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Belgrade Media Report 25 June

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LOCAL PRESS

Drecun: They wanted to trade in Washington in order to be removed from indictments (RTS)
Gratitude for Brazil’s firm and principled support on non-recognition of so-called Kosovo (Tanjug/RTS)
Djuric: Terror against Serb population in Metohija continues (RTS)
“Presently, Pristina is a big factor of insecurity, and as for Vucic…” (Tanjug/B92)
Petritsch doubts US success in Belgrade – Pristina talks (N1)
Local elections in Sabac to be repeated (Glas Podrinja/N1)
RIK rejects all complaints about Serbia’s elections; ENEMO: Race imperiled (Beta)
Another 137 cases (B92)

REGIONAL PRESS

Bosnia & Herzegovina

Victory Parade held in Moscow; Dodik attends ceremony (ATV)
New EUROPOL report: Western Balkans is still home to radical groups (Dnevni list)
Croatian President Milanovic refers to B&H as state with three entities (O kanal)
Mesic: Story about third entity is dangerous for the region (Dnevni avaz)
Increasing the number of infected in B&H: 119 new cases in one day (N1)
Croatia

Croatia imposes new 14-day quarantine for travelers from four Balkan countries (N1)
Croatia reports 95 new cases of Covid-19, a total of 2,483 (N1)
Montenegro

Djukanovic: SPC is an instrument in the hands of the Great Serbian nationalism (CDM/HRT)
Markovic: Nowhere in the world can you see MPs boycotting the parliament for four years (CDM)
Another six persons in Montenegro test positive for coronavirus (CDM)
Republic of North Macedonia

Zaev: The citizens alone decide who will be the next prime minister (MIA)
Vote for renewal of Macedonia, VMRO-DPMNE’s Mickoski tells Ohrid rally (MIA)
Telma poll: SDSM holds slight lead over VMRO-DPMNE (MIA)
North Macedonia reports 153 new cases of Covid-19, 6 patients died (24.mk)
Albania

Meta: KLA’s war resulted right and decisive (ADN)
Bushati: Vucic has a ‘one color’ parliament and more MPs than Putin and Erdogan (ADN)
Bushati: Possible indictments cannot deviate historical significance of Kosovo liberation war (ADN)
The Political Council concludes its work with the Electoral Code (Radio Tirana)
Albania tops 2.192 cases as Coronavirus spreads (ADN)

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

Kosovan president’s war crimes indictment puts West in a bind (Politico)
Hashim Thaci’s past catches up with Kosovo’s future (DW)
Indictments Are against Individuals, Not an Attack on KLA, Says Former Chief Prosecutor Clint Williamson (Exit news)

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LOCAL PRESS

 

Drecun: They wanted to trade in Washington in order to be removed from indictments (RTS)

 

The Chairperson of the Serbian parliamentary Committee for Kosovo and Metohija Milovan Dreucn has told the morning news of Radio and Television of Serbia (RTS) that it was announced now that Hashim Thaci and Kadri Veseli are on the indictments of the Special Proseuction because it was learned that they will try to trade during their stay in Washington D.C. in order to be removed from them. He says that the proposals of the indictments against Thaci and Veseli are not from yesterday, but from several months ago and that underway is the process of confirmation by judges for the previous trial. “If they are confirmed by the judges, we will have the process,” says Drecun. He notes that it was unknown until now who was on the indictment and for what charges and that the Special Prosecution had been hiding this information in the contact with our working group as well. Now they have warned that pressure is being exerted on them. Drecun notes that the Special Prosecution has been the target of attacks of former KLA members in two directions for some time now. “One direction is a very strong campaign to abolish the law based on which the Special Prosecution and chambers were formed and to see how the international community would react, and they would be prepared to raise extremists, nationalists, so-called KLA veterans in order to strengthen their requests. When they saw this couldn’t pass then they took another path,” said Drecun. He notes then they started to force the story on the resolution in the Kosovo Assembly for negotiations with Belgrade, about some genocide against the Albanians and war reparation, formation of a genocide museum, in order to prepare the ground for a possible political trade. “I think the Special Prosecution put an end to the attempt by Hashim Thaci and Kadri Veseli to trade according to the principle ‘we will not persecute Serbian crimes, but you can’t our terrorists from the KLA either’. Thaci and Veseli are thus not on the indictments, the story ends,” explains Drecun.

 

Why was the indictment made public now

“Hashim Thaci was getting prepared with Kadri Veseli, and let me remind, Veseli has very important intelligence contacts with some services in the US and especially with the members from the deep state structures. They had learned what is going on,” opines Drecun. He is of the opinion that the Special Prosecution learned they would try to trade in order to be removed from the indictments. “That is why the Special Prosecution undertook a step to warn the public and cut off the maneuvering space to anyone who would want to accept the trade,” said Drecun.

 

Gratitude for Brazil’s firm and principled support on non-recognition of so-called Kosovo (Tanjug/RTS)

 

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic talked on the phone with Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Brazil Ernesto Araujo. Dacic expressed solidarity with the friendly people and the government of Brazil on the difficult situation regarding the COVID-19 epidemic and the large increase in the number of patients, as well as condolences for the deceased, hoping that the situation will soon be successfully overcome. He pointed out that Brazil is one of our most important political and economic partners in Latin America, and emphasized Serbia’s commitment to further improving overall relations, intensifying political dialogue and strengthening economic cooperation. Dacic expressed gratitude for Brazil’s firm and principled support on the issue of non-recognition of the unilaterally declared independence of the so-called Kosovo. Dacic reminded that the invitation to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Brazil to visit Serbia is open, with the expectation that the visit will be carried out as soon as the conditions for that are met. During the talks, the officials expressed the expectation that our two countries will soon have the opportunity to continue working together to further improve cooperation.

 

Djuric: Terror against Serb population in Metohija continues (RTS)

 

KLA graffiti was written last night on the house of returnee Jovan Ristic in the Ljubozda village, while almost at the same time the house of Radoje Pumpalovic in the Dubrava village, Istok municipality, was broken into. The Office for Kosovo and Metohija has announced that thus continues the terror against the Serb population in Metohija. We demand the competent institutions and international representatives to urgently find the perpetrators and stop the wave of violence against the Serbs in Metohija, which is undoubtedly aimed at terrorizing and intimidating the Serbs and their expulsion, reads the statements from the Office.

 

“Presently, Pristina is a big factor of insecurity, and as for Vucic…” (Tanjug/B92)

 

Pristina is a big factor of insecurity at the moment, said former EU special envoy for Kosovo Wolfgang Petritsch. At the same time, Petrisch believes that it would be good for President Aleksandar Vucic to go to Washington and previously to Brussels, as a prudent politician who confirms that there is no solution without the EU. “Kosovo currently has a very weak government and that is a big problem. In Belgrade, after the elections, the government has been significantly strengthened and has a stronger position in the assembly, and it would have in the case of a referendum. That is not the case in Pristina,” Petritsch told Tanjug. The former High Representative of the international community in Bosnia-Herzegovina believes that the announcement of the indictment against Thaci weakened the government even more, reminding that the new government was formed with the support of Thaci’s party. It also points to the growing popularity of Albin Kurti. Because of all that, Petritsch is convinced that sooner or later there will be elections in Kosovo. The former ambassador of Austria to Serbia says that the indictment against Thaci has been looming since Dick Marty‘s report to the Council of Europe. “It took too long, but international justice is slow,” said Petritsch, who said that he personally advocated the establishment of a special court for crimes committed from 1998 to 2000. Now, as he points out, everyone must take note of the decision of the Prosecutor’s Office, and it starts from the fact that Thaci, following the previous example of Ramush Haradinaj, will resign. As for Serbia, he says that it should continue to work on finding a solution and that it should decide for itself who will be its representative in the dialogue, since the Constitutional Court in Pristina opted for the prime minister. “I think it would be efficient for the whole process that this role is assumed by Serbian President Aleksandra Vucic, while technical issues can be transferred to the expert level,” he explained. When it comes to the announced plan of the US President Donald Trump‘s Special Envoy for Kosovo, Richard Grenell, which was supposed to be discussed in Washington on Saturday, Petritsch says that he is skeptical and thinks that it is impossible to start with economic issues without seeking a political solution. “Who will invest in a region that has such a difficult unresolved problem? None or few of them,” he stated. “The economy is important, but how can you imagine any progress, foreign investments and jobs if there is no political compromise?”, Petritsch wondered. “A clear framework is necessary to solve this conflict, and only then, the two sides could build confidence. Only after that can we start a new future between Belgrade and Pristina,” Petritsch said, adding he didn’t believe that Grenell’s formula – first economy, and then dealing with political issues, “can work”. He says that it is necessary to deal with economic issues, but also that the area must have a clear “European seal”. Petritsch thinks that it is good that President Vucic is going to Washington and previously to Brussels, thus proving that he is a prudent politician who confirms that there is no solution without the EU. He emphasizes that the EU must be absolutely more active and must take the lead in the region. “The EU must not leave the leadership in the region to others, including the United States, but also to the Russians and Chinese who have their own political and economic interests. The EU must have a clear leading role there,” Petritsch underlined, adding that he supports EU Special Envoy Miroslav Lajcak and his intention to find a solution to the Kosovo issue in the foreseeable future.

 

Petritsch doubts US success in Belgrade – Pristina talks (N1)

 

Wolfgang Petritsch, an Austrian diplomat and former European Union envoy for Kosovo, told N1 on Wednesday he doubted that the US concept for the Belgrade – Pristina dialogue on the normalization of relations would be successful. He said, “the economy is important, but how can you imagine any progress, foreign investments and jobs if there is no political compromise?”

Petritsch told N1 that Miroslav Lajcák, the EU envoy for the dialogue and other regional issues, was an experienced politician and that was about time to solve the conflict “which has been going on for too long.” “I would look at the bright side of this story first. It’s good that the US and the EU realized that something must be done. Unfortunately, the EU facilitated dialogue stopped. Now, the EU has the special envoy Miroslav Lajcák, a very experienced politician with competences,” he said. Petritsch added he doubted the American concept and “I clearly speak about it.” He also said he didn’t believe that the economic matters were more important than politics. “A clear framework is necessary to solve this conflict, and only then, the two sides could build confidence. Only after that can we start a new future between Belgrade and Pristina,” Petritsch said, adding he didn’t believe that Grenell‘s formula – first economy, and then the EU should deal with political issues, “can work.” “As long as the Europeans and Americans worked in the past, some progress could be achieved. But now, as I see with great concern, the US wants to go on their own and I don’t believe that the US can solve a European issue. We need strong European cooperation, and the EU should run the mission,” Petritsch said. He added that Washington’s move to publish the date of the White House meeting during Lajcák visits to Kosovo and Serbia “was not a friendly one.” “We know Donald Trump doesn’t like the EU and that in the case of Kosovo a solution could be found only in the cooperation between Washington and Brussels,” Petritsch said. He added that any solution should be acceptable to both sides and the entire international community. “If both sides reach an agreement that is not acceptable to Moscow and Beijing, it won’t be acceptable” at all, Petritsch said.

 

Local elections in Sabac to be repeated (Glas Podrinja/N1)

 

The local elections in Sabac, the only opposition-held town in Serbia, are set to be repeated due to the high number of irregularities reported from all polling stations, N1 reported on Thursday. Sabac Mayor Nebojsa Zelenovic told N1 morning talk show the elections were annulled and that The ruling Serbian Progressive Party of the President Aleksandar Vucic (SNS) had right to appeal to a court in the northern city of Novi Sad. Zelenovic said SNS heavily pressured people to vote, especially in the countryside, and that there were the cases of votes buying.

He added that the court’s decision on the new vote was expected in a few days. SNS declared an overwhelming victory in this town in western Serbia where the opposition was in power for years. The head of Sabac’s electoral commission Budimir Pavlovic also told N1 the new vote would be held in Sabac, after 42 complaints were accepted. Earlier on Thursday, the local Glas Podrinja website said that it had unofficially learned that the town’s electoral commission accepted the complaints and that the elections would be held again at all 100 polling stations.

 

RIK rejects all complaints about Serbia’s elections; ENEMO: Race imperiled (Beta)

 

The Republic Electoral Commission (RIK) rejected on Wednesday 85 complaints by the Movement for Restauration of the Kingdom of Serbia, 34 by the election watchdog CRTA and 108 individual objections to the 21 June general elections as unfounded, Beta. RIK members did not have access to the elections’ records from the polling stations. In the meantime, the European Network of Election Monitoring Organizations (ENEMO), an international network of 23 leading non-profit, non-partisan and non-governmental organizations from 18 countries of Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia, including three European Union countries, said the parliamentary elections in Serbia were conducted efficiently with the respect of the fundamental freedoms. However, ENEMO added that the competitiveness was substantially imperiled by a partial boycott by the opposition parties, campaign’s limitations due to the coronavirus epidemic, blurred lines between the state and the ruling parties, changes to the electoral laws ahead of the vote and widespread cases of pressure on the media during the whole process. The ENEMO mission will stay in Serbia until the end of the process to appraise events after the elections. Its final report with analysis and recommendations is expected within 60 days after the final results are published. Those results are expected on Thursday, but its already known that the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) of President Aleksandar Vucic scored a sweeping victory and will have an absolute majority in the parliament with more than 190 out of 250 seats.

 

Another 137 cases (B92)

 

Until 3pm there have been another 137 cases, in total 13,372 infected. There has been one more death, in total 264 deaths. The number of active cases is 954. There are 24 patients on respirators.

 

REGIONAL PRESS

 

Victory Parade held in Moscow; Dodik attends ceremony (ATV)

 

Victory Parade was held in Moscow on Wednesday, marking the 75th anniversary of Soviet victory in World War II and it was attended by leaders of 13 countries, including Serb member of the B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik and Serbian President Aleksandar VucicATV reports that Dodik, together with Russian President Vladimir Putin and other 12 leaders, laid flowers at the Memorial for Russian heroes and held a series of bilateral discussions. Dodik met with Putin, Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoygu, President of Belarus Aleksandar Lukashenko, President of South Ossetia Anatolij Bibiolov and Vucic. ATV reports that parades were held in 28 cities throughout Russia, with 64,000 soldiers, as well as more than 2,000 units of land and air machines, 13 boats and submarines participating in it. Addressing the military parade Putin stated that the Slavic people bore the main burden of the fight against Nazism and that it is “our obligation to guard that truth and pass it on to our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.” Asked about the Victory Parade and how he felt during it, Dodik said that he felt pride for representing the RS in the best possible way and he thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for the invitation and the respect that was expressed. He announced that he will meet Putin once again this year to discuss bilateral relations. Dodik highlighted that Republika Srpska (RS) is known in Russia and one can feel friendliness towards Serb people. Asked about the moment when members of the Serbian Army marched as part of the parade, Dodik said: “The fact that our unit is marching at the square as part of the parade which marks 75 years since the victory, the fact that the Serb people are integrated in that victory, despite suffering great losses, it is a natural thing to stand up and greet them,” said Dodik. Asked about the honoring of all fallen soldiers of the World War II, Dodik said that it was a great honor to remember the soldiers alongside other leaders at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. He stressed that the monument marks the fight of those who defended freedom and Serbs always loved freedom and it is one of their dominant feelings. “We have learned through history that only if we have a state, and now we have two states, we can have the feeling of freedom,” said Dodik. He believes that the dominant feeling of the RS citizens is freedom and their wish is for this freedom to be better and more successful. Commenting on the solemn reception organized by Putin after the parade during which the threats of terrorism and the pandemic were discussed, Dodik said that Russia is a global power and the danger of the pandemic is the same everywhere. He believes that Russia will be among the first ones to develop a medicine or vaccine against the virus and it will be important to do this as soon as possible. Dodik once again analyzed the past events including genocide, which he perceives as an accusation against the Serb people, despite all the verdicts rendered in The Hague. “I expect this parade and all activities related to WWII to recover the old, true values and to confront revisionism that we are facing as well, just like in the case of the resolution adopted by the B&H Parliament, where the Serb people who experienced genocide were put on the third place on the list of victims of fascism in B&H, which is not true. This is some sort of revisionism,” Dodik said in a statement.

 

New EUROPOL report: Western Balkans is still home to radical groups (Dnevni list)

 

According to a latest report prepared by the EUROPOL, there were no terrorist attacks committed by Jihadists in Albania, B&H, Montenegro, Macedonia and Serbia in 2019. However, the report notes that the Western Balkans has remained ‘home’ to radicalized groups. The EUROPOL’s report cites Hungary’s assessment, according to which religious radicalism is most present in B&H, followed by Albania, Kosovo and North Macedonia. EUROPOL also notes that, apart from people returning from foreign battlefields, terrorist threat is also coming from local radicalized groups and individuals, including radicalism spread in prisons. The report further reads that B&H had reported it received 26 of its citizens from Syria in 2019, which increases the number of adults returning from Syria close to 60. “Eight men were processed, and one has been sentenced to four-year prison sentence, which is not fully valid yet,” reads EUROPOL’s report.

 

Croatian President Milanovic refers to B&H as state with three entities (O kanal)

 

O Kanal reported about a gaffe of Croatian President Zoran Milanovic during a TV interview during his ongoing visit to Montenegro in which he mentioned B&H. Speaking about relations in the region, Milanovic said that relations with B&H are “possible to the extent of being able to establish relations with B&H, as the state of the three entities”. Milanovic said: “I think that the relations can be established but there are some limitations”. At a press conference held afterwards Milanovic stated that he advocates B&H as it is. “In B&H basically, under constitutional philosophy, three ethnic entities exist, key entities Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats. Where is the problem in that? I am glad that someone noticed that, I certainly did not, and of course I did not mean anything negative by it, and the third entity should be eliminated by those who do not want these entities to get special powers and individualism,” said Milanovic.

 

Mesic: Story about third entity is dangerous for the region (Dnevni avaz)

 

Speaking for the daily, former Croatian President Stjepan Mesic stressed that the dangerous and insane story about the third entity in B&H, not only that must not be returned to the agenda with ‘Mostar Agreement’, but has to be taken from the agenda once and for all. He noted that the status of Croat people would not be solved by the third entity: “The third entity would additionally endanger existence of B&H as a state. In the end, it would be devastating for all three constituent peoples in B&H, but also for the entire region”. Mesic stressed that all those “lamenting over the grave destiny of Croats” have to admit that exodus of Croats from Sarajevo was result of HDZ orders and threat that every Croat who fails to leave Sarajevo is a traitor of their own people. He stressed that Belgrade also has to convey a message to Serbs in B&H that their homeland is B&H, with Sarajevo as Capital City and that they should solve their problems and seek their happiness in B&H. “I conveyed an identical message to Croats in B&H when I was the president of Croatia. Old problems between B&H and Croatia are still on the table and this will remain to be the case until the will and desire matures on the both sides to start solving the problems. Election of Zoran Milanovic for the President will affect the change of atmosphere in these relations. However, considering the fact that the Government is in charge of operational politics… the key issue is when the government will stop to comprehend and to carry out the policy towards B&H as the policy towards Croats in B&H. We will soon have parliamentary elections in Croatia. Perhaps, we will get a Government which will have understanding for this that I am speaking about,” said Mesic. Speaking about elections in Serbia, Mesic said that victory of Aleksandar Vucic was expected.

 

Increasing the number of infected in B&H: 119 new cases in one day (N1)

 

According to the data of the FB&H Institute of Public Health in the past 24 hours, 539 samples were tested in FB&H, of which 57 were positive for Covid-19. In addition, another 62 people have been infected with the coronavirus in the RS, said the acting director of the RS Institute of Public Health, Branislav Zeljkovic. So far, 50,815 samples have been tested in FB&H, and Covid-19 has been confirmed in 1,732 persons. As of today, 1,012 patients have recovered in FB&H, while 671 cases of Covid-19 are currently active. So far, 49 deaths have been recorded, two deaths have been recorded in the last 24 hours.

 

Croatia imposes new 14-day quarantine for travelers from four Balkan countries (N1)

 

Due to the recent surge in coronavirus cases in Croatia and the region, the national coronavirus task force announced on Wednesday the re-introduction of mandatory 14-day self-isolation for anyone arriving into the country from neighboring Serbia and B&H, as well as Kosovo and North Macedonia. Face masks are also now mandatory in public transport. The announcement came after seven days of increased daily case count. After nearly a month with only about a dozen new cases recorded in total, and with life seemingly returning to normal with borders and stores re-opening, daily infection count jumped into double digits on Thursday, 18 June, and continued to rise. On Tuesday, 23 June, it reached 30, the single largest daily increase since early May, with many of the new cases related to the top-level tennis exhibition tournament played in Zadar recently. Another hotspot was at a convent in the eastern town of Djakovo, where at least 10 nuns were found to be infected. According to media reports, two nuns might have brought the disease from a recent trip to Kosovo. On Wednesday afternoon, authorities said that 22 new cases have been confirmed in Croatia over the last 24 hours, bringing their total number to date to 2,388. Half of these were reported in the capital Zagreb. At the moment, there are 139 active cases in the country, including 18 people are receiving hospital treatment. A total of 107 people have died since the epidemic started in late February. Like most of Europe, Croatia had closed all restaurants, non-essential shops, and imposed mandatory self-isolation for incoming travelers in March. However, most restrictions were gradually lifted in May, in the hopes that allowing arrivals from select countries would help boost the local tourist industry in time for the summer tourist season. Tourism – which has been brought to  ahalt due to the Covid-19 pandemic – is an essential source of revenue for the local economy and is estimated to account for at least 20 percent of the nation’s GDP. At the same time, Croatians are preparing to go to the polls in an early election on 5 July. The election, originally scheduled for late this year, was moved forward by Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and his conservative party HDZ, to capitalize on the successful containment of the epidemic in recent months. Although Plenkovic had to get tested after visiting the tennis tournament in Zadar – where several famous players have been infected, including world’s no. 1, Novak Djokovic – Plenkovic later rejected calls to postpone the election. In B&H, authorities have been reporting highest daily case count increases over the past week, with 88 new cases recorded on Wednesday alone. In Serbia, the daily new case count has nearly doubled from 50-60 a day to more than 90 over the last 7 days, reaching 102 on Tuesday, the highest single increase since 22 May.

 

Croatia reports 95 new cases of Covid-19, a total of 2,483 (N1)

 

In the last 24 hours, Croatia reported 95 new cases of Covid-19, so far, a total of 2,483 people positive for Covid-19 have been recorded. So far, 74,657 people have been tested, of which 919 in the last 24 hours. The total number of recovered is 2149, which is 4 newly healed in 24 hours. The total number of deaths is 107.

 

Djukanovic: SPC is an instrument in the hands of the Great Serbian nationalism (CDM/HRT)

 

Law on Freedom of Religion represented an initial cap for the conflict that has become pretty intense, the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC)-Montenegro conflict. The Law has been a motive but over the course of time, it has turned out that SOC is an instrument in the hands of the Great Serbian nationalism, said Montenegro’s president, Milo Djukanovic, in an interview for Croatian Radio and TV (HRT).

What’s your opinion about current relations between Croatia and Montenegro? How important was official visit of Mr. Milanovic in that context?

Djukanovic: I think our relations are friendly, a very great example of stable neighborhood in our region. Over the past 20 years, our relations have improved. Today we can say that there’s no any area where or relations aren’t developed. Several days ago, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Croatia visited Montenegro too, as well as several other Croatian representatives. We see that as gesture of friendship with Montenegro and also as commitment to our EU perspective.

What do you think about Croatia’s role in approaching South East of Europe to European integration?

Djukanovic: I will reiterate that Croatia’s experience is a valuable example of success in approaching countries of the South East Europe to European objectives. Neighbors’ experience is very welcome. Montenegro relies on experience of Croatia very much. Croatia’s presidency over the EU Council was priceless for us, as it made many recommendations for the WB. That’s very important for both WB and the EU. Stability and European perspective of WB are the same. We believe in Croatia’s commitment in that mission.

Seems like accession negotiations with the EU are stagnant right now. Montenegro is required more progress in the area of rule of law and judiciary?

Djukanovic: I believe it is necessary to first notice that reform enthusiasm in the region has dampened over the past few years, and in my opinion, it is the consequence of a stagnation in the enlargement policy conducted by the previous EC. New Commission has said that it wants to be geo-political subject, which is seen as very positive statement when it comes to the future of WB as WB has become region where interests of major geo-political players collide. Our interest is that the EU has the dominant role. In addition, new EC has sent several messages that enlargement policy is still alive and that it wants to provide incentives. As far as rule of law is concerned, EU’ expectation is in place. We are not going to reveal a secret by saying that societies of WB are in deficit of rule of law. I would like to emphasize that a considerable progress has been made in that area. Of course, that’s far from what we want, as we strive for Europeanization of Montenegro. We want to be part of modern European culture and civilization.

Twenty years ago, you apologized to Croatian people for Montenegro’s assistance in the aggression of the region of Dubrovnik. Would you add something to that apology now?

Djukanovic: I don’t think I should add or change anything I said twenty years ago. If I could, I would change what had happened before. In that frequent repetition of instability, we also had the 1990s experience, which resulted in the decay of our former joint state and bloody wars. In the capacity of Montenegro’s president, I saw fit to apologize to Croatia. I am glad that that gesture of mine, definitely the first in our region, was praised by the most relevant state addresses in Croatia and that it marked the beginning of a new historic page in our relations. Therefore, I think there’s nothing that should be changed in our twenty-year long experience.

We have been witnessing tensions coming from SOC provoked by the Law on Freedom of Religion. What do you think about that in regional context?

Djukanovic: As you have said, Law on Freedom of Religion represented an initial cap for the conflict that has become pretty intense, the SPC-Montenegro conflict. Our intention was to adopt law which will replace the one that was in force during the socialist Yugoslavia. We wanted law that would improve religious freedoms and rights. Of course, we have come to the issue of property and Montenegro has tried to show that part of the property orthodox church disposes of, which is financed by public sources, should belong to the state. SPC is opposing that solution. It has initiated protests across Montenegro with the aim of defending sanctuaries from Montenegro. The way we see it, it is inappropriate politicization of a religious issue. The Law has been a motive but over the course of time, it has turned out that SPC is an instrument in the hands of the Great Serbian nationalism. The objective is not only to scrap the law but also to decorate Montenegro with the epithet of Serbian state.

 

Markovic: Nowhere in the world can you see MPs boycotting the parliament for four years (CDM)

 

Montenegrin Prime Minister Dusko Markovic said during the Prime Minister’s hour in the parliament that Montenegro had managed to mitigate social and economic consequence of the coronavirus epidemic and that it would continue to fight for domestic cleverness and potential. As far as the current level of infection in Montenegro is concerned, Markovic is concerned about the fact that we are exposed to the importation of the virus from several sides and locations, even more than in March. PM also expressed his concern over the fact that number of contacts infected persons had is very high. Commenting on the recently held Adria tennis tour in Montenegro, Markovic pointed out that the country hadn’t given in to the famous names and financial corporations, the decision he is very proud of. DPS member, Andrija Nikolic, asked what the government intended to do in health and economic context with the aim of mitigating consequences of the possible new wave of the virus in Montenegro. Markovic said it was still not known how long the epidemic would last and its consequences would be. “We did our best to prevent spread of the virus. We invested efforts and considerable financial funds. We managed to mitigate economic and social consequences,” Markovic said. He reiterates that the government has prepared the third package of economic measures which will have development character. PM touched on the examples of irresponsible behavior of individuals. “Covid-19 has spread again, through importation from Serbia, due to the irresponsibility of several individuals. Cluster from Budva, with 11 infected persons, can be directly linked to attending football match in Belgrade, while as many as 31 cases in the cluster in Rozaje, which spread across Bar, Ulcinj and Berane, are connected to unauthorized cross-border movements to Tutin municipality in Serbia. That’s 42 out of 59 cases, or 76%,” Markovic said. Epidemic research for 12 new cases, with similar indications of importation, is underway. “The science agrees on one thing. In case of defiance of preventive measures, physical distancing, wearing masks and hand hygiene on particular, it is very likely the disease will spread even before fall. The way virus was imported indicates low level of collective responsibility and personal sense of caution and danger from the infection,” PM said. Markovic says that our country has allowed Adria tour, provided that there are maximum 200 people in a public place. “I heard claims that Montenegro has made a serious mistake by not allowing tennis tour. That’s not true! We allowed it, but under conditions set by the National Coordination Body. Citizens’ health is top priority, that’s what we said. We are proud of that decision,” Markovic said. Asked if there was any place in the world where priests are arrested, Markovic answers: “Nowhere in the world can you see the MPs boycott the Parliament for 4 years and enter the local parliament through windows. In every country where priests violate law, they are arrested. Since you are on Facebook, take a look at how Greek or Macedonian government dealt with that,” Markovic said.

 

I will personally congratulate DF on victory

Markovic commented on Medojevic’s remark that government “is preparing something terrible on the day of parliamentary elections, 30 August”. “There haven’t been civil wars or conflicts in Montenegro’s recent history. There have been some tough moments but what you are saying – that Montenegro will fall apart, that autonomous provinces will be formed – we have heard so many similar messages before the referendum and after the referendum and every time Montenegro came out of it stronger. What you are saying is nonsense, just like everything you have been saying lately. If you win the elections, I will be the first to congratulate,” Markovic said. Asked who the security in front of the Municipal building in Budva is, Markovic said he couldn’t answer as that matter was not in his competence. “However, I inquired about that and found out that it’s private security from Niksic,” Markovic said.

 

Another six persons in Montenegro test positive for coronavirus (CDM)

 

Laboratories of the Institute for Public Health of Montenegro have analyzed 57 samples and found another six coronavirus cases. “All six persons are from Rozaje. Five of them are contacts of previous cases while the sixth case can be related to stay in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” the Institute reported.

 

Zaev: The citizens alone decide who will be the next prime minister (MIA)

 

In the 15 July elections it is important to get back our Parliament, to get a political government. VMRO-DPMNE cannot rule the country when it is led by irresponsible people, nothing has changed there in three years. Once it is led by pro-European, reform-oriented people, they can hope that they can win elections, SDSM leader Zoran Zaev told an election panel in Strumica.

He said he expected SDSM to win next month’s elections. “We are favorites in all opinion poll and I expect victory so there’s no blackmail, the era of blackmail is over. The citizens are the only ones who decide in elections, they decide who’s going to be a lawmaker, a minister and a prime minister – only the citizens and the citizens alone,” Zaev stressed. Speaking about the achievements of the SDSM-led government, Zaev said the country’s NATO membership guaranteed its territorial integrity, whereas the name agreement with Greece and the friendship treaty with Bulgaria have been praised by the international community. “We’d offered the opposition to be part of a broad government and together to solve the issue with Greece and to start opening chapters of the EU negotiations. But they refused, because they have no courage,” revealed Zaev. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the SDSM leader, it is important the elections to be 100% safe for voters. “Elections must be safe for the health of the citizens to vote for a responsible coalition led by SDSM that knows how to deal with the consequences of the crisis, to protect the citizens and revive the economy.” Zaev, also commented on DUI’s nomination of Naser Ziberi for the prime ministerial post. “What can I say, yet another Spitzen candidate,” he told a panel in Strumica. “We have nothing against him, but I believe that his involvement in this blackmailing offer is not appropriate. He cannot reform DUI in 20 days. DUI needs to spend four years in opposition in order to reform itself to be a good party,” Zaev said.

 

Vote for renewal of Macedonia, VMRO-DPMNE’s Mickoski tells Ohrid rally (MIA)

 

I’m confident in the wisdom of the people, in the support we’re going to win. Let us chose renewal Macedonia to stand tall, to save the country from hybrid regime, VMRO-DPMNE leader Hristijan Mickoski on Wednesday told an election rally in Ohrid. “Our country is humiliated and discredited, Macedonia is where Macedonians feel as second-class citizens. The country is unfortunately left without any values,” he told his supporters. Mickoski criticized the government of mishandling the coronavirus epidemic. “As the world is curbing the pandemic, Macedonia is only left praying for a drop in the daily statistics of new cases.” “I refuse to live in a dark reality in a country ruled by SDSM. I will work to turn Macedonia into a modern European country,” the opposition leader pledged. He said that VMRO-DPMNE in its 300-page program offered progress and economic development. “The ‘Project Renewal’ project will be a reality in the coming four years in a renewed and visionary Macedonia,” Mickoski noted, vowing his party if it came to power would reduce unemployment, raise pays in education, healthcare, raise pensions, reconstruct hospitals, improve infrastructure, etc. Igor Durlovski, the first candidate on the list of the VMRO-DPMNE-led coalition, also addressed the rally. “For three years, we have witnessed our country being sold out, our collective memory being reconstructed… After all corruption scandals, after witnessing how our health system is nonfunctional, how the economy is ruined, the citizens have the chance to vote for change,” he told supporters in Ohrid.

 

Telma poll: SDSM holds slight lead over VMRO-DPMNE (MIA)

 

SDSM leader Zoran Zaev has a 3.8% lead over VMRO-DPMNE leader Hristijan Mickoski, but as high as 36.1% of the respondents do not trust any politician in the country. Also, 23.5% said they will vote for the SDSM-led coalition “We Can” and 21.9% said in the elections they will support the opposition-led coalition “Renewal of Macedonia”, show results of an opinion poll commissioned by Telma TV. SDSM’s Zaev has the support of 18.8% of the respondents, while 15% said they support the opposition leader. They are followed by DUI leader Ali Ahmeti (7.4%), President Stevo Pendarovski (3.8%), caretaker PM Oliver Spasovski (1.8%) and Deputy PM Radmila Shekerinska (0.8%). Furthermore, 6.4% of the respondents are in favor of DUI and 5% will vote for the coalition of the Alliance for Albanians and Alternativa party. According to the ethnic background of the respondents, Zaev has a slight lead in the Macedonian bloc. He enjoys the support of 21.5%, while 20.4% support Mickoski. The SDSM leader has 7.5% support in the Albanian bloc. 36.1% of the respondents said the coronavirus epidemic will not stop them from voting on election day. 22.5% said the epidemiological situation will fully affect their decision whether to vote, while 26.9% said it will somewhat affect them. The opinion poll, conducted by M-Prospect agency on 16-21 June on a representative sample of 1,003 respondents, was revealed on the first day of the election campaign ahead of the 15 July parliamentary polls. It has a statistical error of 3.1% and a trust level of 95 per cent.

 

North Macedonia reports 153 new cases of Covid-19, 6 patients died (24.mk)

 

The Ministry of Health of North Macedonia informs that in the last 24 hours 1.279 tests have been performed, and 153 new cases of Covid-19 have been registered. Today, the Institute of Public Health registers 75 recovered patients. Six people died. The total number of cases diagnosed since the beginning of the epidemic is 5.595, the number of recovered patients is 2.166, the death toll is 265, and currently the number of active cases in the country is 3.164.

 

Meta: KLA’s war resulted right and decisive (ADN)

 

The Kosovo Liberation Army’s (KLA) war imposed by Milosevic’s criminal regime resulted fair and decisive for Kosovo’s liberty, and for its peace and stability in the region, President of Albania, Ilir Meta highlighted Wednesday. President of the Republic ensured belief in the innocence of Kosovs President Hashim Thaci and former speaker Kadri Veseli. Both senior Kosovo officials have been indicted along with other persons for war crimes and crimes against humanity, where unlawful murder, forced disappearance of persons, persecution and torture is included. “The Kosovo Liberation Army war, that was imposed on the people of Kosovo by the oppression and genocide of Milosevic’s criminal regime, proved to be just and decisive, not only for the freedom and establishment of the Republic of Kosovo within internationally recognized borders, but also for peace, stability, and its European future and that of our region. We believe in the innocence of President Hashim Thaci, former Speaker of Parliament Kadri Veseli and all their comrades-in-arms. Allegations have been made before against former KLA leaders, but their innocence and the justice of the war have been confirmed. We believe this will happen again,” underlined President Meta.

 

Bushati: Vucic has a ‘one color’ parliament and more MPs than Putin and Erdogan (ADN)

 

Former minister of foreign affairs, Ditmir Bushati says that Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has no more arguments for non resolving Kosovo issue. Commenting last elections in Serbia where Vucic had an absolute victory, Bushati said that the high number of votes that Vucic took on last elections is bigger than those of Russian President, Vladimir Putin or the one of Turkey, Reggep Erdogan. “We have the right to analyze different scenarios, but the Serbian people determine leaders. So, we may like or we may not like a certain leader in Serbia, but is the responsibility of the Serbian people to decide who should lead Serbia. Today it is true that with these numbers that he will have in parliament, Vucic has no alibi for not resolving the Kosovo issue, to speed up the process or dialogue,” said Bushati. But on the other hand, he underlined the fact that is the typical case when Serbia has entered the so-called process of Europeanization, but without democratization. “So, it was seen like that after the fall of the Milosevic regime and after the victory of the progressive forces in Serbia, we would have a stage, a new page of history. But now we have a Parliament with only one color and that is why should not be so happy for fulfilling wishes that some groups of Vucic may have,” underlined Bushati.

 

Bushati: Possible indictments cannot deviate historical significance of Kosovo liberation war (ADN)

 

Former minister of foreign affairs Ditmir Bushati has reacted on Wednesday after Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaci and nine others were indicted by a court investigating war crimes committed during and after Kosovo’s independence war with Serbia. “The Kosovo’s Liberation War main objective was freedom and independence, both won with the extraordinary support of the Euro-Atlantic family. Warning of possible indictments cannot deviate the historical significance of the liberation war. A dignified confrontation with any possible indictment will make Kosovo a more powerful and functional state,” said Bushati. A statement issued on Wednesday by the Special Prosecutor’s Office in The Hague, the Netherlands, said Thaci and the others suspects were “criminally responsible for nearly 100 murders” of Kosovar Albanian, Serb and Roma people.

 

The Political Council concludes its work with the Electoral Code (Radio Tirana)

 

Damian Gjiknuri said that the work of the Political Council has been completed in relation to the Electoral Code and that it reflects all the demands and fears that the opposition had for the vote. Gjiknuri said that this law ensures that it is universally accepted, while adding that we can also call it a law written by the DP itself. “On Monday, this draft will be passed to the Electoral Commission, while the Political Council will continue discussions with other issues that have been left in a second phase,” said Damian Gjiknuri, among others. “We met the demands of the opposition for those guarantees that have existed in the current law. It is important for us that the electoral law reflects the fears of the opposition to enter the universally accepted elections. For these two or three days the text is sent to the assembly, there are no more debates, they are just technical issues. The important thing is that we have an electoral law that is all accepted, not the best, but that the rules of the game are accepted by the parties. For the electoral code, the political council concluded the work, but it will gather for financing and referendums issues, the votes of the emigrants is a guaranteed right,” said Gjiknuri.

 

Albania tops 2.192 cases as Coronavirus spreads (ADN)

 

With 78 additional coronavirus cases, Albania topped a total of 2.192 infected persons since pandemic outbreak. For weeks, the number of Covid-19 cases have been high, but there have also been new hospitalizations and deaths. Out of cases of the last 24 hours, Shkodra and Kruja have marked the highest numbers, where in the past 24 hours 27 people have resulted positive, 14 in Shkodra and 13 in Kruja, while in Tirana 12 people tested positive for Covid-19. The Ministry of Health and Social Protection calls on all citizens to respect physical distancing and to put on the mask when the distance cannot be maintained. “During the last 24 hours, 344 tests were performed of which 78 resulted positive. 76 patients are currently being treated at the infectious disease hospital, 14 of them are in intensive care, while 2 are intubated. In the last 24 hours, 33 citizens have recovered, bringing the number of recovered people to 1.250 since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Flutura Beqo of the Ministry of Health.

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

 

Kosovan president’s war crimes indictment puts West in a bind (Politico, by Andrew Gray, 25 June 2020)

 

Charges complicate peace efforts and will raise questions about cooperation with Thaçi.

Just as the White House prepared a stage for Kosovo’s future, the territory’s wartime past returned with a vengeance. Kosovan President Hashim Thaçi was meant to be in Washington Saturday for talks with Serbian leaders on a new era of economic cooperation between the former warring parties in the Balkans, hosted by U.S. President Donald Trump’s special envoy.But as Thaçi was en route to the U.S. on Wednesday, a stunning announcement appeared on the website of a special court in The Hague: A prosecutor had filed a 10-count indictment against the former guerrilla group leader and others, accusing them of crimes against humanity and war crimes, “including murder, enforced disappearance of persons, persecution, and torture.” Those charged were responsible for nearly 100 murders and their combined crimes had hundreds of victims, the prosecutor alleged. The timing could scarcely have been more dramatic, and brought accusations from Thaçi’s camp of a plot to scupper the White House meeting. Thaçi, who has always denied allegations of criminality, pulled out of the talks. “The accusations are completely without basis,” Kadri Veseli, a former president of Kosovo’s parliament who is co-accused with Thaçi in the indictment, told reporters in the Kosovan capital Pristina on Wednesday evening.

“I’m worried that the true motivations of the prosecutor are political. Having in mind the timing, a couple of days ahead of the White House meeting … people are right to suspect this is not a coincidence,” said Veseli, the current leader of one of Kosovo’s main political parties. The shockwaves set off by the indictment will reach far beyond Thaçi, long the dominant political figure among Kosovo’s majority ethnic Albanians, whose reputation for slipperiness was reflected in his nom de guerre, “Snake.” They will ripple across the Balkans and further afield, and stretch back through time to raise uncomfortable questions about Western foreign policy then and now. The special court in The Hague was set up to examine war crimes committed during and after the 1998-1999 Kosovo conflict, in which more than 10,000 people died, most of them ethnic Albanians. The conflict was a watershed moment not only for Kosovo but also for the West. In 1999, NATO went to war against another country for the first time in its history with the stated aim of ending Serb repression of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, a Serbian province. The war ended Serb rule in Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008 but has not been recognized by Serbia. In the months after the bombing campaign, as NATO armored vehicles patrolled war-damaged villages and towns and U.N. police officers in red and white 4x4s rolled through potholed streets, Kosovo was the scene of countless attacks against Serbs and members of other minority groups. Homes were set ablaze and tens of thousands fled in fear for their lives.

These assaults were sometimes described as “revenge attacks” — suggesting an outpouring of anger by ethnic Albanians after years of Serb repression, followed by mass killings and ethnic cleansing by Serb forces during the war. But it became clear that some of the violence was coordinated. International investigators later concluded that senior members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) that fought Serb rule were behind such attacks, which also targeted KLA opponents. Thaçi was the group’s political leader.

 

Peace problems

Most immediately, the charges greatly complicate efforts by the EU and the U.S. to reach a final peace settlement between the two sides in a volatile corner of Europe, where Russia, China, Turkey and Gulf Arab states all compete for influence. It will be harder for Richard Grenell, Trump’s special envoy for Kosovo peace talks, to turn his mission into a major foreign policy victory for his boss in an election year. Grenell initially said Saturday’s talks would go ahead with Kosovan Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti — but Hoti, who has been in office just a few weeks, announced on Thursday he was pulling out. Some in the region, and some European diplomats, will be happy if Grenell’s efforts falter. They feared a rushed deal between Thaçi and his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vučić that would ignore fundamental issues and include a dangerous land swap (although Grenell denied he favored that idea). But some European officials said in recent days that Grenell’s efforts to push both sides back to the negotiating table to discuss economics could help kick-start political talks that had stalled under the auspices of the EU. Human rights activists will hope the indictment shows no one can act with impunity and that justice will eventually be delivered for unspeakable crimes. Thaçi’s critics will also hope that the charge sheet heralds his political demise; they see him and other regional leaders including Vučić as symbols of a system riddled with cronyism, corruption and links to organized crime. And they accuse Western powers of being far too ready to work with those leaders, thereby helping to strengthen them and their networks. “This indictment is a positive step for justice as these alleged crimes have hung over Kosovo for two decades,” said Lotte Leicht, EU director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement. “After years of demanding justice, victims from all ethnic groups may finally get to have their day in court.” The effects of the indictment on Kosovo’s political landscape are unclear. A small group of KLA veterans gathered in Pristina on Wednesday to demonstrate against the charges but there was no sign of any immediate large-scale protests. Clint Williamson, an American lawyer who led an EU task force investigating war crimes in Kosovo, called on political leaders not to use the indictment to raise tensions. “For those in Kosovo who are tempted to react with anger toward this indictment, and particularly for those in Kosovo who would try to incite public opposition to it, I would urge them to exercise restraint,” he said in a statement. “It is important that these accusations be addressed through a judicial process and that will follow in due course. At that point, I sincerely hope that there will be a clear resolution that delivers justice for the victims of these crimes — a critical step in allowing both Kosovo and Serbia to move forward and put this tragic period behind them.”

 

Western partner

Thaçi’s opponents have repeatedly accused him of doing everything possible to try to avoid a war crimes trial, including putting his personal interests ahead of those of the country. The president has sought to burnish his image on the international stage. A glowing English-language biography of Thaçi, entitled “New State, Modern Statesman,” was published in 2018 to less than universal acclaim. But if the court confirms the indictment and Thaçi goes to trial, he will not be the only one facing scrutiny. Thaçi has been a key Western partner for more than two decades, dating back to efforts to broker peace in Kosovo in the late 1990s. Although some Western leaders were wary of the KLA and tried to keep their distance from the group, NATO effectively intervened on the side of the guerrillas with its 1999 bombing campaign that drove Serb forces out of Kosovo. When Kosovo was placed in the hands of a U.N. administration and a NATO-led peacekeeping force after the bombing, both organizations worked closely with Thaçi under provisional political structures. U.N. police were told not to investigate Thaçi and a number of other Kosovan political leaders without top-level approval. International powers have continued to cooperate closely with Thaçi even as accusations of serious criminality swirled around him. A 2010 report by Swiss politician and prosecutor Dick Marty for the Council of Europe alleged Thaçi was the head of an organized crime gang known as the Drenica Group (named after a region of Kosovo). Thaçi repeatedly denied the accusation. The report also contained allegations that a number of Serbs had been murdered for their kidneys, which were sold on the black market. The fact that Marty’s report said it drew on information from various Western intelligence agencies raised questions over how much Western powers had turned a blind eye to Thaçi’s activities. Those issues may resurface if Thaçi faces trial, particularly if such intelligence reports are used as evidence. The questions facing Western officials will be familiar to at least one previous occupant of Thaçi’s intended destination on Saturday: What did they know and when did they know it?

Una Hajdari in Pristina and Jacopo Barigazzi in Brussels contributed reporting.

 

Hashim Thaci’s past catches up with Kosovo’s future (DW, 25 June 2020)

 

The war crimes indictment against Hashim Thaci went public at precisely the wrong moment — the Kosovo president was on his way to a much-hyped US summit with Serbian leaders. The move might be enough to kill the talks. The news was a bombshell for Kosovo: President Hashim Thaci faces a war crimes indictment. And he’s not the only one. Former parliamentary speaker Kadri Veseli and eight other senior commanders of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) stand accused of “nearly 100 murders.” The now-defunct Albanian guerrilla group fought Serbian forces for Kosovo independence in the late 1990s. Prosecutors with the Hague-Based Kosovo Specialist Chambers also claim the men were involved in torture, persecution, and enforced disappearance. In addition to Serbs, the accused allegedly also targeted Roma people and even other Kosovo Albanians, including their political opponents.

 

Trip interrupted

Officials across Kosovo responded to the indictment with shock and dismay. For its timing, more than anything. The Special Prosecutors Office (SPO) filed the charges on April 24. A pre-trial judge has until October to decide if they are valid. And yet, the prosecutors decided to go public on Wednesday, just as Thaci was heading to Washington DC. US Special Presidential Envoy for Kosovo and Serbia Richard Grenell had invited the leaders of Kosovo and Serbia to meet in the White House on Saturday, with all sides hoping for a breakthrough in long-stalled normalization talks. “The president of the Republic of Kosovo, Hashim Thaci, stopped his trip to the US,” Thaci’s Pristina office confirmed on Wednesday. Sources told DW that Thaci is set to return to Kosovo on Thursday after spending the night in Vienna.

 

Politicians waged a ‘secret campaign’ against court

The Special Prosecutor’s Office with the EU-backed court said they had “deemed it necessary” to go public on Wednesday because of “repeated efforts by Hashim Thaci and Kadri Veseli to obstruct and undermine the work” of the court. The two suspects “are believed to have carried out a secret campaign to overturn the law creating the Court and otherwise obstruct the work of the Court in an attempt to ensure that they do not face justice,” officials said. Western officials lobbied heavily to set up the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in 2015, fearing that Kosovo-based prosecutors and judges would not be able to withstand pressure from local politicians. The Chamber is ruled by Kosovo law, but funded by the EU and staffed by international judges and prosecutors.

 

No Thaci, no Hoti

US Envoy Grenell put on a brave face, saying that the talks would proceed and that Kosovo’s Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti would be speaking for Pristina in Washington. Commenting on Thaci, Grenell said he respected the president’s decision to stay away “until the legal issues of those allegations are settled.” Several hours later, however, Hoti also announced he would not be atteding the talks. The prime minister’s political clout isn’t big enough for talks of this magnitude — while Thaci has been building his reputation and his power base since his wartime days, Hoti only took power last month.

 

Kosovo war ‘was holy’

After the news of the indictment hit the media, former parliamentary speaker Kadri Veseli dismissed it as a push to “rewrite the history of Kosovo.” “Serbia has committed crimes in Kosovo,” said Veseli. As one of the accused, he is ready and “privileged” to once again “defend Kosovo.” “The KLA liberation war was holy, it was a war for the freedom and independence of Kosovo,” he said. Both Thaci and Veseli have already stated they are ready to go to The Hague and defend this “holy war.”

 

Crimes not ‘processed nor atoned’

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic was also set to attend the Washington talks before his Kosovo counterparts dropped out. Vucic had already visited Moscow and discussed the Kosovo issue with Russia’s Vladimir Putin earlier this week. Vucic has so far refrained from commenting on the indictment against Thaci — a somewhat surprising stance from the former ultra-nationalist. Serbian media described the charges as “dramatic” and “completely unexpected.”

The EU was also reluctant to comment, with spokesman Peter Stano saying the bloc was “supporting” the work of the court and its prosecutors. In turn, German opposition lawmaker Manuell Sarazzin praised the indictment against Thaci and Veseli. “Too many war crimes have neither been processed nor atoned for over 20 years after the war,” the Green party deputy told DW. “I hope that this would make a dent in the sentiment felt by many people, who believe that many war criminals on all sides still enjoy impunity.”

 

Indictments Are against Individuals, Not an Attack on KLA, Says Former Chief Prosecutor Clint Williamson (Exit news, 24 June 2020)

 

Ambassador Clint Williamson was the Chief Prosecutor of the European Union Special Investigative Task Force (SITF) in 2011, which started investigations on alleged crimes by members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) during and after the Kosovo War. On Wednesday, following the publication of indictments against KLA leaders, including President Hashim Thaci, Ambassador Williamson has restated part of his team’s conclusions after their investigation in 2014. The material was published on the website of Arizona State University where Professor Williamson lectures.

 

Amb. Williamson: Statement on the Indictment of Kosovo’s President Thaci for Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes

Today, the Kosovo Specialist Prosecutor’s Office in The Hague made public the existence of an indictment against President Hashim Thaci of Kosovo and other former leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) for crimes against humanity and war crimes. This is a significant development in an investigation that was initiated in 2011 with my appointment as Chief Prosecutor of the European Union Special Investigative Task Force. At the conclusion of my tenure as Prosecutor in 2014 I announced our preliminary investigative findings and closed by stating the following:

Some, in order to protect themselves, have tried to portray this investigation as an attack on Kosovo’s fight for freedom or on the KLA as an organization. Many Kosovars joined the KLA with the best of intentions and they rejected the rampant criminality that transpired after the war. Some of them have shown great courage and integrity by coming forward as witnesses and telling what they know about those who took a different path – those in leadership positions who embraced criminality and wanted to use the KLA to further their own personal objectives. So, it should be clear that this investigation and any charges that result from it, are directed at the criminal actions of individuals within distinct groups, not at the KLA as a whole. Nor, is this an attempt to re-write history, as some have tried to present it. I was in Kosovo in 1998 and 1999 and I supervised the subsequent investigation by the ICTY of Serb-perpetrated crimes during that period, co-authoring the initial indictment against Slobodan Milošević and others for the crimes directed against Kosovo Albanian victims. I had a leading role in the exhumations of mass graves that occurred in the summer of 1999, where the bodies of thousands of Kosovo Albanian victims were recovered. I went to numerous crime scenes throughout Kosovo and I spent many hours speaking with victims and with family members of those missing or killed. So, from my own very direct involvement, I understand clearly what happened in Kosovo in the years leading up to the war in 1999 and in the war itself. No matter what the circumstances are that led to that conflict, though, there is nothing that justifies the intentional targeting of innocent individuals. What happened in the aftermath of the conflict was not about defending Kosovo or fighting for freedom. Rather, this was a brutal attack on significant portions of the civilian population. It was directed at almost all of the Serbs who wanted to stay in Kosovo, many of whom were elderly or infirm; at the Roma and other ethnic minorities; and it was directed at those Kosovo Albanians who opposed a small group within the KLA having a monopoly on power. In the end, this was solely about certain individuals in the KLA leadership using elements of that organization to perpetrate violence in order to obtain political power and personal wealth for themselves, not about any larger cause. And, it is as individuals that they must bear responsibility for their crimes. What I said in 2014 still holds true today. For those in Kosovo who are tempted to react with anger toward this indictment, and particularly for those in Kosovo who would try to incite public opposition to it, I would urge them to exercise restraint. These are serious allegations and the implications for those charged are likewise grave, but it is important that these accusations be addressed through a judicial process and that will follow in due course. At that point, I sincerely hope that there will be a clear resolution that delivers justice for the victims of these crimes – a critical step in allowing both Kosovo and Serbia to move forward and put this tragic period behind them.

Ambassador Clint Williamson is the Senior Director of the International Rule of Law and Security Program at the McCain Institute, and a Distinguished Professor of Practice at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, where he teaches International Criminal Justice. Amb. Williamson is the former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues.

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