Category: Crime Land of Kosovo


February 18, 2018

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — The Kosovo Assembly, or Parliament, convened in a special session Sunday to celebrate the country’s 10 years of independence — a ceremony boycotted by the country’s ethnic Serb lawmakers.

Speaker Kadri Veseli pledged that “the second decade of independence would be focused on the economic well-being of Kosovo’s citizens.” The second day of celebrations continued with a parade of military and police forces and a state reception.

In Feb. 17, 2008, Kosovo’s Parliament unilaterally declared independence from Serbia nine years after NATO conducted a 78-day airstrike campaign against Serbia to stop a bloody crackdown against ethnic Albanians.

Kosovo, one of poorest countries in Europe, has taken a first step to European Union membership by signing a Stabilization and Association Agreement. But the country faces serious challenges besides its relations with Serbia, including establishing the rule of law and fighting high unemployment, corruption and organized crime.

Kosovo is recognized by 117 countries, including the U.S. and most Western powers but Serbia still sees Kosovo as part of its own territory and has the support of Russia and China. A day earlier in Serbia’s capital, Belgrade, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said Kosovo’s independence remains fragile and won’t be concluded without an agreement with Serbia.

Llazar Semini in Tirana, Albania contributed.

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February 16, 2018

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Every country has a national anthem, a musical compilation that aims to stir patriotic emotion, and Kosovo is no exception. Except for one peculiarity: its anthem has no lyrics.

Ten years after the former Serb territory declared independence and nearly two decades after it was engulfed in war between ethnic Albanian separatists and Yugoslav government forces, there is still difficulty in finding someone able to pen words of unity for Europe’s newest country without causing offense to one of its ethnic groups.

“The text should be written in a way that does not leave the impression to the minorities they are threatened or offended,” said Mendi Mengjiqi, who composed the anthem in June 2008, just a few months after Kosovo’s Feb. 17 declaration of independence.

So far, no attempts have been successful. A decade after its independence, Kosovo seems to have all the trappings of a modern, if rather poor, Balkan country. The bombed-out buildings and tank tread-destroyed streets of the 1998-1999 war have been replaced by highways and shopping malls, bustling cafes and shiny new office complexes.

Construction cranes can be seen on the drive into Pristina, the capital, as workers busily build new homes and businesses. “Kosovo is a joint success story, of the international community and the Kosovars,” President Hashim Thaci, a former commander of the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army, or KLA, told The Associated Press.

It was he who declared Kosovo’s independence in 2008, nearly nine years after NATO conducted a 78-day airstrike campaign against Serbia to stop a bloody Serb crackdown against ethnic Albanians. Kosovo is recognized by 115 countries, including the United States and most Western powers, and has joined about 200 international organizations.

But Serbia, which for centuries has considered Kosovo the cradle of its civilization, still sees it as part of its own territory, and has the support of Russia and China. Five European Union members also do not recognize Kosovo’s independence.

A close look reveals a young country still struggling with nationhood. The Serb minority, which was the territory’s politically dominant ethnicity before the war, lives in enclaves. Although people generally are no longer physically attacked for entering a different ethnic area, tension can be easily sparked. Some 4,500 NATO-led peacekeepers are still stationed in Kosovo to ensure nothing gets out of hand. Crime and corruption are rampant.

Kosovo Serbs, who live mostly in the northern Kosovo neighboring Serbia, are adamant that they not come under direct rule from Pristina. Serbia has rejected Kosovo’s statehood, but is pressed by the West to compromise with ethnic Albanians on “good neighborly relations” or jeopardize Serbia’s prospects of joining the EU.

Serbian officials have hinted they would recognize Kosovo as an independent state only if northern Kosovo is handed over to Serbia — a proposal flatly rejected by Pristina. EU-mediated negotiations between Pristina and Belgrade, which began in 2011, will be key in the country’s progress, and have achieved significant improvements in the nation’s governance and conditions for minorities.

But substantial hurdles remain. “Both Kosovo and Serbia should make drastic compromises, which I see as very difficult,” said Momcilo Trajkovic, a Kosovo Serb analyst and former politician living in the Serb enclave of Gracanica, near Pristina.

In January, moderate Kosovo Serb politician Oliver Ivanovic, one of the few who promoted the idea of Kosovo Albanians and Serbs living together, was gunned down outside his office in northern Mitrovica, the edge of the Serb-dominated part of northern Kosovo. His murder was condemned by both Pristina and Belgrade.

The key issues facing Kosovo now are “rule of law, fighting unemployment, corruption and organized crime and progressing in the talks with Serbia face Kosovo,” said U.S. Ambassador to Pristina Greg Delawie.

Kosovo hopes one day to join the EU and has begun the first step but still has a long way to go. “I very much hope that with good homework we could increase the speed of our expectation toward EU, NATO, United Nations and other memberships,” said Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, also a former KLA commander.

The EU’s special representative to Kosovo, Nataliya Apostolova, said progress had been made in the past decade between the nation’s two ethnic groups but “fragility persists, and can be easily tested even by a train, a wall or an improper initiative.”

But, she noted, the biggest concern for Kosovo’s people is economics. If there is one issue that the country’s Serbs and Albanians can agree on, it’s the lack of job prospects and the nation’s crushing unemployment, which in 2017 ran at 30.5 percent. Youth unemployment stands at 50.5 percent, according to the Kosovo Agency of Statistics.

A Pristina apartment can easily go for 1,000-1,500 euros ($1,238-1,857) per square meter and it costs half a million euros ($619,000) for a villa at the Marigona Residence, five miles from Pristina, where the country’s prime minister lives. But that is not affordable in a nation where the average salary is about 360 euros ($450) a month.

With their future looking bleak, many youngsters long to leave. “When will we have visa-free travel so I can get to Germany or Switzerland and build a better life?” wondered Shait Krasniqi, a 28-year-old economics graduate who works as a waiter in Pristina. “There are no prospects here, especially for us, the young people.”

Kosovo has a young population and with the jobless rate so high, many pack the capital’s cafes, nursing a single coffee for hours. “If my uncles did not live in Switzerland and support us, my family would die,” said Ilir, a young cafe client who was too embarrassed to give his last name. “My father gets a little money from selling agricultural products he grows from our small land. No other jobs for me or my sister.”

In the Serb enclave of Gracanica, home to a medieval Serb Orthodox monastery, the sentiments are the same. “Regardless of ethnicity, the situation is grave for all the people,” said Mirjana Vlasacevic, a 57-year-old court employee in Gracanica. “That is the reason that they, the youngsters, are looking to leave.”

Florent Bajrami in Pristina, Sylejman Kllokoqi in Gracanica, Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade and Elena Becatoros in Athens contributed.

January 16, 2018

MITROVICA, Kosovo (AP) — A leading Serb politician in northern Kosovo was gunned down Tuesday morning, an attack that raised ethnic tensions in the Balkans and prompted the suspension of EU-mediated talks between Kosovo and Serbia.

Assailants opened fire on Oliver Ivanovic, 64, close to the offices of his political party in the Serb-controlled northern city of Mitrovica. He was taken to a hospital but doctors were unable to save him.

The doctors said Ivanovic had received at least five gunshot wounds to his upper torso. The assailants escaped in a car that was later found burned out. Kosovo police sealed off the area of the shooting and began a manhunt for the attackers.

Ivanovic was one of the key politicians in Serb-dominated northern Kosovo, a former Serbian province where tensions still remain high a decade after it declared independence in 2008. Serbia does not recognize that independence.

Ivanovic was considered a moderate who maintained relations with NATO and EU officials even after Serbia lost the control of its former province following NATO’s 1999 bombing to stop a deadly Serb crackdown against ethnic Albanian separatists.

A Kosovo court convicted Ivanovic of war crimes during the 1998-99 war. That verdict was overturned and a retrial was underway. In Pristina, the Kosovo government strongly denounced the slaying, saying it considers the attack a challenge to “the rule of law and efforts to establish the rule of law in the whole of Kosovo territory.”

In Belgrade, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic held a top security meeting to discuss the shooting. Afterward, he called the killing “a terrorist act” and said Serbia is demanding that international missions in Kosovo include Serbia in their investigation into the slaying.

“Serbia will take all necessary steps so the killer or killers are found,” he said. At the news of Ivanovic’s slaying, the Serb delegation at the EU talks in Brussels immediately left to return to Belgrade.

Delegation leader Marko Djuric said “whoever is behind this attack … whether they are Serb, Albanian or any other criminals, they must be punished.” European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini called the presidents of Serbia and Kosovo to express the EU’s condemnation of the killing. She appealed for both sides “to show calm and restraint.”

The head of the OSCE Mission in Kosovo, Ambassador Jan Braathu, said he was “shocked and deeply saddened” and considered Ivanovic “among the most prominent Kosovo Serb representatives for almost two decades. ”

He also urged “all sides to avoid dangerous rhetoric and remain calm at this sensitive time, and recommit themselves to continue the work toward the normalization of relations and improvement of the lives of the citizens of Kosovo and Serbia.”

Dusan Stojanovic and Jovana Gec in Belgrade; Llazar Semini in Tirana, Albania; and Raf Casert in Brussels contributed to this report.

November 24, 2017

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Kosovo police on Friday arrested a top opposition leader and two other lawmakers accused of disrupting the work of the previous parliament with tear gas and violent acts. Albin Kurti, Donika Kadaj Bujupi and Albulena Haxhiu of the left-wing Self-Determination Party were arrested while entering the parliament building.

Police used tear gas to disperse some opposition supporters trying to block their minivan that was taking Kurti. Visar Ymeri, leader of the Self-Determination Party, denounced the “brutal arrest of the three lawmakers based on political orders” and considered it “continuation of the overall persecution of Self-Determination during recent times.”

Since the signing of a border demarcation agreement with Montenegro in August 2015 the opposition has contested it, saying Kosovo is ceding territory — a claim denied by the previous government and international experts. The protesters disrupted parliamentary work, using tear gas canisters, blowing whistles and throwing water bottles.

Approval of the deal is a pre-condition for a visa-free regime for Kosovo citizens in the European Union’s Schengen countries. Political tension in the country remains high over who won mayoral election last month. It is not yet clear whether Self-Determination will keep the mayor’s post in the capital Pristina or it will go to the other now-opposition Democratic League of Kosovo.

Another aching issue is a special court established to prosecute crimes committed during and immediately after Kosovo’s 1998-1999 war with Serbia for independence. It is expected to issue indictments against former independence fighters.

Associated Press writer Llazar Semini contributed from Tirana, Albania.

October 11, 2017

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Albania’s president has turned down a request from his Kosovo counterpart Hashim Thaci to issue Albanian passports for citizens in neighboring Kosovo, the only nation in Europe excluded from a visa-free European travel zone.

Ilir Meta, who is visiting Kosovo Wednesday, said the solution was “through dialogue.” The European Union insists Kosovo must approve a border demarcation deal with Montenegro before its citizens can enjoy visa-free travel within the so-called Schengen zone.

Opposition lawmakers in Kosovo have refused to ratify that deal, saying it meant Kosovo would lose land. Albania has enjoyed access to the visa-free regime since 2010. Kosovo’s 1.9 million population is mainly ethnic Albanian.

January 04, 2017

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — French police have detained Kosovo’s former prime minister based on an arrest warrant issued by Serbia the Kosovo foreign ministry said Wednesday. Ramush Haradinaj, who is also a former guerrilla fighter, was stopped as he flew in to France from Kosovo’s capital, Pristina, on Wednesday.

Kosovo’s government said in a statement it is trying to resolve the matter. It said it considered Serbia’s charges as “illegal, unfair and tendentious.” Kosovo President Hashim Thaci, also a former guerrilla leader and Haradinaj’s friend, described the detention as “unacceptable.”

“We, members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, are proud to have fought against discriminating and criminal laws of Slobodan Milosevic’s regime,” he said on Facebook. Haradinaj was cleared of war crimes charges in two lengthy trials by a U.N. war crimes tribunal. But Serbia accuses him of committing war crimes including kidnappings, torture and killings against Serb civilians when he was a senior rebel commander in western Kosovo during the 1998-99 war.

Kosovo seceded from Serbia in 2008, although Belgrade has not recognized that. Haradinaj’s party is now in opposition.

February 26, 2016

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Kosovo’s Parliament on Friday elected Foreign Minister Hashim Thaci as the country’s new president in the absence of opposition lawmakers who accuse him of being responsible for two deals with Serbia and Montenegro that they reject.

The election committee said Thaci secured 71 votes among the 81 lawmakers that were present in the third round of voting after failing to reach the minimum requirements in the first two rounds. The other candidate, Rafet Rama, got no votes and 10 votes were declared invalid.

Many of the opposition lawmakers in the 120-seat Parliament were suspended from participation after disrupting the legislature with tear gas. Others left and only one remained at the election commission.

“With the greatest pleasure, with the highest responsibility, I will serve to everyone and be willing to cooperate with everyone, including the political parties and every segment of the Kosovan society,” Thaci told The Associated Press.

The opposition has been disrupting the chamber since last September with attacks involving tear gas, pepper spray, whistles and water bottles to reject a deal between Kosovo and Serbia giving more powers to ethnic Serbs in Kosovo. In December, the Constitutional Court ruled that the agreement needed to be amended to conform to the constitution.

The opposition also rejects a border demarcation pact with Montenegro. “Someone who has violated the constitution cannot be Kosovo’s president,” the leader of the main opposition Self-Determination Movement Party, Visar Ymeri, said at a news conference.

The prospect of a Thaci-presidency has prompted thousands of opposition supporters to protest in the capital of Pristina, many hundreds of whom have been camping out in tents in the capital’s Skanderbeg Square.

After learning that Thaci won the election, they threw Molotov cocktails and rocks outside Parliament, injuring 21 officers, police said. Police responded with tear gas and water guns to disperse them and five protesters were arrested. Officers also started to remove the tents raised at the Skanderbeg Square and blocked traffic on some streets surrounding Parliament.

Police said they found 39 Molotov cocktails and 38 other bottles with color paint by the tents. Molotov cocktails were also thrown against Prime Minister Isa Mustafa’s home, according to police. Meanwhile, hundreds of Thaci’s supporters celebrated his election walking along the capital’s streets holding Kosovo, U.S. and Albanian flags and shouting his name while firecrackers lit the sky.

Many leading figures within the opposition were partners with Thaci — a former guerrilla leader — during the war, but later turned against him, accusing him of being power-hungry and corrupt. Critics also say the 47-year-old, who led the fighters of Kosovo’s successful separatist war against Serbia in 1998-99, is not a unifying individual, which is what the Kosovo constitution requires.

“Thaci’s election has closed that door,” said Fatmir Limaj, one of his former close associates now in opposition, referring to attempts by incumbent President Ahtifete Jahjaga to resolve the political crisis.

Kosovo declared independence in 2008, although that is rejected by Serbia. As president, Thaci would deal with a special war crimes court created last year, which will have international judges and prosecutors try ethnic Albanian guerrillas for the alleged killing of civilian detainees, mostly Serbs, immediately after the war ended in 1999.

Thaci was mentioned in a 2010 Council of Europe report which claimed that leaders of the now disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Serbs, Roma and ethnic Albanians suspected of collaborating with Serbs.

Thaci denies the claims. Thaci has resigned as leader of the Democratic Party of Kosovo as required for his five-year term.

Llazar Semini in Tirana, Albania, and Gresa Kraja in Pristina, Kosovo, contributed to this report.

February 19, 2016

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Despite security checks at the entrance, Kosovo opposition lawmakers on Friday again used tear gas to block work from being done in Parliament to pressure the government into renouncing deals with Serbia and Montenegro.

The session, delayed for about 50 minutes, was temporarily suspended Friday after a tear gas canister was launched from opposition lawmakers’ seats. A resumed session an hour later was suspended again for the same reason.

After the use of the tear gas for the third time, Speaker Kadri Veseli, himself wearing an anti-gas mask, could not keep his governing lawmakers from leaving the hall due to the gas. Then police forcefully brought out all opposition lawmakers. One of them, Albulena Haxhiu, fainted while trying to re-enter and clashed with policemen guarding the main entrance.

Veseli said the session will resume, despite the problems. Outside the Parliament a few hundred opposition supporters were gathered shouting anti-government slogans. Opposition lawmakers said they are determined not to allow normal operations at the Parliament, demanding the government’s resignation and fresh elections.

Since September, the opposition has disrupted Parliament with tear gas, pepper spray, whistles and water bottles. They reject a deal between Kosovo and Serbia, reached last year, which gives more powers to ethnic Serbs in Kosovo. They are also against a border demarcation deal with Montenegro.

In December, Kosovo’s Constitutional Court decided that part of the deal with Serbia was not in line with the constitution. Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Hashim Thaci of the governing Democratic Party of Kosovo said the government is determined to continue its daily agenda, considering the use of tear gas as “ugly.”

“Opposition reaction may continue but they should get used to the idea that they cannot come to power by violence,” Thaci said. Kosovo’s Western backers have denounced the violence, calling on the opposition to resolve the political crisis in Parliament.

Kosovo’s 2008 independence has been recognized by 111 countries, including the U.S. and major European Union nations. But it is rejected by Serbia, with support from Russia, which has blocked Kosovo from becoming a U.N. member.

Kosovo and Serbia are holding EU-mediated talks to try to overcome their differences.

Gresa Kraja in Pristina, Kosovo, and Llazar Semini in Tirana, Albania, contributed to this report.

January 09, 2016

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Police in Kosovo used water cannons and tear gas to disperse a group of violent opposition supporters who pelted them with rocks and Molotov cocktails following an anti-government protest in the capital on Saturday.

The violence came at the end of a peaceful rally where several thousand people called on Kosovo’s government to resign, arguing the executive has broken the country’s constitution in reaching deals with Serbia and Montenegro last year.

At the end of the rally, some opposition supporters pelted police and the government building with rocks and other hard objects, despite calls from organizers to disperse peacefully. Part of a government building was set alight before officers intervened.

Police spokesman Baki Kelani said eight policemen, two citizens and two journalists were injured and 24 protesters were detained, adding two police cars and many other public and private properties were damaged.

In December Kosovo’s Constitutional Court decided that part of a deal between Kosovo and Serbia, which would give more powers to ethnic Serbs in Kosovo, was not in line with the country’s constitution.

The opposition also has opposed a border demarcation with neighboring Montenegro. Since September last year the opposition has blocked Kosovo’s parliament with tear gas, pepper spray, whistles and water bottles to protest the deals and their supporters have held violent protests in Pristina.

“To calm citizens Mustafa’s government should resign,” said an opposition statement. The government says the opposition wants to come to power through violence and has called on it to come to parliament to talk.

The president and the international community have also called for dialogue. The EU office in Kosovo condemned the “spiral of violence” and called for “calm and renouncement of violence” as the way forward for Kosovo.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, an act that Serbia still rejects. The two countries have been holding European Union-mediated talks to overcome their differences.

Llazar Semini in Tirana, Albania, contributed to this report.