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UNMIK Media Observer, Morning Edition, September 16

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• COVID-19: 12 deaths, 410 new cases (media)
• Health Institute calls on political parties: Stop rallies with citizens (media)
• Kurti to Lajcak: Kosovo is an equal party in dialogue, not a topic (media)
• Outgoing US Ambassador to Kosovo: ‘Relations Stronger than Stone’ (BIRN)
• ‘Silenced’ Kosovo War Victims Given a Voice at Guerrilla’s Trial (BIRN)
• Kosovo won’t join ‘Open Balkan’, supports ‘Berlin Process’ (Exit News)
• “Germany, steadfast partner of Kosovo’s path to Euro-Atlantic integration” (media)
• Kosovo will be able to appoint liaison officer to Europol (media)
• Haxhiu: Vetting through constitutional amendments, if not Plan B (T7)

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  • COVID-19: 12 deaths, 410 new cases (media)
  • Health Institute calls on political parties: Stop rallies with citizens (media)
  • Kurti to Lajcak: Kosovo is an equal party in dialogue, not a topic (media)
  • Outgoing US Ambassador to Kosovo: ‘Relations Stronger than Stone’ (BIRN)
  • ‘Silenced’ Kosovo War Victims Given a Voice at Guerrilla’s Trial (BIRN)
  • Kosovo won’t join ‘Open Balkan’, supports ‘Berlin Process’ (Exit News)
  • “Germany, steadfast partner of Kosovo’s path to Euro-Atlantic integration” (media)
  • Kosovo will be able to appoint liaison officer to Europol (media)
  • Haxhiu: Vetting through constitutional amendments, if not Plan B (T7)

COVID-19: 12 deaths, 410 new cases (media)

12 deaths from COVID-19 and 410 new cases have been recorded in Kosovo in the last 24 hours. 1,732 persons recovered from the virus during this time. There are 14,501 active cases with COVID-19 in Kosovo.

Health Institute calls on political parties: Stop rallies with citizens (media)

Kosovo’s National Institute for Public Health said in a statement today that the number of new cases with COVID-19 and fatalities from the virus remain high. “Because of the high threat of the spread of COVID-19 and the high fatality rate, in particular, we call for a ban on public activities, the gatherings of citizens and public rallies of all kinds and natures without exception,” the statement notes.

Kurti to Lajcak: Kosovo is an equal party in dialogue, not a topic (media)

Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti met on Wednesday with EU Special Representative for the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue and other regional issues of the Western Balkans, Miroslav Lajcak. A press release issued by Kurti’s office noted that the meeting focused on the progress of the dialogue process in Brussels between Kosovo and Serbia, as well as the next steps in this process. Kurti said that Kosovo is an equal party in the dialogue, and not a topic. “The reality must be accepted, and we must be at the service of the citizens of both countries, through a stable and workable agreement, which focuses on mutual recognition,” he said.

Kurti and Lajcak also discussed relations between the European Union and the countries of the Western Balkans, and Kurti confirmed Kosovo’s commitment to the EU agenda, and the European perspective of the region.

Lajcak said in a Twitter post after the meeting: I began my visit to Kosovo with a substantial and very useful discussion with Prime Minister Albin Kurti on the state of play of and our expectations from the Dialogue.

Outgoing US Ambassador to Kosovo: ‘Relations Stronger than Stone’ (BIRN)

Outgoing US Ambassador to Kosovo Philip Kosnett told BIRN that parallels with Afghanistan are misplaced as Kosovo becomes less a US dependency and more a trusted partner.

Asked whether the conflict with Serbia can be improved only via the economy, not by addressing the past, Kosnett said: “You can never achieve true reconciliation by ignoring the past” – and the US position was not that only the economy mattered.

“What the previous administration was trying to emphasise, and this is still a policy of the Biden administration, is that stronger economic ties between Kosovo and its neighbours will improve the lives of the ordinary citizens,” he told BIRN’s TV show, Kallxo Pernime, on his last week of duty.

According to the ambassador, the former US Trump administration and Joe Biden’s current one have the same strategy towards Kosovo, even if it involves different approaches.

“The methods of the two governments, the two US administrations, have been quite different, but if you look at the overall US strategy, the overall US approach to Kosovo, it has not changed much,” Kosnett said.

“Our overall American goals for Kosovo remain the same: peace, justice, prosperity,” he added, taking the Biden Administration’s support for Trump’s so-called Washington deal as an example.

A relationship evolving towards partnership

Addressing questions about parallels with Afghanistan, which US troops have left after 20 years of presence, amid sharp criticism, Kosnett said the US would not be leaving Kosovo.

“In the United States, and among our NATO allies, there is a strong support for keeping KFOR [the international peacekeeping force in Kosovo]. This is one aspect. However, KFOR is not only a gift for Kosovo. One of the first fields where the people in Serbia and Kosovo seem to agree on is that KFOR plays an important role in maintaining security and stability of the two countries,” he said.

Asked more directly about whether the US troops could pull out of Kosovo as they did from Afghanistan, Kosnett said that the two countries are very different, though lessons might be learnt from the latter.

One includes corruption, as the people of Afghanistan clearly did not consider that the US-backed government was working enough for the ordinary citizens. At the same time, he noted, Kosovo has through democratic elections chosen to make changes that would fight corruption.

Kosnett went on to say that the relationship between the two countries was stronger than ever, and was evolving towards partnership over what was once dependency. “Kosovo-US relations are stronger than a stone,” the diplomat declared.

Read full article here: https://bit.ly/39qonBj

‘Silenced’ Kosovo War Victims Given a Voice at Guerrilla’s Trial (BIRN)

Under a scheme to give victims a voice in war crime cases, a statement was delivered at the opening of the Hague trial of ex-guerrilla Salih Mustafa, claiming alleged victims of Kosovo Liberation Army fighters have been intimidated into silence.

The Victims’ Participation Office of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers said in its opening statement at the first trial held at the Hague-based court on Wednesday that the alleged victims of Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA fighters during the 1998-99 war have been intimidated into silence for decades.

“Eleven thousand victims [of the Kosovo war] were civilians, some of these were victims of KLA members,” said the statement which was read out on the opening day of the trial of wartime KLA unit commander Salih Mustafa.

“A veil of silence has been covering some of the crimes committed in the Kosovo war, the victims have been silenced,” the statement continued.

It claimed that while some Kosovo war victims have been treated as “heroes or martyrs”, others have been “left completely alone, directly or indirectly intimidated and silenced for years”.

The statement was delivered to an empty chair because defendant Mustafa had walked out of court. He is charged with involvement in murder, torture, cruel treatment and arbitrary detentions during the Kosovo war in April 1999.

It is alleged that he committed the crimes at a KLA-run detention compound in Zllash/Zlas in Kosovo, against prisoners accused by the guerrilla fighters of collaborating with enemy Serbs or not supporting the KLA’s cause. He has pleaded not guilty.

The Kosovo Specialist Chambers’ involvement of victims in court proceedings is novel in trials related to the Yugoslav wars, although similar schemes have been implemented at the International Criminal Court in The Hague and the UN’s Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

At the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY, which operated until 2017, and at war crimes trials in Kosovo itself, victims have only been involved as witnesses.

The Victims’ Participation Office claimed in its opening statement that in Kosovo, victims of Slobodan Milosevic’s repressive Yugoslav regime are “encouraged to come forth with their stories and seek justice”. But it added: “If they are victims of KLA fighters… they are gaslighted as being against the KLA or not patriotic.”

The statement further claimed that Kosovo legislation does not recognise the alleged victims of KLA fighters as war victims, citing the Law on War Martyrs, Invalids and Heroes, which describes as victims either former KLA members or civilians who were arrested and tortured in enemy camps or were killed or wounded by enemy forces.

But the Victims’ Participation Office stressed that an individual, Mustafa, is on trial for alleged war crimes, not the KLA’s armed struggle for Kosovo’s independence.

It said that “the legitimacy of the KLA’s fight… never justified arbitrary detention, torture, cruel treatment or murder”.

“The rules of war apply to all sides and ought to be respected,” it added.

It argued that the trial represents an opportunity for the victims to finally be able to tell their stories and seek justice.

The Kosovo Specialist Chambers were established to prosecute KLA fighters for crimes committed during the guerrilla force’s 1998-99 war of resistance.

They are part of Kosovo’s justice system but are located in The Hague and staffed by internationals. They were set up under pressure from Kosovo’s Western allies, who feared that Kosovo’s justice system was not robust enough to try KLA cases and protect witnesses from interference.

But the so-called ‘special court’ is widely resented by Kosovo Albanians who see it as an insult to the KLA’s struggle.

Kosovo won’t join ‘Open Balkan’, supports ‘Berlin Process’ (Exit News)

Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti has reiterated that his government won’t join “Open Balkan” – the initiative for regional cooperation launched by Albania, Serbia, and North Macedonia.

On Tuesday, speaking from Albania during a visit to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other Western Balkan Six (WB6) leaders, Kurti told journalists that the “Berlin Process” initiated by Merkel and supported by the European Union makes “Open Balkan” redundant.

“The Berlin Process is inclusive and deep enough not to necessitate other alternative variants,” he said.

The statement came after the Albanian Prime Minister accused Kosovo, during a press conference with Merkel, of relying on “conspiracy theories” to refuse to join his initiative.

Kurti urged journalists to ask Rama what he meant by “conspiracy theories”, and reiterated his government position that regional cooperation should happen within the Berlin Process and under the EU’s watch.

Referring to the three Open Balkan members, as well as the refusal of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Montenegro to join, Kurti said: “The Balkans is not just three states, it’s not even six. The Balkans has at least 12 states, and the Western Balkans Six already have the Berlin Process […] The only difference [between the BP and OB] is that the EU is not present in the latter.”

Kurti has argued earlier that the Common Regional Market agreed under the Berlin Process makes the initiative of the trio redundant; that the latter has no vision for the region’s relations with the EU; and its creation was not consulted with all WB6 countries.

He stressed that EU’s approach in the region should focus on strengthening the rule of law in the fight against corruption; democratization, in order to weaken autocrats; facing the past, so as war criminals are not allowed back to power; and reciprocity in relations among countries so as to provide minorities with human rights and avoid nationalisms.

“There should not be European funds without European values,” he stated.

Speaking of the dialogue with Serbia, Kurti said that it is focused on the future status of relations between the two countries, and not on the status of Kosovo.

“We can’t compensate Serbia with our statehood or territory for the losses caused by the Milosevic regime two decades earlier,” he stated.

Kurti slammed President Alexandar Vucic of Serbia for denying the Recak massacre last month, in which Serbian troops killed 45 Kosovo Albanians in January 1999.

Hinting at Rama’s collaboration with Vucic to launch Open Balkans, Kurti said that Albanians should demand from Serbia to recognize Kosovo, instead of showing understanding toward Serbia for not recognizing Kosovo.

“Refusing to recognize Kosovo’s independence and refusing to recognize Serbia’s crimes are not two different things,” he stated.

In talks with Merkel, Kurti said, he was not asked that Kosovo join the initiative spearheaded by Rama and Vucic.

Kosovo’s prime minister announced the four agreements expected to be signed in the framework of the Common Regional Market in Slovenia on October 6, covering the free movement of people using only IDs, and recognition of diplomas and other qualifications.

These agreements have so far been blocked by Serbia, he said, because it refuses texts containing words such as “border, territory, state, country, government,” claiming that they allude to Kosovo’s statehood which Serbia refuses to recognize.

“For normal relations in the Western Balkans, it’s not Kosovo who should change, but it’s Serbia. The pressure should not be on Kosovo but on Serbia,” Kurti concluded.

“Germany, steadfast partner of Kosovo’s path to Euro-Atlantic integration” (media)

German Ambassador to Kosovo Jorn Rohde said on Wednesday that Chancellor Merkel’s meeting with Kosovo PM Albin Kurti in Tirana and Kosovo President Osmani’s visit to Berlin are proof that Germany remains a steadfast partner of Kosovo. Rohde wrote in a Twitter post: “Chancellor Merkel’s visit to the region and her bilateral meeting with Albin Kurti as well as President Vjosa Osmani’s visit to Berlin underline Germany remains a steadfast partner on Kosovo’s path to Euro-Atlantic integration and regional cooperation”.

Kosovo will be able to appoint liaison officer to Europol (media)

Kosovo’s Minister of Interior Affairs, Xhelal Svecla, said on Wednesday he has reached an agreement with the Executive Director of Europol, Catherine De Bolle, according to which Kosovo will be able to appoint a formal liaison officer to Europol and create a safe line of communication and exchange of information with Europol. Svecla said the agreement will enable cooperation and a direct and safe exchange of information between the Republic of Kosovo, Europol and EU member states.

Haxhiu: Vetting through constitutional amendments, if not Plan B (T7)

Kosovo’s Minister of Justice Albulena Haxhiu said in an interview with T7 that there are tow ways to pass the law on vetting. She said they would first try with constitutional amendments that need to be adopted in the Assembly and if that fails, she said they will try Plan B, namely through legal amendments.

“The processes that we have worked a lot on are the fight against organised crime and corruption. The draft law is expected to be sent very soon to the government and the Assembly. We have made two proposals. The first is through constitutional amendments and the other is through legal amendments. It would be much more functional for the law to be done through constitutional amendments,” Haxhiu said.

Haxhiu also said that the law on the confiscation of unjustifiable wealth will be sent to the Assembly in early October. “I hope the law will receive support in the Assembly, both from MPs of the ruling majority and from opposition MPs,” she said. Haxhiu added that the draft law will include safety mechanisms to make sure that it is never abused by the parties in power.

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