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Kosovo Lawmaker Acquitted of War Crimes, EU Delivers Strongest Warning Yet to Croatia

Plus, how Albania’s vendetta culture keeps kids at home, and the plane used to drop teddy bears over Belarus goes on sale.

by Ioana Caloianu and Ky Krauthamer 18 September 2013

1. Sanctions imminent, Reding warns Croatia


EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding has ramped up her threat to punish Croatia in a dispute over its compliance with the requirements of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW).


Viviane RedingViviane Reding
Reding told reporters that the European Commission triggered the sanctions procedure 13 September, according to EUobserver. The commission could withhold funds for Croatia unless the government acts soon to fully adopt the EAW.


Reding said it was "rather clear" that sanctions would be imposed, although EU members must be consulted before reaching a final decision.


Three days before joining the EU, the Croatian government adopted a law exempting crimes committed before 2002 from the purview of the arrest warrant, a step seen as intended to prevent the extradition to Germany of communist-era Yugoslav secret police chief Josip Perkovic. He is accused of ordering the murder of a defector.


Croatian officials have said the law could be amended by July 2014, an offer seen as foot-dragging by EU officials, EUobserver writes.


"A law which can be changed in a few days before you sign the accession treaty can also be changed back in a few days," Reding said.


Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic insists his country will not bring the July 2014 date forward, EUbusiness reports today.


"We don't want to cheat or trick anyone and we have tried from the beginning to lead a civilized dialogue," Milanovic said.


The Croatian objection is that several other EU members, such as Austria, the Czech Republic, France, Luxembourg, and Slovenia, have also amended the EAW. The commission argues Croatia should have announced its planned amendments prior to accession.


2. Fatmir Limaj acquitted in third war-crimes trial


Fatmir LimajFatmir Limaj
A Kosovo politician and former member of the guerrilla Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) has been acquitted for the third time of war crimes allegedly committed during the 1998-1999 conflict with Serbia. Reuters writes that Fatmir Limaj, known under the fighting name Celik (Steel), was cleared of charges of killing and torturing Serbian prisoners at a detention camp run by the KLA. On 17 September, the presiding judge from the European Union's police and justice mission in Kosovo (EULEX), Malcolm Simons, said the prosecution failed to establish a clear connection from Limaj and his nine co-defendants to the crimes.


Limaj has now been acquitted in three courts of involvement in the crimes that allegedly took place in the central Kosovo village of Klecka. His acquittal last year was overturned by the Supreme Court, Reuters reports.


The charges were based on the testimony of another former KLA member, Agim Zogaj, who was found dead in Germany in September 2011. Simons said Zogaj's diary, which was the main piece of evidence against Limaj, appeared to have been partly written by someone else, and that his account was "contradicted by other evidence."


Reuters notes that Limaj is also facing corruption charges related to his political career as transport minister in the previous government of Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, who is also a former KLA commander.


3. Blood feud tradition keeps Albanian children at home


A new school year began 16 September in Albania. But several hundred children cannot attend school, or even leave home, for fear of being gunned down, innocent victims of the blood feud tradition.


"Most of those children are deprived of any communication, they cannot attend school due to their isolation," said Gjin Marku of the Organization for Reconciliation, a group that works with families caught up in the cycle of vendetta killings, AFP reports.


Marku said 590 children aged 3 to 15 were unable to attend school because of the medieval code that "blood can only be revenged with blood.” Widely practiced in the north of Albania until the mid-20th century, the code allowed a man whose relative had been murdered to take revenge on any male member of the offending family outside his home. After the collapse of communism the blood feud made a comeback. Weak governments were ill-prepared to deal with the problem. Members of some families stayed locked in their homes or left the country.


Authorities last year began a home schooling program for children affected by vendettas, AFP reports.


"We will continue to help those children, but our goal is that they go out so they can attend classes like all the others, at school," Education Minister Lindita Nikolla said.


Government spending on education remains low, at just over 3 percent of gross domestic product, according to UNICEF, despite promises by successive governments to invest more in schools.


4. Saakashvili attacks ruling party’s constitutional meddling


The divisive question of amending the Georgian constitution reared its ahead again this week when President Mikheil Saakashvili asked lawmakers from his United National Movement to vote against amendments tabled by the governing Georgian Dream coalition.


The measures, expected to be debated in parliament this week, would not take effect until Saakashvili's successor is inaugurated, reports. Saakashvili is not running in the 27 October presidential election.


Mikheil SaakashviliMikheil Saakashvili
The touchiest point in the amendments would keep the threshold for passing constitutional changes at the present two-thirds of members of parliament, rather than three-fourths. The higher threshold was approved by a parliament dominated by Saakashvili's party in 2011 but is not slated to go into effect until after a new president takes office.


Retaining the two-thirds threshold would make it easier for Georgian Dream to change the constitution, although it would need support from other parties as the coalition now controls less than two-thirds of the 150-seat legislature, writes.


Georgian Dream also proposed amendments to retain the two-thirds majority vote to override a presidential veto of a constitutional law, strengthen parliament’s role during cabinet reshuffles, and allow holders of dual citizenship to become president, prime minister, or speaker of parliament.


Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili still holds a French passport.


The Council of Europe stepped in with a compromise proposal today, when the two co-rapporteurs for Georgia from the council’s Parliamentary Assembly suggested

retaining the two-thirds majority for constitutional amendments, with the vote subject to confirmation after three months, again by the same majority.


5. Plane used in Belarus teddy bear stunt goes on sale


“Last year some people offered to buy the plane in which we flew over Belarus. … We now finally put it for sale on eBay,” Tomas Mazetti, the Swedish PR agent who used the plane to drop teddy bears over Minsk last year, wrote 17 September in an email to the Belarusian opposition news site Charter 97 and other media.


Bidders have until 24 September to make an offer on the 1968 Jodel single-engine craft, described as being in working condition. At press time, the highest offer was $11,100.


“The only modification is a small hatch in the rear window from where the teddy troopers was dropped. … Profit goes to the struggle for democracy in Belarus,” the description says.


Mazetti said his PR agency, Studio Total, would continue to cooperate with Belarusian free-speech activists, Radio Free Europe reports.


Mazetti and another person, wearing animal masks, made the unauthorized flight from Lithuania into Belarusian airspace on 4 July 2012 and dropped hundreds of teddy bears carrying pro-democracy slogans. President Alyaksandr Lukashenka fired two high-ranking military chiefs and in February a border guard was sentenced to two years in prison for negligence over the incident.


The stunt set off a series of tit-for-tat diplomatic thrusts between Minsk and Stockholm.


Belarus teddy bear planeThe plane carrying Tomas Mazetti and a colleague prepares to drop teddy bears over the town of Ivianiec, near Minsk, on 4 July 2012. Photo from a video by PerCromwell/YouTube

Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor at TOL.
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