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Kosovo War Crimes Suspects Arrested, Croatian Generals Exonerated

Plus, Bulgaria signs a major energy and pipeline deal with Russia and a Tajik rights group demands a probe of prison abuse. by S. Adam Cardais and Nino Tsintsadze 16 November 2012

1. European mission arrests three Kosovo Albanians for war crimes


The European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) has arrested three ethnic Albanians for suspected war crimes, Reuters reports.


Authorities apprehended the men in the town of Skenderaj, a former stronghold of the Kosovo Liberation Army, which waged a guerilla war for independence from Serbia in the 1990s. A lawyer for one of the suspects told Reuters that the arrests were in connection with the killing of two Albanian civilians in June 1999.


Reuters notes that the KLA targeted ethnic Albanians believed to be collaborating with Serbian authorities. The suspects are former KLA, EULEX said, and two are members of Kosovo's NATO-trained security force.


In June, Amnesty International urged EULEX to prioritize the investigation and prosecution of war crimes, emphasizing that very few KLA members have been prosecuted in “a culture of impunity.” It also called for heightened witness protection following the deaths of several witnesses in high-profile war crimes cases.


2. Hague appeals tribunal frees two Croatian generals


The appeals chamber of the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal today threw out the convictions of two Croatian generals who were found guilty last year of war crimes and crimes against humanity.


Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac were freed from the courtroom in The Hague as their supporters in Zagreb and other Croatian cities watched the proceedings on large, open-air screens. They erupted in cheers as presiding Judge Theodor Meron read out the ruling.



In April 2011, Gotovina and Markac were sentenced to 24 and 18 years’ imprisonment respectively for crimes committed in 1995 during an operation against the separatist Krajina region – which had been under Serbian control since the start of the war in 1991. The lower court ruled that both generals had participated in a state-organized criminal enterprise led by former Croatian President Franjo Tudjman to drive Serbs from the region.


During Operation Storm, around 200,000 Serbs fled, with their property destroyed, and at least 150 civilians killed.


The appeals panel disagreed with the lower court that some sites that had been shelled on the generals’ orders were illegitimate, or civilian, targets. The judges also rejected the notion that the generals were engaged in a criminal enterprise “whose purpose was the permanent and forcible removal of Serb civilians from the Krajina region.”


"Gotovina and Markac are obviously innocent, but that doesn't mean that the [independence] war wasn't bloody, that mistakes were not done. There were mistakes, and for them the Croatian state is responsible. To all these we did harm, Croatia will repay," Croatia’s prime minister, Zoran Milanovic, said, Balkan Insight reports.


Last year, the European Commission praised the country’s cooperation with the war-crimes tribunal, and Croatia is set to become the European Union’s 28th member in July. 


3. Sofia signs deal with Gazprom on South Stream, gas prices


On 15 November, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov signed the final agreement with Russian state energy giant Gazprom to begin building the Bulgarian link of the South Stream natural gas pipeline, Novinite reports. The Bulgarian government had approved the deal on the condition that Gazprom lower gas import prices, so the two sides also signed a long-term supply contract at a 20 percent discount from 2013.


South Stream is a pipeline network to bring Russian gas to Western European markets via the Black Sea and the Balkans, bypassing transit countries like Ukraine. It will cost over $20 billion and have an annual capacity of 63 billion cubic meters.


The Bulgarian section will be 540 kilometers (336 miles) and cost roughly 3.3 billion euros ($4.2 billion), according to government figures cited by Bloomberg Businessweek. Gazprom will help Sofia foot the bill, and it is interested in building a gas-fired power plant in the Bulgaria, CEO Alexey Miller said at the signing.


Construction on South Stream will begin in December, with the first gas expected to flow by the end of 2015. The project should be completed by 2019.


Russian President Vladimir Putin has prioritized South Stream and pledged that construction will stay on schedule despite a European Commission investigation of Gazprom for alleged anti-competitive practices in Central and Eastern Europe.


South Stream is a rival to the beleaguered European Union-backed Nabucco pipeline, which has yet to sign a single supply deal after a decade in the works.


4. Tajik group calls for investigation of alleged mass prison beating


Tajikistan's Coalition Against Torture is demanding a probe into allegations that prison guards beat at least 50 inmates after their transfer to a labor camp in the country's north last week, Radio Free Europe reports.


Several of the attacked were witnesses in the September death of an inmate who appeared to have been tortured, the group said. International advocacy organizations like Human Rights Watch say torture is widespread in Tajik prisons, and some inmates claim that their families have to bribe penal officers to avoid mistreatment.


Last month, the head of the country's penitentiary system pledged to investigate reports of systematic prisoner abuse. Meanwhile, Interior Ministry officials told RFE that they plan to begin interviewing inmates about rights violations soon.


5. UN calls for new talks over Macedonia name row


A UN mediator has initiated new negotiations between Skopje and Athens next week on the lengthy dispute over Macedonia's name, Balkan Insight reports.


Matthew Nimetz said the Macedonian and Greek negotiators will meet with him separately first to evaluate each party's current position. The aim is to find “a mutually acceptable name solution,” his office said, according to Balkan Insight.


Scheduled for 19-20 November in New York, the talks come ahead of a December meeting where European Union officials will decide whether to grant Macedonia a start date for opening membership negotiations. In October, the European Commission recommended for the fourth consecutive year that the Balkan nation begin the proceedings.


Greece, however, has blocked Macedonia's EU and NATO ambitions over the name dispute, which stretches back 20 years. It says “Macedonia” implies a territorial and cultural claim to the northern Greek region of the same name.


The two sides last met directly in September but did not discuss the dispute.

S. Adam Cardais is a TOL contributing editor. Nino Tsintsadze is a TOL editorial intern.
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