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UNMIK Media Observer, Morning Edition, October 27, 2021

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• Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani interview with Kanal 10
• EU and USA strongly support EU integration of the Western Balkans (EWB)
• Kurti announces forthcoming package to combat rising food prices (Exit News)
• Swoboda: Serbs in Kosovo and Bosnia, instrumentalized by Belgrade (KTV)
• Kosovo activists protest against lenient sentence for sexual abuser (BIRN)
• Kosovo journalist testifies about receiving confidential Hague court files (BIRN)
• COVID-19: 20 new cases, no deaths (media)

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  • Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani interview with Kanal 10
  • EU and USA strongly support EU integration of the Western Balkans (EWB)
  • Kurti announces forthcoming package to combat rising food prices (Exit News)
  • Swoboda: Serbs in Kosovo and Bosnia, instrumentalized by Belgrade (KTV)
  • Kosovo activists protest against lenient sentence for sexual abuser (BIRN)
  • Kosovo journalist testifies about receiving confidential Hague court files (BIRN)
  • COVID-19: 20 new cases, no deaths (media)

Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani interview with Kanal 10

Kosovo President Vjosa Osman said in an interview with Kanal 10 on Tuesday that Serbia is not interested in signing a final agreement with Kosovo. “There were two meetings between the Kosovo Prime Minister and the Serbian President, and in those two meetings and in every other communication where Vucic was present, we are certain that Serbia is not interested in signing a final agreement with Kosovo. Kosovo has great interest to reach a final agreement and is working on a final settlement that includes mutual recognition in the existing borders without threatening our internal arrangements and the unitary principle of the country. But Serbia is not interested. It goes to elections in April next year and we are seeing not only a lack of interest [for an agreement] but also a continued engagement to create tensions in the region so that they can then use the tensions they create as an argument not to implement the agreements that have already been reached and not to make any steps forward,” she said.

Osmani said that there are some officials in the EU that don’t want Kosovo to be successful in the rule of law area. “What is most concerning for Kosovo is that there are tendencies by certain EU officials to stop the vetting process, which is the most important process for the rule of law in this country. It is concerning that these officials, who are not many, have regrettably managed to include their tendency to stop the vetting process in the EC report for Kosovo,” Osmani argued. “There are certain officials that have no interest in Kosovo being successful in the rule of law area because they want to obstruct the funding of projects, the visa liberalisation process, so that they can have more reasons to block Kosovo. There are individuals that don’t want to see progress in Kosovo but there are also many friends that support a vetting process in Kosovo.”

Commenting on the agreement for the Association/Community of Serb-majority municipalities, Osmani said that former Kosovo President Hashim Thaci and former Prime Minister Isa Mustafa endangered Kosovo’s relations with its international partners by signing the agreement.

“It is not in our interest to create something that goes against our constitution or to create a prelude to a situation that can now be found in Bosnia and Herzegovina. There too it was formed as an association of communities but then their competencies grew and today there is a totally dysfunctional state there and the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina are suffering the consequences of such models,” Osmani said.

EU and USA strongly support EU integration of the Western Balkans (EWB)

“In a time of crisis, we have to be honest with each other. Otherwise, we risk hypocrisy, we are at risk of doing something we don’t want to do coronavirus crisis has shown us how fragile we are”, highlighted Director of Belgrade Center for Security Policy Igor Bandovic, opening the 11th Belgrade Security Forum.

In the next three days, the 11th Belgrade Security Forum will discuss the effects of the pandemic, economic uncertainty, the crisis of democracy, and the growth of authoritarianism, xenophobia, and mistrust, all of which, as the organizers warn, “put humanity on one of the greatest tests in history.”

The forum is jointly organized by the BFPE Foundation for Responsible Society, the Belgrade Center for Security Policy, and the European Movement in Serbia.

EU Ambassador to Serbia Emanuele Giaufret assessed that the enlargement is a matter of credibility for the EU.

“Enlargement is also important, as it is threading the path to the European Union for the Western Balkans to involve itself in the burning issue of our common future,” said Giaufret.

He stated that Serbia’s membership in the EU has no alternative, which was confirmed during the EU-Western Balkans summit, where the leaders reiterated their full support for the process of enlarging the region. Giaufret also mentioned last week’s report of the European Commission, where cocoa says that everything that needs to be done on the reform path is emphasized.

He assessed that many initiatives and processes are underway, such as constitutional changes and inter-party dialogue, but it is important that these reform processes go in the right direction.

Giaufret thanked the civil society in Serbia, which is continuously working on reconciliation and democratization of Serbia and the region.

He said that we live in a world defined by permanent battles of narratives and erosion of democratic principles.

“Despite these trends, EU values are still the best for navigating the future. COVID-19 is the latest stress test for the EU, but in space of a few months, we have broken new ground on solidarity. For the first time, we have created a centralized mechanism for purchase, stocking and distributing medical products and 2 billion vaccines,” Gaiufret said.

He assessed that the EU become the pharmacy of the world stressing that the EU donated as many vaccines as they have distributed to their citizens.

Gabriel Escobar, the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, said that many look at the Western Balkans through the prism of the 1990s, while Washington does so through the prism of the 21st century.

“One of the biggest challenges and disappointments is that local politicians haven’t evolved in their thinking from the 90s,” said Escobar.

He said that the desire of the United States is for all six countries to become members of the European Union.

“These are European countries, some of which have made huge progress, and their accession to the EU would not pose a danger to existing members of the Union, but a great opportunity,” Escobar said, participating via video link at the 11th Belgrade Security Forum, Gabriel Escobar underlined.

According to Escobar, the US administration wants to resolve the currently unresolved issue in the Balkans adding that Western Balkans has enormous potential for continued economic growth.

Escobar stated that the economy of Serbia has increased seven times since 2000 and that the economies of Montenegro and Kosovo have recorded double-digit percentage growth in the conditions of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We welcome the economic integration of the countries of the region. People from the Balkans are successful to go anywhere, and we want them to be successful in the Balkans as well,” Escobar concluded.

Kurti announces forthcoming package to combat rising food prices (Exit News)

Rising food prices in Kosovo will be countered by a package of measures introduced by the government, according to Prime Minister Albin Kurti on Tuesday.

In a Facebook post, Kurti said that local prices are on the up due to global increases and issues with fuel, energy, and supply chain.

“Kosovo, like the rest of the world, is exposed to inflation that comes as a result of four factors; disruption of the supply chain due to the pandemic, a decreased rate of production and an increased rate of consumption after the pandemic, rising global energy prices, and various speculators becoming crisis profiteers,” he said.

According to the national statistics agency, he added that the inflation rate at the end of September was 4.9 in line with the global increase for some products.

Kurti said that some were trying to blame the government for increased prices and were then using it as an excuse to put their prices up. This, he said, caused nervousness and panic in citizens.

“The panic and expectation there will be a further increase in prices drive more purchases through fear, which then results in lack of products on shelves and a further increase in prices,” he added.

The Prime Minister said a package of measures would be announced in the coming days to alleviate the pressure on citizens.

Swoboda: Serbs in Kosovo and Bosnia, instrumentalized by Belgrade (KTV)

Hannes Swoboda, former European MP and member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, said in an interview with KTV on Tuesday that Serbs living outside Serbia, especially those in Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina, are instrumentalized by Belgrade. He argued that the crisis caused in these countries by the Serbs are used to strengthen the support for Aleksandar Vucic in Serbia.

“I see the instrumentalization. I see it in Serbia too. The issue of Kosovo and the issue of the Republika Srpska in Bosnia is often used for domestic purposes in Serbia to strengthen the support for President Vucic and other nationalist forces. This is true and this needs to be stopped. How can it be stopped? Certainly dialogue is needed with Serbia. You cannot leave out Serbia and Vucic was elected as president. We need dialogue with Serbia, but also from within. How can you take the attention of Serbs in Mitrovica and others away from Serbia? If you offer them cooperation and if you offer them a role in the state of Kosovo,” he said.

Swoboda said that the Serb representatives must be given the opportunity to build “a new Kosovo that is a Kosovo of Albanians, Serbs, Roma, Turks and so on”. “This needs to happen. We cannot give Vucic or other Serbian leaders the opportunity to misuse what they call their people in Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Other forces must be much wiser and more careful on how to win the hearts and minds of Serbs in Bosnia and especially in Kosovo,” he added.

Kosovo activists protest against lenient sentence for sexual abuser (BIRN)

Protesters rallied in Pristina after a court sentenced a man to eight months in prison for sexually abusing a 15-year-old, saying that the lenient punishment served to condone violence against women.

Kosovo civil society activists protested on Tuesday in front of the Kosovo Judicial Council in Pristina after a verdict handed down by a local court in the town of Peja/Pec sentenced a man to eight months and eight days in prison for sexually abusing a 15-year-old.

“This decision, as well as being delayed and illegitimate, is also deeply sexist as it continues to normalise and amnesty violence against girls and women,” said Liridona Sijarina, an activist from the Collective for Feminist Thought and Action.

In July this year, the Basic Court in Peja/Pec found the defendant, who was only identified by the initials P.K., guilty of abusing the teenage girl in 2012.

P.K., who had pleaded guilty, was jailed for eight months and eight days, even though Kosovo’s legislation allows punishment from 5 years to 20 years in prison for such offences.

P.K. was in pre-trial detention for the exact amount of time to which he was sentenced, so he did not have to serve any more prison time.

Together with another minor, he kidnapped the victim by threatening her with a knife as she was leaving hospital. According to the indictment, the 15-year-old victim was taken to an abandoned house where P.K. and two other minors abused her until she managed to leave in the morning.

Trial judge Florije Zartriqi considered ten mitigating circumstances when deciding on the sentence, such as the fact that the defendant pleaded guilty, expressed regret, did not have previous convictions, and was 21 years old at the time of the crime and therefore immature.

The court did not find any aggravating circumstance in the case; a decision that was criticised by the protesting activists.

“These institutions that are violating our girls and women must be strongly challenged by all of us,” Sijarina said.

The activists also placed a banner at the Kosovo state prosecution calling for a disciplinary investigation into the prosecutors who worked on the case.

Kosovo chief state prosecutor, Aleksander Lumezi, on Tuesday asked by Peja/Pec’s chief prosecutor, Agim Kurmehaj, to review the role of prosecutor Lirije Morina in the case and see if disciplinary proceedings are required.

On August 20, 2021, the Peja/Pec court decision became final because prosecutor Morina did not complain to the Court of Appeals.

Morina had also proposed to the court to consider as mitigating circumstances in the case “the statement by the injured party that there were no injuries during the sexual intercourse”.

Tuesday’s demonstration followed other protests about the same issue in Kosovo in May and August this year.

Kosovo journalist testifies about receiving confidential Hague court files (BIRN)

A Kosovo journalist told the trial of the Kosovo Liberation Army War Veterans’ Organisation’s leaders that they gave him what they said were confidential documents from the case files of the war crimes court in The Hague.

Halil Berisha, a journalist from Pristina, told the trial of Kosovo Liberation Army War Veterans’ Organisation leaders Hysni Gucati and Nasim Haradinaj at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague on Tuesday how he received the allegedly leaked war crimes case files from the defendants.

Berisha said that he took “around 1,000 pages of documents” from the KLA War Veterans’ Organisation in September 2020.

Gucati and Haradinaj are accused of obstruction of justice and witness intimidation because they received the documents, which contained confidential information about protected witnesses in the cases against Kosovo Liberation Army ex-guerrillas, and urged media to publish extracts from them.

Berisha was working for the Pristina-based Infokusi news website when he attended a press conference organised by the KLA War Veterans’ Organisation in September 2020.

“The volume of documents was huge, it was not possible to record all of them so I asked [Gucati and Haradinaj] if I could take some of the documents,” he said.

Officials from the Kosovo Specialist Prosecution seized the documents several days later.

“As far as I remember, we published articles about the documents only during the time we were in possession of them. After that, we continued to report about this issue but not about the specific documents because we didn’t have them,” Berisha said.

He explained that during the press conference, the heads of the KLA War Veterans’ Organisation said that “those documents were brought by someone earlier in the morning that day and that they are presenting them to media”.

“They said that the documents belonged to the Specialist Chambers,” Berisha said.

The witness explained that after the press conference, journalists and cameraman went to the table where the documents were placed and started to video them.

In her introductory speech, prosecutor Valeria Bolici stated that on September 6, 2020, some boxes were left in the hallway of the offices of the KLA War Veterans’ Organisation in Pristina.

In the boxes were case files with the names and personal information of potential witnesses in war crimes investigations at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers.

Gucati and Haradinaj then held three press conferences at which they revealed confidential information from the files and identified “details of certain (potential) witnesses”, the prosecution alleges.

Gucati and Haradinaj have both pleaded not guilty.

The Kosovo Specialist Chambers were set up, under pressure from Kosovo’s Western allies, to try crimes allegedly committed during and just after the Kosovo war from 1998 to 2000. They are part of Kosovo’s judicial system but located in the Netherlands and staffed by internationals.

Witness protection has been a key concern for the Specialist Chambers after incidents of witness-tampering at previous trials of KLA commanders.

The so-called ‘Special Court’ is widely resented by Kosovo Albanians who see it as an insult to the KLA’s war for liberation from Serbian rule.

COVID-19: 20 new cases, no deaths (media)

20 new COVID-19 cases were recorded in the last 24 hours in Kosovo. 31 persons recovered from the virus during this time. There are 427 active cases with COVID-19 in Kosovo.

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