Drecun: The region does not need to be on the line of fire between the US and Russia (RTS)
The Chairman of the Serbian parliamentary Committee for Kosovo and Metohija Milovan Drecun told RTS that senior US official Wess Mitchell came to send a message that the Kosovo issue will be treated in the context of their geopolitical confrontation with Russia and that they will continue to have a one-sided approach to the Kosovo problem. Drecun said that it is clear that there is no American package for Kosovo about which the media speculated. “The top US official, Wess Mitchell, has come to send certain messages. The first is that the problem of Kosovo will be treated in the context of their geopolitical confrontation with Russia, and the second that they will continue with a one-sided approach to the Kosovo problem,” Drecun said. He adds that the news is the US more active role in dealing with the Kosovo issue next year. It needs to be seen how they are going to define this role, Mitchell is speaking about the need for the continuation of normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina, but he is not mentioning the formation of Community of Serb Municipalities (ZSO). He has sent the message that “no one has the right to veto the transformation of Kosovo security forces in to military forces”, Drecun explains. He says a senior US official has shown that there is a continuity of US politics. “The US has completed the work in Macedonia, in Montenegro, and now it is Serbia’s turn to reduce the influence of Russia in our country, and this can best be done through the Kosovo problem. It is not good that the region is drawn into this geopolitical confrontation, it doesn’t need to be on the line of fire,” noted Drecun. He points out that US approach is one-sided and that it does not to speak of the malignant influence of organized crime in Kosovo and Metohija. “All US officials are repeating this position towards Russia, it’s like a mantra in the US. We as a small country should refrain from extreme commentary. In the coming period, we should expect an increase in such rhetoric,” says Drecun, pointibg out that the ZSO is needed as it was negotiated. “We have a clear position and I think our officials will repeat that we will not open the door to the UN. The initial proposal of President Vucic is needed as soon as possible,” concludes Drecun.
Djuric: Internal dialogue on Kosovo and Metohija woke up Serbia (Tanjug)
The Head of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija, Marko Djuric, said on Friday that the internal dialogue on Kosovo and Metohija, initiated by President Vucic, undoubtedly woke up Serbia.
Following the meeting of the round table “Students and youth on Kosovo and Metohija”, Djurić said that the spread of separatism cannot contribute to resolving any issues, but problems should be solved through dialogue. Commenting the statement by Bekim Collaku, one of the representatives of the provisional institutions in Kosovo and Metohija, who called on Romania to recognize Kosovo’s independence, Djuric said that Belgrade is always ready to talk, but will always react to “insolence”. “This year you will see many more countries that will, thanks to our diplomacy, change their position regarding the unilaterally declared independence of Kosovo and will withdraw their recognition because they see that ten years after the declaration of independence nothing is resolved in our southern province and something can be resolved only through dialogue and compromise without universal winners or universal losers,” Djuric said.
He added that there is a desire in the international community to get unprincipled decisions from Serbia regarding Kosovo and Metohija by “applying pressure and unprincipled behavior – connecting other desires and ambitions of Serbia for internal reform with European integration”.
“As far as the government of Serbia and President of Serbia are concerned, Serbia has never reacted to such unprincipled pressures nor has it accepted any blackmail,” Djuric said.
He stated that the difference between the Serbian and the Albanian side can best be seen in the case of the Community of Serb Municipalities (ZSO), which has been agreed on in a Brussels agreement. “Our side is responsible and accepts everything that was agreed and is an integral part of the agreement. The other party accepts only what is in their interest, in their imaginary version of the implementation of the agreement. It doesn’t work that way. ZSO is the backbone of the Brussels agreement, anyone who does not want the ZSO, in fact, does not want the Brussels agreement”, he said. Djuric noted that “by sending what was agreed before the Constitutional court to challenge it, Albanians have in fact showed their true intentions regarding ZSO”. “I think that at that moment the international community’s conviction was necessary”, Djurić said adding that ZSO obliges Belgrade, Pristina, but not Brussels. He added that he will continue to consult with the representatives of Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija and the Serbian List on such important and big topics, but will not make decisions for them in advance, and will jointly agree on what is best for the interest of Serbia in the southern province.
Talking about the round table, the President’s Secretary General Nikola Selakovic said that this was an opportunity to see how young people in Serbia view the problem of Kosovo and Metohija, whether they perceive it as a “problem or a challenge”. “What each session of the internal dialogue has shown is how the topic of Kosovo and Metohija, the topic of the Serbian-Albanian problem, is close to the rest of Serbia, but also how Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija are familiar with the problems Serbia proper and Vojvodina are facing,” Selakovic said. He pointed out that, although it is still ongoing, the internal dialogue is already a success, because it gathered both those who oppose the dialogue, and those who were skeptical about the goals of the internal dialogue. “And its essence and what has been accomplished and what is the goal of the president of the republic, is to once again discuss this topic in all social forums, in all segments of our society,” Selakovic said. He stated that he was pleased that at today’s round table he heard from the youth how they perceive the issue of demographics and birth rate.
“Let’s try and learn something from the Albanians, to not underestimate them, to stop underrating them and see how they came to achieve some of their national goals,” Selakovic said. He pointed out that a country’s image can be improved only with a wise policy of strengthening the reputation of Serbia, by a policy that shows Serbia as reasonable, does not create problems but solves them and goes towards solving them, and in this way we can “get something slightly more from the interlocutors in the international community and achieve some positive results”.
Miscevic: We will be ready to open five chapters by end of March (Tanjug)
The Head of the Serbian negotiating team with the EU Tanja Miscevic said that Serbia would by the end of March be fully prepared to open five chapters in its EU accession talks. Speaking at a conference on Chapter 30, she said Serbia would by the end of the month also send to Brussels the chapter concerning the economic and monetary union. “So we will have five chapters before the member-states, which means that by the end of March we will be fully prepared to open five chapters. I hope that our agenda will continue at this pace,” Miscevic said.
Serbia in particular concerns US Europe commander (B92)
The top US military commander in Europe recently testified before the US Senate about Russia’s influence in the Balkans. Replying to Senator Tom Cotton, General Curtis Scaparrotti singled out Serbia as the greatest cause for concern in this context.When asked, “Serbia or Republika Srpska” – i.e., Serbia or the Serb Republic, RS, the Serb entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Scaparrotti reiterated, “Serbia. ”
Below is the part of the transcript of Scaparrotti’s testimony given on March 8, that regards Serbia:
“SENATOR TOM COTTON: I’d like to continue a conversation about the Balkans that you started with Senator Shaheen. Many people tend to focus on the Baltics, since they are NATO countries exclusively. But I think that NATO status probably makes them a bit more stable, in terms of the threat Russia poses, than the Balkans, in which there are numerous countries that don’t belong to NATO. Could you be more specific and say a little bit more about which countries in the Balkans are matters of concern for you in terms of Russian meddling and interference?
SCAPARROTTI: Well, I think Serbia in particular. There’s a – there’s a connection…
COTTON: Serbia proper or Republika…
SCAPARROTTI: Well, I would tell you that it’s Serbia as a nation, but then the Serb population, as well, within the Balkans. There’s obviously a historical connection there, an affiliation. And – but there’s also, because of that, a better opportunity for Russian influence. And they take advantage of that in terms of disinformation, influence upon those populations – the spoiling effect, in some cases, perhaps with Serbia, with respect to Kosovo, or within the tripartite government of Bosnia and Herzegovina. And that’s my concern, and I’ve seen an increase in that, I believe, in the – in the year and a half that I’ve been in this job.”
HNS Main Council discusses amending of Election Law of B&H (N1)
At the session that took place in Mostar on Monday, the Main Council of the Croat People’s Assembly (HNS) concluded that it is for the best interest of Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) and Croat people in this country to return the election process into the constitutional framework. Representatives of the HNS Main Council voiced their hope that political leaders will show understanding and willingness when it comes to amendments to the Election Law of B&H, so there is no need for the Office of the High Representatives (OHR) to impose the Election Law of B&H.
Chairman of the HNS Main Council Bozo Ljubic stated: “I understand that as a warning for local actors to get serious and adopt the necessary amendments to the Election Law. I would also like to additionally explain the view of the HNS – the amendments to the Election Law must include both the Federation of B&H House of Peoples and the B&H Presidency, which is the core of the decision of the B&H Constitutional Court.” Member of the HNS Main Council Barisa Colak noted that the HNS has a few more solutions, but they are all based on legitimate representation of Croats. “On the other hand, if there is no political will among our partners to accept the solutions to the problem of legitimate representation, it would be unrealistic to send similar solutions into the parliamentary procedure,” Colak explained.
Kristo: OHR is cause of problems with Law on Elections (RTRS)
Deputy President of HDZ B&H Borjana Kristo stated on Monday that the interpretations of the High Representative in the Law on Elections of B&H have led B&H to a current position, which is why no solution possibly imposed by the High Representative is going to bring anything good to the country. High Representative Valentin Inzko announced that the international community is going to give a chance to the representatives of the parliamentary parties to reach an agreement on the amendments to the Law on Elections of B&H by April, possibly by early May, after which he is going to increase pressure because he cannot allow whole B&H to become Mostar.
“The Constitutional Court of B&H has declared the provisions imposed by the High Representative as unconstitutional. The whole story is about writing down what the Bosniaks are proposing in some Sarajevo circles in the OHR services close to the Bosniaks, and to have the High Representative impose it as its own decision. And in this case, just like in the past, the international community has acted only in the interest of one people,” said Kristo and added that political parties in B&H must be the ones to reach an agreement on the issue.
Izetbegovic: I expect from OHR and IC to help in amending of Election Law of B&H (TV1)
Bosniak member of B&H Presidency and SDA leader Bakir Izetbegovic, asked whether SDA and HDZ B&H are waiting for “the Office of the High Representative (OHR) to impose” amendments to the Election Law of B&H, Izetbegovic stated that he does not think that the OHR will impose this law. However, Izetbegovic expects from “the OHR and the international community (IC)” to help in amending the Election Law, and he reiterated his earlier statement that B&H Constitutional Court (CC) declared some of the provisions of the Election Law imposed by the High Representative unconstitutional. “The CC ruled that the solution the OHR previously imposed is wrong and that it needs to be corrected, so it would be fair for the OHR to help at least”, the B&H Presidency member assessed. He noted that so far there has been a bad experience with reaching an agreement on this law within B&H. Commenting on a possible candidate that SDA could nominate for the post of Bosniak member of B&H Presidency in this year’s general elections, Izetbegovic said he considers that current Chairman of B&H Council of Ministers (CoM) Denis Zvizdic (SDA) has the greatest chance when it comes to running for B&H Presidency. Still, Izetbegovic stressed that the decision on SDA’s candidate for B&H Presidency will be reached in consultations with all levels of party bodies in SDA.
Speaking about a possibility that current Republika Srpska (RS) President and SNSD leader Milorad Dodik is elected a Serb member of B&H Presidency, Izetbegovic emphasized that Dodik will then have to start behaving “differently”, also asserting that Dodik will not manage to break up B&H. In Izetbegovic’s opinion, Dodik’s “nationalist power” will slowly start to weaken. Izetbegovic made a comparison of the situation in case Dodik continues with the current rhetoric as the possible B&H Presidency member by saying: “So, it would be like raising the burden while reducing the capacity of the engine that pulls it up.” Izetbegovic explained that this situation means Dodik should not work towards weakening B&H, given that “the RS is three times more indebted than the Federation of B&H and it keeps indebting itself”. In addition, the Bosniak member of B&H Presidency reminded that the EU’s Strategy for the Western Balkans made it clear that Balkan leaders will have to actively confront inflammatory rhetoric.
Speaking about the border issue between B&H and Serbia, Izetbegovic clarified that the main issue refers to demarcation of borders. Izetbegovic underlined that, even though Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic claims otherwise, Serbia’s proposal is to make exchange of territories at a disputable border point i.e. the hydropower plants Bajina Basta and Zvornik. He noted that experts need to establish the truth as to who owns these hydropower plants as well as to determine the manner in which Serbia will pay compensation to B&H for the inundated land there. Izetbegovic considers that he was the only member of B&H Presidency who truly defended B&H’s interests in terms of solving the issue of interstate border, at a recent trilateral presidential meeting of B&H, Croatia and Serbia in Mostar as well as at the B&H Presidency’s last meeting with Vucic in Belgrade.
Asked about his relations with Chairman of B&H Presidency Dragan Covic and Serb member of B&H Presidency Mladen Ivanic, Izetbegovic expressed confidence that their relations are fair, even though they often lead opposing policies “and perhaps even have opposing interests”.
Cvijanovic: We fell for OHR’s enormous deceit (Nezavisne)
In an interview Republika Srpska (RS) Prime Minister Zeljka Cvijanovic commented on the transfer of competencies from the RS onto B&H in past and she said that the Office of the High Representative (OHR) tricked SNSD and others when it promised that it will be possible to change decisions it imposed and she added: “We were naïve. We were unable to realize the scale of deceit at that moment. They tricked us and we will not let that happen again”. Asked to state if referendum on secession of the RS will be held by the end of 2018 as in line with program goals of SNSD, Cvijanovic said that they are choosing the timing to forward this issue to the institutions. Asked to explain why she is dissatisfied with the work of Serb representatives in B&H institutions, Cvijanovic said that their activities were harmful and often guided by absurd impulses. Cvijanovic went on to say that they accepted certain personnel solutions to the detriment of Serb positions, they tried to place B&H judiciary in function of achievement of their political goals in order to persecute those they did not manage to defeat in elections, they belittled the RS in international forums, established bodies which diminished constitutional position of the RS institutions, usurped the RS’ competencies, held under blockade some BAM 750 million intended for the RS citizens, they presented lies in media and have false promises to farmers. Asked to state who might be the candidate of the ruling coalition in the RS for the RS President, Cvijanovic only briefly replied that it will be a person whose name will be presented by the ruling coalition.
Dodik: We are interested in amendments to B&H Election Law, but imposing of solutions by OHR would surely lead to dissolution of B&H (TV1)
Republika Srpska (RS) President Milorad Dodik, speaking about attempts to amend B&H Election Law, said that SNSD is interested in this topic primarily because SNSD would like to make sure that Serb members of Federation of B&H House of Peoples can be elected at last. “I understand Croats who demand changes based on decisions of the Constitutional Court of B&H”, he underlined. Dodik reminded that political parties from the RS insist in direct election of B&H Presidency members and that in the past, they were willing to accept changes according to which the RS would not be electing a Serb member, but one member to represent the RS. However, he added, he is not sure that this consensus still exists because there is no reason why the RS should be making concessions while others are not willing to do so as well. Dodik noted that the OHR has allegedly prepared two possible models for changes of Election Law and that one of them will be imposed if B&H politicians fail to reach an agreement soon. According to Dodik, that would be very wrong, and such a move would return B&H 20 years in the past. Dodik argued that any imposing of solutions would lead B&H to dissolution. He recalled decisions imposed by OHR in the past, such as establishing of the Court and Prosecutor’s Office of B&H, and underlined that the RS cannot accept such decisions. He explained that SNSD voted for the Law on Court and Prosecutor’s Office of B&H because SNSD naively believed that it would be possible to change his law. “B&H is unstoppably heading towards dissolution, the only question is how to secure peaceful dissolution. This makes no sense at all, not for Bosniaks, not for Serbs and not for Croats. There are no results, only stagnation and growing depression. The solutions are either respecting of B&H Constitution, or dissolution,” said Dodik. He also spoke about position of Serbs in the Federation of B&H, and explained that he talked about the issue of status of Serbs in communities where HDZ B&H is the ruling party with HDZ BIH leader Dragan Covic. According to Dodik, the status of Serbs has significantly improved in past few years. He underlined that the issue of status of Serbs as constituent people in some cantons will be resolved soon.
Parliamentary majority at level of B&H does not exist (EuroBlic)
Majority of MPs assessed that decisions of Borislav Bojic and Safer Demirovic to leave SDS and SDA Caucuses respectively means that the parliamentary majority definitely fell apart but this will not cause any major disturbances at the level of Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) before October elections. Although SBB B&H leader Fahrudin Radoncic announced three months ago that Chair of B&H Council of Ministers (CoM) Denis Zvizdic will leave this post in April, SBB B&H now says that “Zvizdic’s crew has lost its credibility” but it would not be wise to replace them only couple of months before the elections. Representative in B&H House of Representatives (HoR) Fehim Skaljic (SBB B&H) explained that Radoncic made this statement because he saw in which direction things are going, and not because he thought SBB B&H would initiate the removal. “It was obvious that there was an erosion of results and that B&H CoM deals only with technical matters, which it will continue doing in the next several months”, Skaljic added. At the same time, Chair of SNSD Caucus in B&H HoR Stasa Kosarac said that citizens had no use from B&H CoM in the past three years and he added: “Zvizdic and his party boss (SDA leader) Bakir Izetbegovic are a part of a failed project of a number of EU and USA officials, who modeled dysfunctional and extremely unsuccessful authorities in the joint institutions three and a half years ago,” Kosarac added. The daily reminded that opposition parties in B&H Parliament currently have 23 MPs while the ruling parties have only 19 MPs. Speaker of B&H HoR Borjana Kristo said that it is questionable at the moment how enough votes in B&H parliament will be secured for the adoption of the Law on Elections, which is the strategic task placed also by the international community before domestic politicians.
Plenkovic denies he will run for European Commission President; talks about the Istanbul Convention (Hina)
Prime Minister and HDZ party leader Andrej Plenkovic on Monday dismissed media reports that he would run for President of the European Commission, saying that it was his job to be Croatia’s prime minister, and noting that a majority in the HDZ leadership did not see gender ideology in the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, the so-called Istanbul convention. Speaking to reporters after a meeting of the HDZ leadership, Plenkovic denied media reports that he would stand as a candidate for the European People’s Party (EPP) nomination for the president of the European Commission in elections to be held in the spring of 2019. “It’s my job to be the prime minister and do what is necessary to deal with the numerous problems of the Croatian society,” Plenkovic told reporters after the meeting attended by his deputy Milijan Brkic, HDZ secretary-general Gordan Jandrokovic, Nada Murganic, Drazen Bosnjakovic, Tomislav Culjak and other senior HDZ officials. Some evidently want to stir up the atmosphere in the context of this issue, Plenkovic said in a comment on an article in Monday’s issue of the Novi List daily.
It’s good if people think that Croatia has a prime minister who could also be the president of the European Commission, Plenkovic said, stressing that he was “Croatia’s prime minister who has a clear task to work to the country’s benefit within the EU.” The meeting of the HDZ leadership discussed the Istanbul Convention, with Plenkovic saying that “a vast majority of those who attended the meeting had thoroughly analyzed the convention and do not see any gender ideology in it.” “As for the others, who live in the world of perceptions, I believe they need more time to fully understand the meaning and scope of the convention,” Plenkovic said, recalling that HDZ experts had participated in the drafting of the Istanbul Convention, that the party announced in 2016 that the convention would be forwarded to the parliament for ratification and that that process was now about to continue. “I believe that it is very important to do so. Any possible ambiguities will be removed in the interpretive statement that will accompany the (ratifying) law,” he said. Commenting on a reporter’s remark that there is no unity in the HDZ on the Istanbul Convention, Plenkovic said that the HDZ was a democratic party whose members had different views. The policy on the Istanbul Convention, however, is a continual one, he said, recalling that three of his predecessors at the HDZ’s helm had supported the convention as well.
“Now, in 2018, that issue determines the spirit of tolerance and values in the Croatian society in the long run. At the same time, it does not infringe on traditional values or protection of the family, which is very important to us,” stressed the PM. He said he was not afraid that the party would split over the issue of the Istanbul Convention, and as for the fact that some of his associates saw gender ideology in the convention, Plenkovic said that they “read the same text but understand it differently.” He repeated that he had thoroughly studied the text of the convention and that he did not see any problem with it, just as he did not see any problem regarding the interpretive statement to accompany the convention or the law on its ratification.
Zaev: Mitchell’s visit – a support for Macedonia’s NATO and EU accession bid (MIA)
The Skopje visit of the top official of the US Department of State, Wess Mitchell, is just a confirmation of the friendship, and also an expression of support to the Euro-Atlantic integration processes of Macedonia, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said Monday. Answering journalist questions at a joint news conference with Denis Zvizdic, the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Zaev said Mitchell was coming at a time when Macedonia wanted to advance its cooperation with the strategic partners. “One of Macedonia’s main strategic goals is NATO and Macedonia is literally a step closer to joining NATO. It could be immensely beneficial. We will discuss cooperation of the two countries and also our NATO perspectives. We are also supported on our journey to the EU, because the organization is also a strategic partner,” the PM stated. On Sunday, MIA reported that US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell is set to visit Skopje on Tuesday. He will meet Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov. FM Dimitrov said the name issue would also be on the agenda of the talks.”I believe we’ll address the issue at the beginning of the meeting,” Dimitrov said. “It will be a good opportunity to inform him about the dynamics of the name dispute resolution process.” Mitchell’s visit to Macedonia is part of his tour to the Balkan region.
Ivanov, Zvizdic Macedonian, B&H nationals to cross border only with identity card (MIA)
Republic of Macedonia President Gjorge Ivanov met with Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina Chair Denis Zvizdic on Monday. Ivanov and Zvizdic discussed the political situation in the region and in the two countries, confirming their commitment to fully integrate into the EU and NATO. “European integration,” President Ivanov said, “is essential to the stability and development of the region. We should build on the momentum of EU’s attention that is finally focused on the Western Balkans and get ahead in the integration process.”
The Macedonian President also spoke about the upcoming meeting of the leaders of the Brdo-Brioni Process participating countries, to be hosted by the Republic of Macedonia.
He said that it would be an excellent opportunity to deepen the discussion about the European integration of the Western Balkans and about overcoming regional challenges.
As of Monday, the nationals of Macedonia and B&H can cross the border only with ID card. The agreement to cross the border only with ID cars has been signed by PM Zoran Zaev and the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of B&H Denis Zvizdic. Zaev at the joint press conference said that Macedonia has also signed same agreements with Serbia and Albania. “This is the second concrete step to facilitate the movement of people between the two countries following the signing of agreement on mutual recognition of driving licenses,” Zaev said. Moreover, the conditions for students from primary and secondary education as well as students who will study under equal conditions as domestic ones are facilitated under this agreement. The tuition fee will be the same as for domestic students. Zaev underlined that Macedonia and B&H send message that they are seriously committed to develop friendly relations in the neighborhood and united region directed to European perspectives. Zvizdic said that there are no open issues between the two countries. “Macedonia and B&H are the most similar countries in the region and understood each other well. They face similar political and economic problems, and what is important is that we have the same basic goal, and that is moving towards the EU,” Zvizdic said. He said that the two countries want peace, economic prosperity, environment for economic development and improving the living standard. Both prime ministers also discussed the improvement of the economic cooperation. They said that there is potential for promoting economic cooperation, but that the problem is the infrastructure and energy, transport and digital infrastructure and that these are projects that they will insist on. “It is necessary to connect the region better and in the shortest possible time as well as to establish flight that would connect Skopje and Sarajevo,” Zvizdic said.
Dimitrov: Macedonia wants to solve name dispute, but it’s not only up to us (MIA)
The negotiation process with Greece evolves daily, and with it, the optimism for a solution, Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov said during a news conference on Monday. Macedonia, he pointed out, is doing all it can to reach a fair compromise that is acceptable to both sides. We are not afraid, he said, to look problems in the eye, but the solution is not only ours to provide. “It’s not only up to us,” Dimitrov said. “We have been trying to reach a solution that will alleviate both countries’ concerns over the distinction between Macedonia, the country, and Macedonia, the region in Greece.”This distinction must not interfere in either country’s identity issues. For two 21-century countries that share the Macedonian geographic region, it should be possible and necessary to find a way to share the region’s cultural heritage, too, even when they interpret it differently or highlight different aspects of it.” Dimitrov spoke at the press conference held together with his Polish counterpart Jacek Czaputowicz. Polish Foreign Minister Czaputowicz was hopeful that the Macedonia-Greece negotiations would turn out well.
“We have noticed the efforts on Macedonia’s part,” Czaputowicz said, “such as the airport name change, or the readiness to discuss the country’s name.”But the Macedonian side also has certain expectations about keeping the national identity intact, which is important and should be taken into account.” Dimitrov did not share any details on when Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias would arrive in Macedonia to bring the Greek draft-agreement for the name dispute solution.
The name issue is on the agenda of the upcoming talks with US Assistant Secretary of State, European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell, who is visiting Macedonia on Tuesday.
“I believe we’ll address the issue at the beginning of the meeting,” Dimitrov said. “It will be a good opportunity to inform him about the dynamics of the name dispute resolution process.”
Czaputowicz: Poland supports Macedonia’s aspiration to join EU, NATO (MIA)
Poland supports the aspiration of Macedonia, as well as of the other Western Balkan countries, to join the European Union and NATO, Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz said Monday at a meeting with Prime Minister Zoran Zaev. He also commended the government’s efforts to wrap up the necessary reforms and advance the relations with Macedonia’s neighbors. PM Zaev extended gratitude to Poland on its support of Macedonia’s bid to join the EU and NATO, the government said in a press release. The ongoing reforms related to the rule of law, freedom of media, good-neighborly relations have heighten the interest for investing in Macedonia, Zaev said, notifying that first agreements to that effect are already signed. ‘The government is committed to attracting new investors and creating jobs for the young people in our country. In this respect we highly appreciate the possibilities for economic cooperation with Poland. We also wish to apply the EU-integration experiences of Visegrad Group standing ready to further advance the cooperation with Poland,’ Zaev said. Czaputowicz extended gratitude for the opportunity to attend the ceremony in Skopje honoring the 75th anniversary from the Holocaust of the Macedonian Jews in World War II and convey Poland’s message that such crime must never happen again. The meeting also highlighted the role of Macedonia and its cooperation with the European countries in the migrant crisis management, the press release reads.
Suspicious electoral campaign funding, Basha answers to SP accuses (ADN)
Democratic Party gathered the parliamentary group on Monday, to discuss the government accusations related to money which were spent during the last electoral campaign.
ADN learned that during this meeting, leader, Lulzim Basha declared that Premier Edi Rama and majority are trying to move the attention from bigger cases as the one of the involvement of former socialist minister Saimir Tahiri. “They are preparing to close Saimir Tahiri’s file and hide the fact that the brother of the premier, Olsi Rama is connected with the drugs clan in Colombia. Olsi is in the red circle of all the major international cocaine traffic agencies. DP has made full transparency of funding and is in full compliance with the law” reacted Basha. He added that were the democrats those who asked the prosecution on November 27 to investigate, so this case could be whitened.
INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES
Suspects Evade Justice as Prosecutors Ignore UN War Files (BIRN, by Filip Rudic, Sven Milekic, Dzana Brkanic, 13 March 2018)
For over a decade, war crimes prosecutors in Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia have shown little enthusiasm for prosecuting alleged criminals whose case files were sent to them by the UN tribunal in The Hague.
Bosnian Serb politician Milenko Stanic faced an immediate backlash when he was nominated for the position of vice-governor of the Central Bank of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2016. The Movement of Mothers of Srebrenica and Zepa – an association of war victims’ families – accused Stanic of being on a list of war crime suspects that the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia handed over to Bosnia years ago. A document from the ICTY in The Hague, obtained by BIRN, shows that the UN court’s prosecutors believed there was reason to suspect as early as 1997 that Stanic was involved in war crimes. “[The] evidence is sufficient by international standards to provide reasonable grounds for believing that Milenko Stanic has committed serious violation or violations of international humanitarian law,” says the note from the Hague Tribunal prosecutor’s office. Amid growing pressure, Stanic was forced to drop out of the race for the Central Bank governor’s job. However, the Bosnian war crimes prosecutor never indicted him. The Hague Tribunal transferred 25 specific case files and additional dossiers to prosecutors in former Yugoslav countries, but many investigations were not followed up and the trials that have been staged ended with mixed outcomes. The ICTY’s successor, the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, told BIRN that 3,000 war crimes suspects are estimated to be in Bosnia alone, while there are hundreds of cases still to be processed in Croatia and Serbia.
The Bosnian War Crimes Prosecutor’s Strategy obtained by BIRN shows that the numbers are even higher, with 550 unsolved cases of war crimes naming over 4,500 known suspects and as many cases in which the perpetrators are unknown, in Bosnia and Herzegovina alone. At the same time, the courts in Bosnia’s two entities and the Brcko District still have not resolved around 200 cases of war crimes. Beginning in 2005, the ICTY transferred eight so-called ‘Rule 11 bis’ cases – the ones in which the ICTY had confirmed the indictments – six of them to Bosnia, and one each to Croatia and to Serbia. The ICTY prosecutor’s office also transferred a number of cases in which an investigation had been initiated, but it has not been completed due to the tribunal’s Completion Strategy – a plan that envisioned the completion of tribunal’s work by 2010. These are called ‘Category 2’ cases. In the period from June 2004 until the end of 2009, the ICTY prosecutor’s office transferred 17 Category 2 cases with 66 suspects to Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia. Thirteen of them were transferred to Bosnia, and two each to Croatia and Serbia.
Trials were completed in all the ‘Rule 11 bis’ cases, except one which was halted due to the incapability of the accused to stand trial, while the Category 2 cases are currently at various stages of the judicial process. But the local war crimes prosecutors did not raise many more indictments based on evidence gathered by the Tribunal, while most of those prosecuted were low- to mid-ranking figures and received short prison sentences. Local war crimes prosecutors are not utilising their access to the Hague Tribunal’s extensive archive to bring indictments against high-ranking officials. At the same time, they are ignoring the findings of media and human rights activists that were based on documents obtained from The Hague. The Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals says that it is providing “a range of essential support” to national prosecutors, however. “Prosecutors in Belgrade and Sarajevo have already requested the MICT Office of the High Prosecutor not only to continue but strengthen our support, in particular with capacity-building and expert assistance to complex cases,” the MICT said.
The MICT prosecutor will also continue a project for liaison prosecutors from the countries of the former Yugoslavia, who will continue working on their cases while having access to the Hague database that contains more than nine million pages of documents. “So far the liaison prosecutors have received more than 1.2 million pages of evidence for use in national war crimes cases,” the MICT said. Ivan Jovanovic, a Serbian expert on international law and a former OSCE National Legal Advisor on War Crimes, told BIRN that it is hard to estimate how much the materials from unfinished investigations or individual pieces of transferred evidence were used, because no single observer can have full insight into the scope and quality of this evidence.
Jovanovic said that access to quality ICTY evidence is often complicated and faces obstacles, such as the need to get consent from witnesses or to remove protective measures, if the identity of the witness in question was protected. “Still, considering the information and evidence available on the Tribunal’s website, one can see that [evidence] related to the crimes in Kosovo or [Croatia’s] Operation ‘Storm’… have not been sufficiently used so far to bring new charges before national courts,” Jovanovic told BIRN. He also said that the more the evidence points to high-ranking perpetrators, the less likely it is that the prosecutors from the region will use the evidence to bring charges. Due to the differing legal frameworks and jurisprudence in Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia, the evidence from The Hague has also had different levels of admissibility before the three countries’ courts.
Bosnia: Hague’s ‘A-list’ cases gathering dust
Bosnia’s liaison officer for cooperation with the Hague Tribunal, Amir Ahmic, confirmed that there is a list of cases that have been given to Sarajevo prosecutors by the UN court, implicating as many as 850 people in war crimes. “I can’t see why the prosecution can’t say, we created this many indictments, we dropped that many [investigations]. Why don’t they bring this information into the open, when the public has the right to know?” Ahmic asked. A Bosnian lawyer who spoke on condition of anonymity told BIRN that this group of cases, referred to as the ‘A-list’, contains information on alleged perpetrators and victims of war crimes, which was supposed to be checked and further corroborated, if possible. The ‘A-list’ was created between 1996 and 2005, when the Hague Tribunal compiled information on possible war crimes from Bosniak, Croat and Serb sources, then turned it over to the Bosnian prosecutor. “My opinion is that the Bosnia and Herzegovina prosecution is doing little, which is why we don’t know anything about [those cases],” the lawyer said. The head of the Bosnian Victims and Witnesses of Genocide association, Murat Tahirovic, said that the prosecution has repeatedly refused to reveal how far those cases were pursued. “We asked the prosecution a million times what have they done about those cases and we never received an answer,” Tahirovic told BIRN. He also claimed that the ‘A-list’ contained the names of people who became senior officials in Bosnia, as well as in other countries in the former Yugoslavia. A source close to the ICTY told BIRN that many cases, including those against high-ranking post-war officials, were probably transferred to Republika Srpska, Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity, where many investigations were closed, with officials citing a lack of evidence. According to the source, one of the cases is against Milovan Stankovic, a former Yugoslav People’s Army major and commander of Serb forces in the Bosnian town of Doboj, who served as Defence Minister of Republika Srpska after the war. BIRN contacted Bosnia and Herzegovina’s war crimes prosecution for a comment, but their reply ignored the questions about the ‘A-list’. “The prosecution made rulings on all Category 2 cases – those that were forwarded to us from The Hague before the investigations were finished – by the end of 2015,” the prosecution said. However, these do not include the ‘A-list’ cases. After repeated inquiries, the prosecution said that it had sent all the information it had in its previous reply to BIRN.
Croatia sinks ‘Atlantis’ case against Mercep
One year after handing over the ‘A-list’ to Bosnia, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia delivered a case file codenamed ‘Atlantis’ to the Croatian prosecution.
The 2006 file contained evidence that the Hague Tribunal had gathered during its investigation of war crimes committed by Croatian forces against mostly Serb civilians in Croatia’s western Slavonia region, around the town of Pakrac. The evidence was used to launch one of the most high-profile war crime trials in Croatia – the trial of Tomislav Mercep, a former interior ministry assistant and unofficial commander of a reservist police battalion nicknamed the ‘Mercepovci’ (‘Mercep’s Men’). Mercep’s role in war crimes in Pakracka Poljana, the town of Kutina and Zagreb trade fair has been a matter of debate since 1997, when the anti-establishment Croatian weekly Feral Tribune interviewed a former unit member, who spoke of the killings of Serb civilians by ’Mercep’s Men’. Mercep was arrested on suspicion of war crimes and indicted in June 2011 for allegedly ordering the illegal arrests, imprisonment, torture and killings of mostly Serb civilians, resulting in 43 confirmed murders and four persons missing. His trial started at Zagreb county court in February 2012, and he pleaded not guilty. However, the state attorney’s office then made a turnaround. It altered the indictment in June 2015, changing the charges against Mercep from ordering war crimes to not doing enough to prevent his subordinates from committing them. A Zagreb court found Mercep guilty in May 2016, but the change of the indictment meant that he would given a lesser punishment than if he had been convicted of ordering the crimes himself. In February 2017, the Supreme Court finally set his sentence at seven years in prison. A declassified CIA report from 1995 also mentioned “numerous atrocities” allegedly committed or directed by Mercep, some of them in the town of Vukovar. Croatian media reported in 2004 that the Hague Tribunal was also investigating Mercep’s role in crimes committed in Vukovar, but no charges were ever brought. Evidence gathered in the Atlantis case was also used in the trial of six Croatian military policemen accused of war crimes against Serb civilians in the village of Marino Selo, near Pakrac, where 18 people were tortured and killed between November 1991 and February 1992. Two of the defendants were ultimately convicted in 2011. According to sources close to the ICTY prosecution, the Tribunal’s investigators also helped form the case against the commander of Croatia’s defence forces in Osijek, Branimir Glavas, and his subordinates. In a decade-long legal process, Glavas, an MP and once an influential politician in the centre-right Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, is still being prosecuted for the killings of seven Serb civilians in Osijek between October and December 1991. He was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2010, but Croatia’s Constitutional Court ordered a retrial in 2015. The following year his first-instance verdict was quashed and the trial started over again in October 2017. The only case in which the ICTY transferred an indictment to the Croatian judiciary was the case against generals Rahim Ademi and Mirko Norac for crimes against Serb civilians and prisoners of war in the Medak Pocket, a series of villages close to the Croatian town of Gospic, in September 1993. Ademi was acquitted in 2008, while Norac was ultimately sentenced to six years in prison in 2009. Initially, the Chief of Staff of the Croatian Army, Janko Bobetko, was also indicted in 2002 by the Tribunal for crimes in Medak Pocket. However, Croatia’s centre-left government did not comply with the ICTY’s request to extradite Bobetko to The Hague. Bobetko died in April 2003 and the ICTY terminated proceedings against him. Experienced lawyer Anto Nobilo, who has represented war crimes defendants both in The Hague and Croatia, says that Croatian courts are much more lenient towards accused Croats than Serbs. Nobilo said that the major difference between the ICTY and Croatian courts is witnesses giving ‘partial’ testimonies. “Generally speaking, Croats will always testify for the benefit of Croats and against Serbs, and vice versa,” Nobilo explained, insisting that such testimonies are “highly unreliable”. Nobilo claims that Croatian as well as Serbian courts are not establishing commanders’ responsibility, but only sentencing direct perpetrators – meaning that high-ranking officers are not held to account for war crimes committed by their forces. “In no way will the courts establish commanders’ responsibility according to the standards of the international humanitarian law. Forget it,” he said. According to Ivan Jovanovic, the potential use of evidence available at the ICTY is also practically limited by the attitudes of Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian entities’ courts.
Those courts maintain that crimes against humanity from the 1990s cannot be processed, since no laws on those crimes existed at the time, which Jovanovic said he believes is a “strong argument”. The dominant attitude in Serbia is that charges cannot be raised on the grounds of command responsibility for the same reason, Jovanovic said.
Serbia ignores evidence in UN court archives
The ICTY transferred only three cases to Serbia – one in which the indictment was confirmed by the Tribunal, and two ‘Category 2’ cases in which an investigation had been initiated, but not completed. Former Yugoslav Army officer Vladimir Kovacevic, who was charged with unlawful artillery and mortar shelling of the Dubrovnik’s Old Town in Croatia, was found mentally unfit to stand trial by Serbia in 2007. In another case, eight former fighters were sentenced in 2018 to a total of 101 years for the massacre of around 200 people at Ovcara, following the fall of Vukovar in eastern Croatia in 1991. Finally, seven Serb fighters were sentenced between 2009 and 2012 for crimes against Bosniak civilians in Zvornik from May to July 1992.
However, many more indictments could be raised – and against suspects higher in the chain of command – if the Serbian war crimes prosecution utilised its access to the Hague Tribunal’s archive in a better way, watchdog organisations argue. “The Hague has plenty of evidence about high- and mid-ranking police and army officials’ role in war crimes, which can be seen from its verdicts, but our prosecution is not using this evidence to bring new indictments,” said Nemanja Stjepanovic, a researcher for the Humanitarian Law Centre NGO.The result of this, Stjepanovic added, is that the Hague Tribunal prosecuted the highest-ranking officials, while Serbia only charged direct perpetrators and everybody in the middle got away with their crimes. The Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals says that the evidence gathered by the Hague Tribunal is “essential to prosecutions of war crimes in all three countries today [Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina]”. “In 2017 alone, the Office of the Prosecutor handed over 4,600 documents comprising more than 84,000 pages of evidence, as well as 92 audio and visual records,” the MICT said. It remains unknown how much of this material was handed over to Serbia and how much to other countries. The Serbian war crimes prosecutor’s office told BIRN that this information is confidential, as it represents a part of investigative or pre-investigative procedures. Since Serbia’s new chief war crimes prosecutor Snezana Stanojkovic assumed office in May 2017, four new indictments have been raised against low-ranking soldiers for crimes in Bosnia and Croatia. However, documentation pointing to the involvement of higher-ranking officials is usually ignored. BIRN’s documentary ‘The Unidentified’, which detailed the brutal crimes committed in the Kosovo villages of Cuska, Pavljan, Zahac and Ljubenic in 1999, included interviews with victims, former soldiers and experts, and documentation from the ICTY. However, the Serbian war crimes prosecution told BIRN in 2017 that it has ended its investigation into retired Yugoslav Army general Dragan Zivanovic, commander of the 125th Motorised Brigade, which was responsible for the area in which the four villages were attacked. In its own investigation, the Humanitarian Law Centre used documents from the Hague Tribunal to create a dossier and a documentary film alleging that general Ljubisa Dikovic, the current Serbian Armed Forces Chief of Staff, was linked to war crimes in Kosovo. The Humanitarian Law Centre alleges that approximately 1,400 Albanian civilians were killed in 1999 in an area of Kosovo that was under the control of the Yugoslav Army 37th Brigade, which at the time was under Dikovic’s command. “We would not have [obtained] those documents if it weren’t for the Hague Tribunal,” Stjepanovic said. Dikovic faced no charges, however. Instead, he sued the Humanitarian Law Centre over the claims made in its dossier and was awarded compensation by the first-instance court in Belgrade. An appeal is ongoing.