Monday, February 27, 2006

World Court Asked to Rule on Genocide By A Country: Serbia

Sun Feb 26, 6:48 PM ET
Generals and politicians have been convicted of genocide, but the U.N.'s highest court will consider Monday whether a nation — in this case Serbia — can be guilty of humanity's worst crime.

The stakes potentially include billions of dollars and history's judgment.

Thirteen years after Bosnia filed the case with the International Court of Justice, its lawyers will lay out their lawsuit against Serbia and Montenegro — the successor state for the defunct Yugoslavia — charging it with a premeditated attempt to destroy Bosnia's Muslim population, in whole or part.

"Not since the end of the Second World War and the revelations of the horrors of Nazi Germany's 'Final Solution' has Europe witnessed the utter destruction of a people, for no other reason than they belong to a particular national ethnical, racial, and religious group as such," said the lawsuit's opening paragraph, drafted for the Bosnian government by American lawyer Francis A. Boyle.

It is one of the most complex and far-reaching rulings ever sought from the tribunal, also known as the world court. Arguments are scheduled to take six weeks, and it likely will be a year before the 16 judges deliver their verdict.

The case hinges on whether the court is persuaded that the Serbian state, and not just a group of individuals, had the specific intent to wipe out the Muslims of eastern Bosnia as a distinct community.

If the judges rule in Bosnia's favor, they would decide later whether to award financial reparations, which could total billions of dollars. The court's rulings are binding, and a refusal to abide by them could be referred to the U.N. Security Council for action.

Croatia, another republic that splintered from the crumbling Yugoslav federation, has a similar genocide case against Serbia pending at the world court.

The Bosnia case is the first to be heard under the world court's new president, British Justice Rosalyn Higgins, 68, who also is the only woman among the U.N.-elected judges.

Hundreds of Bosnian survivors will start a vigil Monday outside the neo-Gothic Peace Palace where the court sits.

Bosnia submitted the lawsuit in March 1993, less than a year after Yugoslav-backed Serb paramilitary forces began attacking Muslim villages adjacent to Serbia. The Bosnians claim the Serbs intended to drive out the residents and create a Greater Serbia.

In a horrific roster of atrocities, the lawsuit cites case after case of the slaughter of civilians, mass rape, the systematic destruction of mosques and cultural heritage sites, and the creation of "extermination camps."

Within weeks, the court issued an interim order against "Yugoslavia and its agents and surrogates" to halt their campaign of "ethnic cleansing," including the murder, bombardment and starvation of the Muslims.

But worse was to come.

Two years after the documents were filed in The Hague, Bosnian Serb forces commanded by Gen. Ratko Mladic massacred more than 8,000 Muslims during one blood-soaked week in the U.N.-declared safe haven of Srebrenica.

A separate U.N. court in The Hague — the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia — already has ruled that genocide occurred at Srebrenica.
The Yugoslav tribunal convicted two Bosnian army officers of complicity or aiding genocide, and several other suspects struck plea bargains to evade genocide charges. It currently is trying former President Slobodan Milosevic.

Mladic remains at large, branded one of the world's most-wanted fugitives. He is believed to be hiding in Serbia with protection from hard-liners in the Serb military and police — loyalists of Milosevic.

In recent days, reports of Mladic's imminent capture circulated, but they have proven false. In Belgrade, the Blic daily newspaper said negotiations on his surrender were under way and that Mladic allegedly "refuses to make a deal" with authorities.

Serbia-Montenegro's faces a European Union deadline to surrender Mladic by Feb. 28 or have its membership talks with the bloc frozen. The EU's council of ministers scheduled a Monday meeting in Brussels, Belgium, to decide whether to punish Belgrade if Mladic is not captured.

"Serbia knows that negotiations may be suspended or may never be concluded if Belgrade fails to cooperate fully," chief U.N. war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte said this week.

Genocide was not specifically outlawed until the 1948 Genocide Convention, prompted by the Holocaust.

The first genocide conviction came 50 years later, when a special U.N. court on Rwanda sentenced a former mayor, Jean-Paul Akayesu, to life imprisonment for complicity in the deaths of thousands of Tutsis. The Rwanda court has handed down a score of convictions since then.

Unlike the Rwanda or Yugoslav tribunals, the International Court of Justice does not try individuals. It deals only with claims among U.N. member states, but rarely in claims of this scope. In its 60 years, it has most often has adjudicated border or maritime disputes.
___
Associated Press reporter Katarina Kratovac in Belgrade, Serbia-Montenegro, contributed to this report.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Belgrade denies reports of Mladic arrest

The Serbian government on Tuesday denied media reports that top Bosnian Serb warcrimes fugitive Gen. Ratko Mladic had been arrested.

"The news about Ratko Mladic is not correct. It is a manipulation which damages the government and does not contribute to its efforts to fully complete its cooperation with The Hague war crimes tribunal," spokesman Srdjan Djuric said.

Djuric was speaking to Reuters by telephone. No official statement had yet been issued.

Serbia's state news agency Tanjug earlier quoted a television station in Bosnia's Serb Republic as saying the wartime Bosnian Serb Army commander was arrested in Belgrade.

TV BN had reported Mladic was being transferred via the Bosnian city of Tuzla to the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague. An earlier report by Belgrade's "Studio B" television said Mladic had been located "in the area of Tuzla," which lies close to the mountainous border with Serbia.

Independent Belgrade broadcaster B92 said that in spite of Djuric's denial, a number of sources said the 63-year old general had been arrested in Serbia and transferred to Tuzla for a flight to The Hague.

Mladic was indicted in 1995 for genocide for the 43-month siege of Sarajevo which claimed 12,000 lives and for orchestrating the 1995 massacre of some 8,000 Muslims at Srebrenica, the worst atrocity in Europe since World War Two.

His political boss Radovan Karadzic, indicted on the same charges, is still at large.

Serbian dailies were speculating on Tuesday that Mladic would be on a plane to The Hague before the end of February, in time to avert suspension of European Union association talks with Belgrade.

This is the deadline for a report by EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn to the 25 EU foreign ministers assessing whether Serbia is cooperating fully with the U.N. tribunal.

Florence Hartmann, spokeswoman for the U.N. war crimes prosecutor, said they had no information on the reports. "We have no reason to believe any of that ... These are rumors, we cannot comment on something that doesn't exist," she said.

Vladeta Jankovic, adviser to Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, said efforts to find Mladic were "in full swing."

"The government is aware of the consequences," he told B92 radio. "It might be a decisive moment, not only for the survival of the government, but for the future prospects of the state."

Mladic's handover was "almost a condition of survival."

EU WARNING

Belgrade is desperate to avoid suspension of Stabilization and Association pact talks begun last year. They are the first step to eventual EU membership -- Serbia's top priority -- and Brussels has warned they will stop if Mladic is not arrested.

Reports predicting his imminent arrest or detailing official efforts to track him down intensify each time Serbia faces a Western deadline for action, although Serbia constantly protests that it has no evidence he is even in the country.

Mladic lived openly in Belgrade until the fall of nationalist strongman Slobodan Milosevic in 2000 undermined his support. Hague chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte has repeatedly charged that he is still protected by hardliners in the Army and security agencies of Serbia.

Serbian Human Rights Minister Rasim Ljajic said it would be a good time to extradite Mladic, who is still regarded as a hero-soldier by staunch nationalists opposed to his arrest.

"The latest polls show 57 percent of citizens are in favor of this option. This is the largest percentage so far, much higher than in 2005 let alone 2004, " Ljajic said.

Monday, February 20, 2006

SERBIA: PLAYERS MOOT REFERENDUM ON KOSOVO

Belgrade, 17 Feb. (AKI) - Ahead of UN-led talks on the future status of Serbia's troubled ethnic Albanian majority province of Kosovo, due to start in Vienna on 20 February, Serbian political players are mulling the possibility of a national referendum on Kovoso. The Serbian government's Coordination Centre for Kosovo's chief, Sanda Raskovic-Ivic announced that the plebiscite could be organised "if things go wrong."


"It is the way citizens could show if they are dissatisfied with the Kosovo solution," Roskovic said. "It is the legal method by which Serbia has a right to decide if is prepared to give away the province to the nation "that exists as a minority in our country in order to make its own state," she added.

Serbia favours a "negotiated settlement" in Kosovo - which has been under UN administration since 1999 - and opposes an "imposed solution as violation of its sovereignty. Its overwhelmingly Muslim majority want independence from Serbia - a position that has been gaining increasing support from the international community.

Speaking before the UN Security Council in New York on Tuesday, Serbia's president Boris Tadic - who is a member of Serbia's negotiating team - said Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leaders should accept autonomy within Serbia for an agreed period, "say 20 years," before any discussions about breakaway province's final status. His position reflects the mainstream Serb view about Kosovo as a 'spiritual cradle' that cannot be traded away.

The deputy president of Serbia's strongest opposition force, the Democratic Party, Nenad Bogdanovic, said that pondering a referendum is a sure sign the government is looking to avoid responsibility for Kosovo's fate. "That has been seen in Serbia already. When politicians doubt and do not believe they have the power to fight for something that is good and in the interest of its people, they start talking about referendums", Bogdanovic pointed out.

Moreover, according to UN Resolution 1244, Serbia does not have sovereignty over Kosovo, Kosovo's prime minister Bajram Kosumi's aide, Azem Vlasi.

But Serbian Constitutional Court judge Slobodan Vucetic claims that according to the Constitution, the territory of Serbia is indivisible, and border changes can be made by citizens through a plebiscite. "The decision to change Serbia's borders can be made only by citizens in a referendum, if an absolute majority of the electorate, made up of all citizens with the right to vote, supports those changes," Vucetic said.

Every registered voter within the territory of Serbia, Kosovo included, according to UN Resolution 1244, would be involved, he said. The referendum would be organised by the Serbian parliament. Technical aspect of voting in Kosovo would have to be made with an agreement between the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OCSE), the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and temporary regional institutions, he added.

Although the possibility of a referendum is attracting considerable media attention, the Serbian government has so far made no official comment.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

AL-QAEDA THREATENS EUROPE FROM BALKANS, SAY EXPERTS

Belgrade, 28 April (AKI) – A group of prominent right-wing American analysts, supported by several Serbian academics, have claimed that the greatest terrorist threat to Europe comes from the Balkans, particularly from Bosnia and Kosovo which still maintain links to al-Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist organisations. The experts were delegates at a two day conference, sponsored by the Belgrade University, that attracted terrorism specialists from the region, the United States and Europe.

Yosef Bodansky, the director of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Conventional Warfare in Washington, said that the Balkans was a “springboard for Islamic extremism” in Europe and that Iran was the main driving force behind it.

According to Bodansky, Iran was among leading countries that finance and support Islamic terrorism directed against the United States and Europe. “The final goal of Islamic terrorist groups and organizations is to turn America into an Islamic republic and to secure world domination through it,” Bodansky told the meeting.

Gregory Copley, director of the Washington Institute for Strategic Studies, a leading neo-conservative think-tank which many oberservers say reflects the position of some of President George W. Bush's top officials, also attended the conference. Copely argued that Americans had demonstrated the shortsightedness of their foreign policy in the Balkans by supporting local Muslims during the civil war in Bosnia and ethnic Albanians, who are also Muslims, in Serbia’s southern province of Kosovo. In 1999, Bush's predecessor, Bill Clinton, won NATO support for a bombing campaign against Belgrade to halt the "ethnic cleansing" of Albanians by Serbs in Kosovo.

Copley, and some other participants, said they believed that al-Qaeda still had dormant cells in Bosnia and among Kosovo's ethnic Albanians.

Evan Coleman, a consultant on terrorism for the American Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), said that “Al Qaeda still has camps for recruiting and training terrorists in the area of Zenica in Bosnia” and that it was happening before the eyes of NATO soldiers stationed there. He said that no one in the American administration paid attention to the intelligence reports and “the government of the United States sometimes acts like a gorilla without a brain.”

Zoran Dragisic of the Faculty for Civil Defence at the University of Belgrade argued that Al Qaeda, Kosovo Albanians and organized crime groups were the main source of terrorism in the Balkans. Serbia could potentially fall prey to their attacks, Dragisic said, but he pointed out that the Balkans were just “an oasis” for organising and planning, while Western Europe was really the main target of terrorist attacks.


(Vpr/Aki)

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Kosovo Rejects Delay in Final Status

By NICK WADHAMS, Associated Press Writer

Serbia's president on Tuesday suggested imposing a 20-year grace period before determining Kosovo's final status, an idea that was swiftly rejected by the tiny province's prime minister.

The leaders' disagreement as they gathered for a U.N. Security Council discussion of Kosovo underscored how far apart the two sides remain ahead of talks set to begin Monday on the future status of the province.

Kosovo has been administered by the United Nations since NATO's 1999 air war against Yugoslavia, which forced former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to end a crackdown on rebel ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and relinquish control over the region.

Speaking before the council, Serbian President Boris Tadic reiterated his government's opposition to independence for Kosovo and again offered the province wide autonomy instead. Kosovo's status could be renegotiated "after an agreed period of time, say 20 years," he said.

He also added a wrinkle: If Kosovo is to gain autonomy from Serbia, then the Serbian minority there should gain autonomy from the Kosovo government.

Kosovo Prime Minister Bajram Kosumi told reporters afterward that Tadic's ideas were not acceptable.

"I believe that this is the appropriate moment where we have to end and close the Kosovo question," Kosumi said.

The dispute exposed the problem that each side and their U.N.-appointed mediators know well, with the talks just days away. Kosovo wants total independence from Serbia, while Serbia refuses to countenance that possibility.

Tadic acknowledged the difficulty, telling the council that Kosovo and the Serbs favor "two seemingly irreconcilable options."

Tadic warned that independence for Kosovo could spur other territories to break away. But several council members stressed that the key was making sure Kosovo's people — who are 90 percent ethnic Albanian — approve of the final decision.

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton tacitly rejected Tadic's warning, saying that Kosovo was "a very special case" because of the disintegration of Yugoslavia, ethnic cleansing, and the fact that it had been under U.N. administration for so long.

"We must be realistic about possible outcomes," Bolton said. "Independence is a possible outcome. Any status outcome must be acceptable to the people of Kosovo."

As well as hearing Tadic's views, council members discussed a report from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, released two weeks ago, that said Kosovo had made little progress in efforts to create a multiethnic and democratic society in the province, which slightly smaller than Connecticut.

Council members were blunt about their dissatisfaction with Kosovo's development, and spread blame between both sides.

"Understandably, the overall impression one comes away with is disappointment," Greece's U.N. Ambassador Adamantios Vassilakis said.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Bosnia: Hague Judge Silences Bin Laden Bosnia Testimony

Bosnia: Hague Judge Silences Bin Laden Bosnia Testimony, as NATO’s Claims QuestionedPosted on Wednesday, February 08 @ 08:00:00 EST by CDeliso

Judge Patrick Robinson immediately shut down a Western journalist on the Hague Tribunal witness stand last week, when she disclosed having seen Osama bin Laden waltz into the office of late Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic in November 1994.

Just as veteran British journalist Eve-Ann Prentice, who covered the Yugoslav conflicts for the Guardian and the Times told of the famous OBL, Prosecutor Geoffrey Nice objected, and the judge “…cut off the testimony immediately declaring it ‘irrelevant,’” according to the defense’s recap of a devastating day of testimony.However, considering that the defendant, former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was trying to make a case that the Bosnian Serbs were fighting because Izetbegovic wanted to create an Islamic state that would not be particularly tolerant of Serbs, it would seem that this “explosive” mention of his connection with the world’s most wanted man would in fact be quite relevant.

According to the report, while Prentice was waiting in Izetbegovic's foyer for an interview she, and a journalist from Germany’s Der Speigel, “saw Osama bin Laden being escorted into Izetbegovic’s office… needless to say this evidence did not sit well with the tribunal.”

Prentice was by no means the first to make the bin Laden-Bosnia connection. Izetbegovic’s plans for making Bosnia an Islamic state were long known, and the fact that there was a strong foreign mujahedin presence in Bosnia, would both indicate that her squelched testimony was highly relevant indeed.

However, as in all the other tribunals designed to bolster the Official Truth established by government interests – not least of all the 9/11 Commission – evidence such as hers is blotted out immediately or blocked in advance.

And vitally, the mass media has lost interest too, now that the “good news” has stopped flowing in like it used to, when the prosecution against Milosevic had the momentum. Since the former Yugoslav president has taken the offensive, however, Western media coverage has stopped altogether, expect for the occasional report fearing that his various illnesses might interfere with “justice” being done.

However, though the big media did not cover the testimony, the always pro-intervention IWPR at least had to react to the damaging testimony. In a recent article, it cited Prentice’s impartiality- and then proceeded to act as a mouthpiece for the prosecution, stenographing Mr. Nice’s use of quotes from Prentice’s own book to show that even she was aware of Serbian evils.

But the IWPR didn’t mention bin Laden, nor various other important details that emerged from Prentice’s most damaging testimony, on the Kosovo conflict. Unlike the Western journalists who were merely waiting on the Macedonian border to hear the after-the-fact (or fiction) testimony of refugees, she was actually in Kosovo. In fact, owing to her proximity to the depleted uranium bombs NATO was dropping all around her, Prentice later became ill with cancer.

Having interviewed hundreds of ordinary Albanians, Roma and Turks during the war, Prentice’s first-hand fieldwork suggested that many of the Albanian refugees were forced to leave their homes not by the Serbian army but by the KLA- which cynically hoped to provoke Western outrage at an allegedly Serb-caused refugee crisis. It worked.

Prentice’s first-hand experience also contradicted the Official Truth on a number of other fronts. While the Hague prosecution accused the Serbs of bombings in Gnjilane, Istok (Dubrava Prison), Orohovac, and Meja, she stated that NATO bombing raids were responsible. “In the case of Meja… Ms. Prentice spoke to several victims in the hospital and they told her that NATO had bombed them. While she was in Gnjilane she did not see any evidence of the deliberate burning of shops and houses alleged by the indictment. All she saw was the destruction caused by NATO.”

Further, “…the indictment says that Serbian troops forced the Albanian population to leave Prizren from March 28th onwards. But Ms. Prentice said that there were a lot of Albanians in Prizren while she was there in May.”

The disinterest of Western leaders in the full reality of the wars in Yugoslavia reappeared with one telling vignette. When speaking about Bosnia, Prentice spoke of a visit to Pale, where “…she was surprised to find that a large number of non-Serb refugees were being given shelter there. Before she actually visited Bosnia she had believed what the rest of the media told her about the Serbs.”Apparently, so did her country’s leaders:
”…she recounted one occasion where she tried to convince Robin Cook to visit Pale so that he could see for himself that non-Serbs were living freely in the Bosnian-Serb capital. Cook, who was on a fact finding mission, told her that he would not visit Pale because he thought the Serbs were ‘monsters.’”

Needless to say, the IWPR report doesn’t mention this vignette. Nor did it mention that Prentice contracted cancer from NATO’s depleted uranium bombing. It did make a subtle but determined effort to disparage her testimony, however- just as it has in the past given sympathetic attention to prosecution witnesses who later turned out to be liars. Some things just come with the territory for media bodies funded by the same governments that created the Hague monstrosity to begin with.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Contact Group Backs Independence

Contact Group backs independence 10:14 -> 15:42 February 08 B92
PRISTINA -- Tuesday – British Foreign Office Political Director John Sawyers said that the Contact Group has already decided that Kosovo should be independent.

Sawyers, who will be in Belgrade today, informed Kosovo Serb officials last night of the Contact Group’s stance. Goran Bogdanovic, a member of Belgrade’s Kosovo status discussion team, told B92 that Sawyers encouraged Serb officials to accept independence.

“It was a fairly uncomfortable meeting because Sawyers said that the Contact Group has made a decision that Kosovo should be independent and tried to convince us that we must accept this decision and that this is the best option for Serbs in Kosovo and those who want to return to the region. We are not satisfied with the stance of the Contact Group because that would mean that the status talks would not even be necessary. Why play a game if you already know the score before it begins? I think now is a good opportunity for Belgrade to, firstly, think what to do now and how to do it.” Bogdanovic said.

“We have to calculatedly proceed ahead, but I think such a decision by the Contact Group is wrong because it legalises ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, and the violation of human rights and freedom of movement. This is not acceptable for those of us who live in Kosovo, nor for Serbia or the Balkans in general, because this can affect surrounding countries as well.” Bogdanovic said, adding that Sawyers will make Belgrade officials aware of the Contact Group’s stance today.