocities have been exaggerated, Aleksa Djilas told "RFE/RL's Watchlist."

As Balkan-watchers well remember, Aleksa's late father Milovan was a commander of Josip Broz Tito during World War II, only to become Yugoslavia's most celebrated dissident and political prisoner after his book about the corruption of the communist movement, "The New Class," was published in the West in 1957.

"NATO needs the massacres to justify its actions," Djilas said in a June 22 telephone interview which began with his confident statement that "now is the beginning of the end for Slobodan Milosevic. He will be gone in six months, maximum a year." Djilas showed no hesitation in expressing his dislike of the Yugoslav president he had never bothered to meet, and his relaxed conversational tone suggested no concern that the authorities might monitor his telephone calls. "Yugoslavia is not a one-party dictatorship or a police state," he noted. "But it is not a democracy or a state of law either. It is somewhere in between the two."

Djilas is critical of his fellow democrats who, he says, broke the law in leaving the country to avoid the draft. Had he been drafted, he said, he would not have resisted and would have served as a captain or a major. He would not have burned down an ethnic Albanian village, but he would have fired at NATO helicopters to defend his country against the invaders.

"But I am not sorry that I was not drafted," he added with a chuckle.

On one hand Djilas argued that most Serbs are still not aware of "how badly we lost and that a new Albanian state will rise," which in turn explains to him why some Serbs still support Milosevic. On the other hand, Djilas himself doubted that what his fellow Serbs did to Kosova Albanians was so terrible. He recalled a Western newspaper story from the Bosnian war on the Serbs raping 60,000 Muslim women in a few months. "But then," he said, "it turned out that during the four years of that war only 2,500 women were raped."

When reminded that returning Kosovar refugees and Western observers discover mass graves and document other atrocities in Kosova every day, Djilas said he is waiting for verification by neutral observers and competent forensic experts. He does not trust pronouncements by the Pentagon and has an especially low opinion of the veracity of Britain's Foreign Office. "We'll see what the independent investigators will say," he said. "We'll see."

When asked what it would take for him to call the Serbian action in Kosova a genocide, at first he demurred. When prodded if he based his criterion on a body count or the perpetrators' ideology, he said that he defines genocide as "a systematic elimination of women and children." What happened in Rwanda was genocide, he clarified, and so was Croatia's slaughter of Serbs, Jews, and Roma during World War II.

Djilas predicted that discontent in Serbia will rise this winter as people will be cold and hungry, and more of them will recognize "the basic fact that Serbia did not gain anything in the war." There might also be problems in the military which resents Milosevic's penchant for honoring policemen rather than soldiers who, after all, fought well against NATO, facing impossible odds. But, he concluded, there will be no civil war.

Calm and reasonable, Djilas was confident that one day soon the outside world will calm down and start being reasonable about what his fellow Serbs have actually done. The only subject that made him get a bit emotional was NATO, and what he called "the irony" of NATO rushing in to protect an ethnic group he believed suffered more because of NATO's air war than because of the Serbs fighting them. For all his scholarly convictions about Serbia's historic uniqueness, he sounded just like the Germans who think that the worst atrocity of World War II was the relentless Allied bombardment of their country.