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Belgrade Media Report 10 April 2019

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United Nations Office in Belgrade

Daily Media Highlights

Wednesday 10 April 2019


• Vucic with Kosovo Serbs: Serb List will take part in Kosovo local elections (RTS)
• SzS and Kosovo Serb opposition to form Alliance for Kosovo (Beta)
• Serbian Army generals and Vulin: We will not allow a coup attempt (Beta)
• Drecun: Pristina additionally raising tensions (RTS)
• KFOR Commander calls for caution in statements (RTS)
• Palmer: US calling Belgrade and Pristina to sit at the negotiating table (VOA/Tanjug)


Bosnia & Herzegovina
• 22nd International Fair of Economy opened in Mostar on Tuesday (RTRS)
• Vucic meets Govedarica, due to Mektic’s words on NATO integration of B&H and Serbia (BN TV)
• Dzaferovic: B&H should work on establishing at least the level of cooperation that Serbia has with Kosovo (BHT1)
• Dodik: Check if arms production increased under SDA control (Srna)
• B&H parliament fails to appoint delegation in PACE (Hayat/N1)
• SDA asks SNSD to recognize SDA as strongest party which should get highest number of ministerial posts in new convocation of B&H CoM (Glas Srpske)
• Slovenia expects Croatia to refrain from spying (Hina)
• Due to spying affair, Slovenia recalls Ambassador in Zagreb (Hina/STA/POP TV)
• Kurz: Austria fully supports Montenegro’s European ambitions (MTN)
Republic of North Macedonia
• Zaev’s government and opposition VMRO agree that the Special Prosecutor can’t go on in this form (Republika)
• Appeals to President Ivanov to pardon the political prisoners (Republika)
• Turkey demands extradition of FETO members from North Macedonia (Nezavisen vesnik)
• Meetings on possible solutions with Palmer (ADN)


• As Balkans sit in EU’s waiting room, China gets to work (AFP)
• Austrian minister warns of renewed migrant crisis (Xinhua)
• Albania manhunt after gang target plane in ‘€10m heist’ (BBC)

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Vucic with Kosovo Serbs: Serb List will take part in Kosovo local elections (RTS)


A meeting between Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Serb List representatives was held at the Palace of Serbia. The Kosovo Serbs have decided to take part in the elections for the mayors of four municipalities in the north of Kosovo and Metohija, it was announced following the meeting with Vucic. The decision was made so the Albanians would not assume control in the north with 0.1 or 1 percent. “We will never give up either Kosovo and Metohija or our state Serbia because we have no other state. It is important for us not to allow either Pristina or the international community to bring to these political posts the Albanians or Serb marionets who will do what they are told,” Serb List Head Goran Rakic told a press conference. “We will not be marionets. Ninety percent of the votes at the past elections is not giving us the right to give up. We will fight for the survival and return of our people in Kosovo and Metohija,” said Rakic.

Vucic says that a fierce campaign is being conducted against the Serb List, and that he had told the Serbs not to allow the Albanians to elect their representatives with 0.1 percent of votes, but that they need to decide whether they would take part in the elections. He confirmed that he would travel with Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic to Berlin on 29 April for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emanuel Macron. The President confirmed that the Albanians leaders would also be at this meeting. He said he had asked the Serbs for this meeting to pass. He also announced that he would meet with the Chinese President on 25 April and that he would also request a meeting with the Russian President. He says that the situation is difficult for Serbia and that nobody is talking about the taxes any more.


SzS and Kosovo Serb opposition to form Alliance for Kosovo (Beta)


The Alliance for Serbia (SzS) and representatives of the Serb opposition from Kosovo have announced in Belgrade that the elections slated for mayors in the north of Kosovo should be boycotted and announced the formation of the Alliance for Kosovo. The President of the organization Narodna Pravda (People’s Justice) Nenad Radovanovic told a press conference that these elections should be implements, adding that votes for the Serb List are brought in sacks at the elections in Kosovo, while the opposition cannot be heard in the media. “For six years now, we are experiencing a collapse in Kosovo,” said Radovanovic. Apart from him, the meeting was also attended by the representative of the Movement Otadzbina (Fatherland) Slavisa Ristic, the European Movement of Serbs from Kosovo Rada Trajkovic, the organizers of the protest 1out of 5 Million in Kosovo and others. The SzS Chairman Bosko Obradovic, said there were no conditions to hold elections in Serbia, as well as in Kosovo, which is part of Serbia. Obradovic says the SzS accepted the invitation of the representatives of the Serb opposition from Kosovo to form the Alliance for Kosovo that will be joined by parties, organization, respectable individuals.


Serbian Army generals and Vulin: We will not allow a coup attempt (Beta)


“The Serbian Army, as keeper of peace and stability, will not allow any attempt at a coup d’état and is warning anyone announcing or calling for one that they could be held accountable under the law,” said the statement released after a meeting of the Board of the Defense Minister and Chief of General Staff. It added that the VS is equipped and ready to fulfil every order from the Serbian president and preserve the peace and stability of the country and its people.

“The Army is telling everyone, at home and abroad, that it is not and will not be tool to topple the legal and legitimate authorities in Serbia nor the violent toppling of constitutional order,” the statement said. The statement said that the security challenges that had developed after the introduction of exorbitant taxes and the formation of a paramilitary in Kosovo were being carefully monitored by the Army, which was watching every event that could provoke unrest among local Serbs. “The Serbian Army is again reminding KFOR and the international community as a whole that they are the first who are responsible for peace and the safety of everyone living in Kosovo,” the statement added.


Drecun: Pristina additionally raising tensions (RTS)


The Chairman of the Serbian parliamentary Committee for Kosovo and Metohija Milovan Drecun has told the morning news of Radio and Television of Serbia (RTS) that Pristina wishes with unilateral moves to cancel the majority will of the Serb people that was voiced at the last local elections. According to him, Pristina is endangering safety of the Serb people, especially in the north of Kosovo and continues to additionally raise tensions in conditions when we see strong diplomatic activities by the US and Germany. “The question is whether these activities are aimed at encouraging Pristina to continue with the unilateral measures and trying to move the ball into Belgrade’s yard and show how Belgrade is non-constructive, how it is obstructing the process of resumption of talks or whether at issue is simply weakness of both Washington and Berlin to convince Pristina to start behaving rationally,” said Drecun. “We have already forgotten the statute of Trepca, we have already forgotten the story that they will take over the University in Mitrovica, we have already forgotten the story about the uniting of two Mitrovica – and now here comes this new one, we have forgotten, under quotation marks, the law on the transformation of the Kosovo Security Forces, and the peak is this platform,” says Drecun. Now we have these elections where it Pristina’s obvious intention is to install some individuals from the ranks of the Serb people who would serve only as a mask to show that these were still Serbs who took part in some elections – and then to create conditions for Serb-Serb clashes, which would serve as reason for intervention, explains Drecun.


Situation can be conflicting one following elections

“If some conflicting situation would be created following elections, Pristina could use this as justification to intervene with its special forces to allegedly maintain order in north of Kosovo,” he says. There are members of the Kosovo police service at the administrative crossings, but this if KFOR’s jurisdiction and it would a big risk for Pristina for it to control these crossings, because KFOR must not allow this, says Drecun. He wonders whether it is increasing of security

Or intimidation of Serbs if members with Albanian emblems, Albanian officers, appear in KFOR ranks. “The KFOR Commander cannot pretend that he doesn’t know how fragile the situation is in the north and say they were walking in the group of other officers. These are not innocent walks,” says Drecun. According to him, a normal way would be for Pristina to abolish taxes, since the representatives of the Serb people submitted their resignations over that, and then conditions would be created for them to return. “Thaci is making a move whereby he wishes to divert the attention from the fact that Pristina is the one that is disabling resumption of talks and the Albanians wish to continue on the path of Rama, and this is the path of unification of Kosovo and Albania, and not the US activities on the diplomatic plane are being transferred to Tirana and Albania is being pulled, through the big door, into the resolution of the Kosovo problem,” concluded Drecun.


KFOR Commander calls for caution in statements (RTS)


KFOR Commander, Italian General Lorenzo D’Addario, has stated that the situation in Kosovo and Metohija is stable and that security is one of the necessary conditions to enable dialogue.

“My estimate is that the situation is peaceful. I think that the rhetoric and certain statements are serious. We need your assistance in order to calm down the situation, since people can become hostages of a situation from certain statements. Thus, we need to be extremely cautious in our statements,” D’Addario said in talks with a group of Belgrade editorial staff who are on a two-day visit to KFOR. He warned that sometimes statements from the political sphere cannot be of any help. “This is why I need to ask you all to be careful what they will state and to think about the consequences. I would ask all to be responsible about what they are saying and to think about the consequences,” said D’Addario. He says that the KFOR mission would be changed when the conditions are acquired, and such a decision is exclusively under the jurisdiction of the NATO leadership. D’Addario says that the visit of a group of soldiers from several countries, including members of the Albanian Army, in north of Kosovo did not represent a provocation. He explained that at issue were representatives of the defense ministers of several countries who toured the bridge on the Ibar River in the northern part of Mitrovica following a joint meeting.

“The Serbs in the north should not feel threatened, but safer when we are in the field,” said D’Addario. He underlined that KFOR soldiers are prepared for everything, but that he sees that the situation is peaceful at present.


Palmer: US calling Belgrade and Pristina to sit at the negotiating table (VOA/Tanjug)


The US is calling Pristina and Belgrade to sit at the negotiating table and reach the best possible agreement, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Mathew Palmer said. “What is important for the US is that every agreement is something that both sides can support, that both sides believe is protecting their essential interests, and what we have done is to encourage the parties to sit at the negotiating table and negotiate an agreement the best they can,” Palmer told the Voice of America service in Albanian. According to him, the US does not support some concrete result or some concrete part of a possible agreement between Belgrade and Pristina, explaining that the issue of borders can also be part of an agreement, but that it is not its main element.




22nd International Fair of Economy opened in Mostar on Tuesday (RTRS)


The 22nd International Economic Fair was formally opened in Mostar on Tuesday. The fair is organized in partnership with China, which is the fair’s second partnership with that country, and it is held under the auspices of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H). It brought together around 860 exhibitors from approximately 30 countries from around the world. This five-day-long event will include a number of conferences, presentations and business meetings of entrepreneurs. In the opening speech at the fair, Chairman of the B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik stated that this is the most significant fair event in B&H and the huge extent of its potential and importance can be seen in the fact that China is a partner of the fair. Dodik underlined that this is a meeting point not just for entrepreneurs, but also for different cultures. Dodik reminded that there is a Chinese initiative ‘16+1’ that aims to intensify cooperation of China with 16 Central and Eastern European Countries (CEEC), and assessed that Chinese partnership represents major opportunity given that – in his opinion – Chinese economy is one of the most important economies for preserving global economic growth. “The fact that China is this year’s partner country shows the power of this fair and its visibility not only in the region but also at a global level”, the B&H Presidency Chairman added. Vice-Chairman of the Chinese Council for Promotion of International Trade Zhang Shenfeng assessed that there has been a long-term development of relations and mutual trust between China and CEEC, including B&H.

Director of the International Economic Fair Dalfina Bosnjak noted that this is the second time that China is the partner country of this fair, which represents the most concrete confirmation of improvement of cooperation between B&H and China. The Republika Srpska (RS) Chamber of Commerce organized presentation of the RS’ entrepreneurs at the fair, with the support of the RS Ministry of Economy and Entrepreneurship and the RS Ministry for European Integration and International Cooperation. President of the RS Chamber of Commerce Borko Djuric specified that the RS Chamber of Commerce organized presentation of eight business companies from the RS at a joint stand at the fair, along with presentation of around 80 others in a catalogue.

RS Minister of Economy and Entrepreneurship Vjekoslav Petricevic stated that presentation of the RS at this international fair aims to enable business entities from the RS to establish contacts with “different companies from China but also from the region”. Reporter carried statements of the exhibitors at the fair, who emphasized the importance of this fair for promotion of their products and services.


Vucic meets Govedarica, due to Mektic’s words on NATO integration of B&H and Serbia (BN TV)


Prior to his visit to Mostar, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic held a meeting with SDS leader Vukota Govedarica in Belgrade on Tuesday morning. BN TV has learned that Govedarica informed Vucic about the current issues in the RS and B&H from the opposition point of view, stressing the commitment of all political factors to give priority to the RS and its constitutional position in B&H. Govedarica assessed that Vucic once again showed that he observes the developments in the RS in a comprehensive manner, adding that he cares about the RS while respecting the views of both the ruling coalition and the opposition. “He is very interested in how the RS lives from another point of view. I informed President Vucic about the political position of SDS, as well as about the environment in which the RS exists and what it needs in order to become much better than it is right now,” Govedarica explained. He concluded that he and Vucic had a very useful meeting, adding that such meetings greatly contribute to improvement of relations and solutions to problems in both the RS and Serbia. ATV learns that Vucic called for the meeting due to among other things, the statement of B&H Minister of Security Dragan Mektic (SDS) in which he said that he supports the NATO integration of B&H and Serbia. According to unofficial information, Vucic also expressed discontent with the stance of Mektic to some officials from SDS who also visited Mostar on Tuesday.


Dzaferovic: B&H should work on establishing at least the level of cooperation that Serbia has with Kosovo (BHT1)


Asked to comment why he did not attend Tuesday’s opening of the Mostar Fair, B&H Presidency member Sefik Dzaferovic (SDA) said that he did receive an invitation but he chose not to go because of the stance of HDZ B&H leader Dragan Covic towards events in Sarajevo. He posed a rhetorical question as to when Covic attended the Sarajevo Business Forum and promised if Covic was to attend this year’s event, he would attend the Mostar Fair next year.

When asked why the B&H Presidency did not address important issues such as the CEFTA and the implemented taxes by Kosovo, Dzaferovic said that Chairman of the B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik continues to fail to schedule sessions of the B&H Presidency. He underlined that by doing this, Dodik is in breach of the Rules of Procedure, and noted that there are several instances that should have been discussed to date. He stated that this is the reason that this issue was not discussed. He also commented that B&H should work on establishing at least the level of cooperation that Serbia has with Kosovo. He stated that it is unacceptable for B&H citizens and businesses be in a more unfavorable position to that of Serbia when it comes to cooperation with Kosovo. He underlined that the it should be worked on so that cooperation between B&H and Kosovo should be at least at the same level that it is between Serbia and Kosovo. Meanwhile, SBB B&H leader Fahrudin Radoncic gave a statement for Dnevni avaz commenting the fact that he attended the opening of the Mostar International Fair on Tuesday, and he said: “I believe that every part of B&H is inseparable ownership and territory of Bosniaks as well. And the worst political nonsense is allowing Serb and Croat elites meet independently in a way that Bosniaks allow them by not attending and avoiding conversation, meetings, communication, exchange of ideas and policy through self-isolation.” He went on to say that late “Republic of B&H President Alija Izetbegovic never allowed representatives of Serbs and Croats to meet alone and discuss B&H and Bosniak issues without Bosniaks, which was very wise of him”. Also, Radoncic said that nobody should boycott such events, because they mean establishment of economic and personal relations with other countries.


Dodik: Check if arms production increased under SDA control (Srna)


The Chairman of the B&H Presidency, Milorad Dodik, said on Tuesday that information on whether there is an illegal plan of production of weapons and ammunition in factories under the SDA control should be checked, as well as whether the intelligence service and party commission are registering able-bodied Bosniaks. Dodik says he has information indicating that two SDA meetings were held in Mostar in the past three months and that they were attended by presidents of local party organizations from that region. “Representatives of the intelligence community and the SDA security commission came here to organize the registration of all able-bodied Bosniaks, to check where they were and what they were doing during the war, and to see how to train those who did not undergo military training in case of need,” Dodik told reporters. He said that there is information that some weapons and ammunition factories in the Federation of B&H, which are under direct control of Bosniaks, that is, the SDA, increased production uncontrollably. “This is the story about Bakir Izetbegovic and his claim that something is being produced in case of need” Dodik said. Dodik said that it is impossible to produce anything in weapons factories without an order from the B&H Armed Forces or a commercial agreement with abroad, which must be approved by the authorities. “They go further and say that allegedly Serbia is the one which is getting engaged militarily in a part of Kosovo, which is their way to raise tensions between people. Now it is clear what their plan is. They want to keep subservient Serbs in the Council of Ministers in order to be able to let their weapons factories work and for their intelligence service to monitor and control without hindrance RS and Serbian officials. We will have to clear this up,” said Dodik. Dodik said there are concerns over this issue, that the genesis of this problem is far away, and that it started when the IC destroyed all weapons factories in RS but left six such factories in the Federation of B&H. “We now see that there is an illegal plan of production of weapons and ammunition in these factories. We ask that this information be checked, to see whether it is true or not. I would like it not to be true, but there is information that it is just about this,” Dodik said. SDA issued a statement harshly reacting to allegations about enlisting of Bosniaks fit for military service and increased military industry production in the Federation of B&H, assessing that this represents propaganda in a style of the regime of former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. SDA warned that Dodik is only trying to divert attention from his responsibility for failure to form the CoM, for prevention of B&H’s progress on the NATO path, and for refusal to face implications of the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT)’s final verdict to first RS President Radovan Karadzic and to stop with glorification of war criminals. According to SDA, Dodik has been presenting lies and the military industry factories in the Federation of B&H are operating fully in line with the law. SDA leader Bakir Izetbegovic stated that Dodik’s recent drawing of borders on a map represents draws the attention away from important issues, such as formation of the reserve police unit of the RS Ministry of Interior (MoI), failure to respect rulings of the B&H Constitutional Court (CC) on the issue of marking 9 January as the RS Day, and failure to respect the verdicts rendered in The Hague.


B&H parliament fails to appoint delegation in PACE (Hayat/N1)


The Council of Europe (CoE) Office in B&H confirmed on Tuesday that B&H has lost the right to have its representatives in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) this year. Although the B&H Parliament was once again warned of such scenario on Friday, the final deadline for appointment of B&H representatives to the PACE was missed. Head of the CoE Office in B&H Drahoslav Stefanek stated that there is no possibility for the B&H Delegation to attend sessions of the PACE until the end of this year. Former member of the B&H Delegation in the PACE Sasa Magazinovic reminded that B&H representatives were active members of the PACE during the two previous terms, explaining that they proposed and adopted a number of documents. “When it comes to the international scene, this is the biggest shame for B&H in the post-war period, especially given the fact that we recently chaired the (Committee of Ministers of the) CoE and we got surprisingly positive assessments on the six-month chairmanship. I wonder who will speak about B&H once the report on our country is put on the agenda,” Magazinovic said. In a phone statement to N1, CoE Rapporteur for B&H Tiny Kox confirmed that he warned the relevant authorities in Sarajevo multiple times that the deadline for appointment of the delegation is expiring, but he never obtained any response. “Yes, I have warned B&H a couple of times. However, we did not receive a response. That is very bad for B&H, because it means that your parliament cannot participate in the current discussions on the future of the CoE or the role of the Parliamentary Assembly. This week we will have an urgent discussion about that. In my opinion, this is a situation where B&H loses the most,” Kox explained. Speaker of the B&H House of Peoples (HoP) Bakir Izetbegovic expressed an opinion that the B&H Ministry of Foreign Affairs carries part of the responsibility for this situation. Izetbegovic stated: “I think that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should have warned us that we are late. They (the Ministry) said they did that in November, when the Collegium of the HoP was not formed yet. They should have done it again, after the Collegium was appointed.” On the other hand, B&H Minister of Foreign Affairs Igor Crnadak denied this ministry’s responsibility and noted: “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is not the Secretariat of the parliament. The B&H parliament does this every year. Mr. Izetbegovic knows this very well. He knows what the obligations are. Members of the delegation to PACE are accredited each year.”  Crnadak argued that political disputes resulted in an omission that will be highly detrimental to the international reputation of B&H. “Such a failure is unacceptable at the time of our great efforts in the EU integration process. It is disgraceful that after we did a good job at this organization, we did an unacceptable foul” Crnadak stressed. He reminded that B&H chaired the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in 2015 and now it made a step backwards. He underlined that the process of formation of a new convocation of the B&H Council of Ministers (CoM) does not have anything to do with this process. “Statements that the B&H parliament could not do it because of the failure in formation of a new convocation of the B&H CoM – are simply not true. The only truth is that the B&H CoM, the B&H Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the B&H Presidency have nothing to do with the task of appointment of our delegation in the PACE. Only the B&H Parliament is competent for this task,” Crnadak explained. Chairman of the B&H Presidency and SNSD leader Milorad Dodik who stated that he feels ashamed that he sat next to the two other members of the B&H Presidency Zeljko Komsic and Sefik Dzaferovic and gave his word for anything to Brussels. He stated that these are dramatic instances when one seeks a candidacy status but cannot abide by deadlines for appointing mandates at the Council of Europe. HDZ B&H leader Dragan Covic said that this was orchestrated by the Bosniak political scene in order to prevent officials from being appointed and that it was done by preventing the formation of the B&H Council of Ministers (CoM).


SDA asks SNSD to recognize SDA as strongest party which should get highest number of ministerial posts in new convocation of B&H CoM (Glas Srpske)


On eve of a new round of talks on formation of authorities at the level of B&H, SDA presented a new precondition by requesting SNSD to recognize SDA as the strongest political party which should get the highest number of ministries. The daily noted that this means that SDA leader Bakir Izetbegovic wants to get at least four instead of three ministerial posts in the new convocation of B&H Council of Ministers (CoM) and reminded that SNSD and HDZ B&H too expect to get three ministerial posts each. Chair of SNSD Caucus in B&H House of Representatives (HoR) Stasa Kosarac said that Izetbegovic presents false arguments to public in an attempt to deprive RS politicians of the right to get one third of ministerial posts in B&H CoM. Kosarac also said that Izetbegovic was not bothered by the fact the Alliance for Changes (SzP) had three ministerial posts in previous convocation of B&H CoM “because those were suitable Serbs who quite often supported Izetbegovic’s Unitarian politics and served goals of SDA”. Kosarac added that Izetbegovic now opposes the right of Serb people to three ministerial posts because he knows those ministers will consistently fight for interests of the RS. With regard to claims of Izetbegovic that SDA is numerically strongest party, Kosarac said that those claims are nonsense because SNSD leader Milorad Dodik won the highest number of votes in race for B&H Presidency member while SNSD won more votes than SDA for B&H parliament.

“SNSD is convincingly the strongest political party in B&H and the fact we have less seats in B&H HoR than SDA is a result of the election system and of the fact only 14 representatives of B&H HoR are elected from the RS while twice as many, i.e. 18 representatives, are elected from the Federation of B&H”, Kosarac said. Chair of PDP Caucus in RS parliament Perica Bundalo said that the only acceptable principle for formation of B&H CoM is the one according to which Serbs will get the post of B&H CoM Chair and three ministerial posts. “This is the bottom line nobody ever must cross”, Bundalo added. Bundalo added that Izetbegovic’s statement on SDA as the strongest party because of which it should get the highest number of ministerial posts is unacceptable and scandalous and it represents yet another attempt to attack the RS and Serb people. Bundalo called Izetbegovic to stop presenting such blackmails as well as to stop raising political tensions and stop humiliating Serb people.


Slovenia expects Croatia to refrain from spying (Hina)


Slovenia’s National Security Council, which convened on Tuesday evening to discuss “the espionage affair”, called on Croatia to refrain in the future from spying activities in Slovenia.

After the three-hour meeting in Ljubljana, the council said that it had been informed of spying activities during the border arbitration process a few years ago and also condemned any attempt aimed at interfering at Slovenian media. Lately, Slovenian media accused the Croatian Security and Intelligence Agency (SOA) of having wiretapped two Slovenian officials during a border arbitration process and claimed that Ivan Tolj, the head of the Styria publishing company in Croatia, attempted to prevent the publication of a reportage on a “spy affair” on behalf of the Croatian government. Tuesday’s meeting of Slovenia’s National Security Council brought together Prime Minister Marjan Sarec, government ministers as well as representatives of opposition parties. A representative of the Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS), Bozidar Breznik, told the press after the meeting that he condemned the unjustified interference with media and added that nevertheless, the Slovenian government must accept the fact that the border arbitration belonged to the past. He said that it seemed to him that convening the council was more motivated by daily political reasons than by matters concerning national security.

The Croatian government on Tuesday resolutely rejected all allegations by Ljubljana about reported attempts by Zagreb to influence the work of Slovenian media. The Andrej Plenkovic cabinet dismissed allegations that Tolj attempted to prevent the publication of a reportage on a “spy affair” as its mediator. Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said that it is not his government’s policy to influence reports by Slovenian media outlets. “The Croatian government does not have the possibility nor the ambition nor is it our policy to influence any reports in Slovenian media” he told reporters. “The arbitration procedure was irrevocably compromised because of the conduct by the Slovenian side” Plenkovic said. He added that Croatia wishes “to develop good relations with Slovenia and to resolve that issue. Our policy is a policy of dialogue.” Earlier on Tuesday, SOA dismissed reports published by the Slovenian 24ur media outlet as untrue and tendentious fabrications. Following an inquiry from Hina, SOA says that it does not comment on media speculations and, responding to the inquiry, it stated that the articles published by 24ur were untrue and tendentious fabrications. SOA perceives this as the continuation of a campaign by certain media outlets in B&H which tried to discredit SOA and Croatia by disseminating false accusations about the attempted recruiting of Islamist extremists for arms smuggling through B&H and unlawful activities which SOA allegedly conducted against neighboring countries.

The failure of the Croatian-Slovenian border arbitration process is a judicial scandal, not an intelligence issue, and we reject this attempt to misrepresent arguments, Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic‘s office said on Tuesday, responding to Slovenia’s claims that Croatia wiretapped Slovenian officials in the process in order to compromise it. “The fact is that Slovenia breached the arbitration agreement and thereby international law, which resulted in the failure of the arbitration. That is a judicial scandal, not an intelligence issue, and we reject this attempt to misrepresent arguments” the president’s office said in response to questions from the press for a comment.


Due to spying affair, Slovenia recalls Ambassador in Zagreb (Hina/STA/POP TV)


Slovenian Prime Minister Marjan Sarec has called for Tuesday afternoon an emergency session of the National Security Council over alleged activity by Croatia’s Security-Intelligence Agency (SOA) in Slovenia. The Croatian ambassador to Slovenia was summoned by the Slovenian Foreign Ministry and the Slovenian ambassador to Croatia was called back to Ljubljana for consultation, the Slovenian STA news agency reported. After Sarec earlier said that he was concerned about Croatia’s conduct because SOA had allegedly wiretapped conversations between the former Slovenian arbiter in Croatian-Slovenian border arbitration proceedings, Jernej Sekolec, and Slovenian official Simona Drenik in order to discredit the arbitration process, the affair escalated on Monday following claims on the Slovenian POP TV station that Croatian government mediator Ivan Tolj, the head of the Styria publishing company in Croatia, had tried to prevent the publication of a reportage on the wiretapping affair. This prompted the Social Democrats (SD), a member of the Slovenian coalition government, to demand an urgent session of the Slovenian National Security Council, which Sarec accepted. It was previously reported that Croatia’s Ambassador to Slovenia, Boris Grgic, was summoned by the Slovenian Foreign Ministry over the affair and that Slovenia’s Ambassador to Zagreb, Smiljana Knez, was called back by Ljubljana for consultation. Sarec’s office said that the Slovenian prime minister “is concerned about an attempt by Croatian representatives to influence the reporting of POP TV about activities of the Croatian intelligence service” and that these “serious allegations” required “appropriate explanations”. Such media pressure is “unacceptable and contrary to basic principles of democracy,” Sarec’s office said. POP TV on Monday published a recording which it claims shows that Ivan Tolj, Styria’s representative for Croatia, tried to stop the broadcast of the TV station’s report about the involvement of Croatian intelligence agents in the wiretapping of conversations between Slovenian officials and judges with the aim of compromising the border arbitration proceedings and the subsequent arbitration ruling, which Croatia does not recognize.


Kurz: Austria fully supports Montenegro’s European ambitions (MTN)


Prime Minister of Montenegro Dusko Markovic, who is currently in an official visit to Austria and Federal Chancellor of the Republic of Austria Sebastian Kurz met in Vienna to continue the dialogue on the current results in relations between Montenegro and Austria and further cooperation. Markovic and Kurz both agreed that the bilateral relations of the two countries are good and that they see opportunities for further development, especially in the area of the economy. Chancellor Kurz said that Austria fully supports the European aspirations of Montenegro, while Markovic noted that his country highly values the engagement of Austria and Chancellor Kurz in the Western Balkans. Noting Austria’s good relations with the Western Balkans region, Kurz pointed out excellent relations with Montenegro – an excellent political connection and enormous economic potential. “Austria is one of the biggest investors in Montenegro, and we also see here excellent potential and many opportunities for economic exchange but also for additional investments in Montenegro,” Kurz said at a joint press conference held at the Federal Chancellery following official talks. Kurz referred to the progress Montenegro has made in the field of European integration and assessed as a particularly important continuation of the strengthening of the rule of law, the fight against corruption and the battle for freedom of the press. Markovic took this opportunity to thank the Chancellor for supporting Montenegro country and the entire Western Balkans region.  “It is a pleasure to be in Vienna in the first official visit of the Prime Minister of Montenegro to Austria after the renewal of our independence in 2006. After several meetings recently, I am pleased that we met here again and continued the dialogue on further cooperation and the current results in relations between Montenegro and Austria. Montenegro highly appreciates the role of Austria, as well as of the Chancellor personally, in the Western Balkans. First of all, we appreciate the continued commitment to consolidating the European perspective of Montenegro and the region, strongly expressed during Austrian presidency of the Council of the European Union last year,” Markovic said at the press conference. Kurz congratulated Markovic on the positive development of Montenegro. “In Montenegro, there is almost five percent of economic growth last year and probably four percent this year. These are much larger numbers and very positive prospects for economic growth, which is optimistic for Montenegro and the region as well. Your economic growth is far above ours. Austria looks forward to success and supports Montenegro and the countries of the Western Balkans,” the Austrian Chancellor emphasized. Kurz said that many Montenegrins are living in Austria who make a significant contribution to Austrian society. He emphasized that Austria remains a reliable partner to Montenegro and the region and thanked the Prime Minister for the visit and the possibility to exchange opinions.


Zaev’s government and opposition VMRO agree that the Special Prosecutor can’t go on in this form (Republika)


VMRO-DPMNE President Hristijan Mickoski and Prime Minister Zoran Zaev agreed that the Special Prosecutor’s Office can’t continue to operate the way it did until now, Republika has learnt. Party sources inform that some progress was made between the two parties, as they debate the fate of the openly partisan prosecutorial unit which helped Zaev assume power in Macedonia and rename the country. Zaev insisted that the SPO is rolled into the permanent state prosecutor’s service with the same personnel it has now, while the opposition insists that the prosecutors have completely betrayed the public trust put in them. It was agreed that the SPO will not continue to function in the form it did so far. It was also agreed in principle that the opposition will propose a new Public Prosecutor, and what remains is to determine the timeframe in which this can be arranged, sources told Republika. Whether Zaev’s Government will manage to reach agreement with the opposition on the issue of the SPO may affect the expected opening of EU accession talks.


Appeals to President Ivanov to pardon the political prisoners (Republika)


After Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said that he doesn’t expect President Gjorge Ivanov to pardon the victims of his campaign of political persecution, legal experts respond that the President has every right and has the authority to give pardons. The Office of the President confirmed that a request to give end-of-term pardons has been received, primarily to the victims of the April 2017 trial, which was abused to blackmail members of Parliament and force them to vote to rename the country, and after a selective pardon a number of political activists remained sentenced to lengthy prison terms as “terrorists”. The President can give pardons like he did before. In this case, the Amnesty law was applied unevenly, and that was done because of partisan interests. President Ivanov says that he supports equal application of the laws and the Constitution and now he has the chance to prove it, says lawyer Zvonko Davidovik. Justice Minister Renata Deskoska announced that her department would slow-roll any attempt by the President to pardon the political prisoners, which include former Interior Minister Mitko Cavkov and Jane Cento, political activist and heir to the distinguished Cento family name. But, criminal law professor Gordan Kalajdziev says that President Ivanov has the right to issue pardons without involving the Justice Ministry. This prerogative was temporarily taken away from the President with the 2016 changes to the law on pardons, but was later restored when the Constitutional Court struck down the changes. President Ivanov’s inactivity as his term draws near has also raised questions whether he, like the members of Parliament before him, is facing threats and some form of blackmail, which would not be surprising given the campaign of political persecution in Macedonia. The President has until 12 May, when his second and last term in office expires, to make the move.


Turkey demands extradition of FETO members from North Macedonia (Nezavisen vesnik)


Turkey has demanded from authorities in North Macedonia to extradite individuals suspected of being members of FETO organization. PM Zoran Zaev said that authorities in Skopje will act in compliance with the International Convention for Extradition and the country’s legislation. He said that they’re examining the requests made by Turkish authorities, but without specifying if concrete actions will be taken. “Public Prosecutor’s Office is the competent institution for this and we’re expecting to receive a confirmation from this office. Domestic laws, international laws and our friendship with Turkey will be held into account for this,” Zaev said. Asked if Turkish parliament will not ratify North Macedonia’s NATO accession protocol in case terrorist suspects are not extradited, Zaev stressed that he is not expecting such thing. A while ago, Turkish state-owned news agency Anadolu published a list of people belonging to FETO movement living in North Macedonia. The list includes owners of many businesses. The extradition was also demanded by Turkish Defense minister Hulusi Akar during his visit to Skopje last week.


Meetings on possible solutions with Palmer (ADN)


At the end of the second day of his visit to Tirana, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Palmer had a meeting with the Albanian President Ilir Meta. “We discussed the difficult political situation in Albania and the possibility to find a solution and move forward. Mutual interest in strengthening democracy and the rule of law, which are at the core of the strategic partnership between the two countries,” said Meta at the end of more than one-hour meeting. The Chairwoman of the Socialist Movement for Integration (SMI) Monika Kryemadhi stated after the meeting with Palmer that Palmer did not come to Albania to solve the political conflict but to give his opinions. “We discussed the situation and of course I am not authorized to talk about the meeting. Palmer expressed his options from his point of view and we expressed ours. Of course, they are in agreement with the US Department of State’s report on the fight against corruption. Albania has its place in the EU. Palmer had not come to solve the conflict. Do not forget that our concerns will only be solved by Albanians,” said Kryemadhi. She added that the victims of all this are Albanians and not the Prime Minister Edi Rama. The Democratic Party (DP) leader Lulzim Basha has shared some details this Tuesday afternoon after the meeting he held with Palmer. “Open and constructive conversation with Matthew Palmer on the situation of the absence of the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court, discretion, crime, corruption and the political crisis. A common commitment to democracy, rule of law and good governance as the only path to stability and Albania in the EU,” said Basha.




As Balkans sit in EU’s waiting room, China gets to work (AFP, 10 April 2019)


From coal plants to airports and bridges, China is forking out for investments across the Western Balkans, laying groundwork for a new battle for influence on the European Union’s fringe.

The West has long eyed Russia as its chief rival in this turbulent corner of southeast Europe.

But there is another major player in town, as Chinese firms fill development gaps in these cash-strapped countries, where dreams of entering the EU keep sliding towards the horizon. The EU accounts for more than 70 percent of overall direct investment in the region — an area spanning Serbia, Bosnia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo — far above the one percent contributed by China, according to European Commission figures. But China has in the past six years leapt forward in infrastructure-related spending, rivalling the sums spent by the EU, and is otherwise making a noticeable impact. In the Serbian steel town of Smederevo, 54-year-old mill worker Zoran Matic thanks “the Chinese — or as we call them, our friends”, for rescuing a factory that was on the brink of bankruptcy before China’s HBIS group bought it in 2014 for 46 million euros ($52 million at current rates). “Wages are regular. The city has woken up,” adds his colleague Novica Djordjevic, standing outside the gate where China’s red flag flies. The purchase was a triumph where Americans had foundered. Just two years earlier, US Steel sold the plant, and its debts, to the Serbian government for a symbolic $1. Now production is growing and revenue was up 37 percent last year, according to the company. Thrilled, Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic urged China to also take over a debt-hit copper mine farther south — which it did last year. And the requests keep coming. In September, Vucic called for Chinese companies to invest in the tech sector and, ambitiously, turn Serbia into a hub for “flying cars”.


– Gateway to Europe –

As a gateway to southern Europe, the Balkans form a key link in Beijing’s “Belt and Road” project, a $1-trillion plan to pave a path for its exports to Europe and beyond. Surrounded by EU member states, the region connects the Piraeus port in Greece — already controlled by the Chinese — to the heart of Europe. But the massive concessional loans used to fund much of the building have drawn scrutiny in Brussels. EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn, who oversees bids to join the bloc, told AFP there are “concerns over the socioeconomic and financial effects some of China’s investments can have”. He cited tiny Montenegro, where public debt shot up to more than 70 percent of its GDP after the country took an 809-million-euro loan from China’s state-owned Export-Import bank to build a highway through its mountainous terrain. There’s fear the country could fall victim to “debt-trap diplomacy” — when nations that default on China’s loans are forced to hand over assets. “These investments often come with strings attached,” Hahn said. “And that in return has an impact on our aim, namely to improve the stability and economic development” in the Balkans.


– ’16+1′ summit –

The Belt and Road projects will be centre stage at the annual “16+1” summit in Dubrovnik on Friday bringing together leaders from Beijing plus 16 eastern European countries, including five Western Balkan states. In the West, the grouping has been eyed warily as a possible Chinese attempt to divide the bloc and gain leverage from within. Beijing denies any geopolitical intentions and says it supports a united Europe.  But Brussels has started moving to curb the Asian giant’s reach. In February, EU lawmakers voted in new screening of foreign investments, which will limit China’s ability to buy firms in the strategic technology and infrastructure sectors.

The Western Balkans, however, remains a open field outside the EU which has already attracted a significant chunk of the 16+1 investment. Between 2007 and 2017 Beijing announced 12 billion euros in loans for construction projects in the 16 countries — a third of which were earmarked for Serbia, followed by Bosnia (21 percent) and Montenegro (seven percent), according to a European Investment Bank study. Not all projects are guaranteed to materialise. Some, like a railway from Belgrade to Budapest, have already hit significant snags on Hungary’s side. But according to an 2017 IMF study, China is financing at least 6.2 billion euros in railway, energy and road construction in the Western Balkans. With less access to EU funding, the poorer Balkan countries are “not in a position to be turning money away”, explained Matt Ferchen, a China specialist at the Carnegie Tsinghua Center for Global Policy.


– Cash for coal –

From an EU perspective, there is concern the Chinese model of investment — free of requirements that recipients tackle issues like corruption or press restrictions — will work against Brussels’ goals in the region. For instance, China is also funding the expansion of coal-fired energy plants, bucking an EU trend away from fossil fuels. Bosnian lawmakers are now under fire for approving a state guarantee this month for a 614-million-euro Chinese bank loan to upgrade a coal-fired power plant in Tuzla. In a tweet, Hahn warned “issues like environmental impact assessments, state aid and public procurement procedures will certainly be closely looked at” as EU membership bids are evaluated. The Energy Community, which is tasked with expanding EU energy policies to southeast Europe, has opened a complaint, saying the state guarantee violates subsidy laws. But while Brussels wields red tape, local politicians cast China as coming to the rescue. The Chinese loan is “a historic moment for Bosnia”, says Fadil Novalic, prime minister of the country’s Bosnian-Croat region. “We have not had such an investment in 40 years.”


Austrian minister warns of renewed migrant crisis (Xinhua, 9 April 2019)


VIENNA — Austrian interior minister Herbert Kickl has written to the European Union, warning of a renewed migrant crisis and calling for immediate preventative measures to be taken, local media reported on Tuesday. The letter, published by the Krone newspaper, was specifically addressed at three European Commissioners — Dimitris Avramopoulos of migration, Johannes Hahn of neighborhood policy, and Guenther Oettinger of budget and human resources.

Kickl said figures from European Union law enforcement agency Europol suggested that a “large-scale movement of people from Turkey to Europe” is about to take place, with both the eastern Mediterranean and Balkans migration routes likely to be traversed as they were during the migrant crisis in 2015 and 2016. There are presently “tens of thousands” of migrants in these areas already, including about 5,000 each in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, as well as about 60,000 asylum seekers in Greece, and about 5.6 million Syrian refugees in the Middle East, according to Kickl. All of this points to “clear potential for a massive new migration wave if action is not taken quickly”, the minister wrote. He called on the three commissioners to act quickly and send a clear signal to relevant EU member states, by “reconciling our respective contingency plans”. In addition, it is particularly important to learn “what measures and initiatives are planned by the European Commission”, he said. Austria is prepared to take “every available measure” to prevent illegal migration, he said, adding that countries in the Western Balkans as well as Turkey have an obligation to play their part in hindering the further travel of migrants and refugees.


Albania manhunt after gang target plane in ‘€10m heist’ (BBC, 10 April 2019)


A suspected gang leader was shot dead after a dramatic raid on an Austrian airlines plane on the runway at Tirana airport in Albania. Passengers waiting for the Airbus plane to leave Mother Teresa airport near the capital saw the gang approach security police wielding AK-47 rifles.

They are then thought to have entered the plane to steal as much as €10m (£8.5m; $11m) in cash.

The gang fled but then ran into a police patrol and opened fire. What happened at the airport?

Albanian media showed footage of a white van carrying tax agency signs being driven inside the airport fence before the robbery at around 15:00 on Tuesday. It had apparently burst on to the site through a gate used by emergency services. It is thought the masked gang had inside knowledge of the cash cargo that had been loaded on to the plane ahead of its flight to Vienna.

As Albania’s central bank does not accept deposits of hard currency, some locally based foreign banks have to ship foreign currency to Austria by plane. The airport has been targeted by robbers before. The gang held up the guards and forced open the plane’s cargo doors before loading their vehicle with most of the cash on the plane. The robbery lasted three or four minutes, reports said.

They then drove away in the van but were confronted by police a short distance away. They opened fire and, when the patrol fired back, one of the three robbers was shot in the head.

Albanian reports say the dead man was later identified by his family as Admir Murataj.

Deputy Prime Minister Erion Brace praised the police, saying they had “eliminated the leader” and were pursuing the rest of the gang, saying all the robbers had been identified. The robbers’ van was later found burned out and one witness told Albanian TV that they had escaped by bicycle. As news of the robbery emerged, banking officials said they may have to stop transfers of cash to Vienna. Organised crime gangs have been behind previous raids on cash transfers to Vienna. Almost €1m was stolen in a raid in 2016 not far from the airport. Then in February 2017 thieves stole €3.2m ($3.6m; £2.7m). Police later found some of the money stashed underground in pressure cookers.



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