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EU Customs Officer Shot Dead in Kosovo, Croatian Anti-Nazi Charged in Mass Killings

Plus, Belarus' strongman sees his hockey dream threatened, and Russians deny Greenpeace access to an Arctic oil rig. by Erik N. Nelson, Barbara Frye, Ioana Caloianu, and Alexander Silady 19 September 2013

1. Member of EU mission in Kosovo shot dead


A member of the EU's law enforcement mission in Kosovo was shot dead early today by an unknown assailant.


The victim was a customs officer from Lithuania who was hit when two vehicles carrying staff members from a customs gate in northern Kosovo came under fire, according to a statement from Bernd Borchardt, the mission's director. The incident happened near Zvecan, where NATO soldiers were injured in November 2011 when they clashed with Serbs who had erected a roadblock to hinder movement of Kosovo and NATO security forces.


The area is inhabited by Serbs, many of whom reject the trappings of officialdom, including border posts and guards, that they say lend legitimacy to Kosovo's claims to statehood. They reject Kosovo's independence and see Western institutions as the de facto new country's primary sponsors.


Serbia and Kosovo agreed on a plan for governance in northern Kosovo in April, allowing for autonomy but dismantling institutions that had been sponsored by Belgrade. The atmosphere is newly charged, as local elections approach in November and some Serbs are calling for a boycott.


The EU mission is meant to foster the rule of law in Kosovo by bolstering the police force and judiciary.


Officials did not release the victim's name, but Borchardt said, "He was young man who leaves behind a wife and family."


2. Croatian ex-minister charged in 1945 killings of Nazi allies


A former minister of interior in Croatia has been charged with ordering mass killings of anti-Communists soon after the end of World War II, according to AFP. In a first for the country, 93-year-old Josip Boljkovac is accused of detaining and killing suspected collaborators of the Nazi-allied Ustasha regime in May and April 1945.


Josip Boljkovac
Boljkovac, who was initially arrested in 2011 along with two other former ranking Croatian officials, denied the allegations, the Associated Press reported at the time.


After World War II, Boljkovac, who had been a member of the Communist guerrilla forces fighting Nazi occupation, allegedly ordered the killing of thousands of anti-Communists in an act of revenge.


Boljkovac served as interior minister in 1990 and 1991.


News of his 2011 arrest was criticized by American Jewish groups, AP reported. The groups registered their "alarm and shock" at the arrest, as Boljkovac was recognized as someone who opposed Nazis and their allies responsible for the deaths of thousands of Jews, Serbs, and Roma in concentration camps.


In 2001, Stjepan Mesic, then Croatia's president, presented an official apology to Israel for the killing of an estimated 30,000 Jews between 1941 and 1945.


However, in 2011 Elan Steinberg, president of an American association of Holocaust Survivors, criticized “Croatia's consistent failure to prosecute criminals of the Nazi-allied Ustasha regime in its midst,” adding that “its action against a fighter who opposed the evil Ustasha forces is hypocritical and unacceptable."


Boljkovac’s lawyer, Anto Nobilo, also insisted that the charges were groundless given that his client never commanded any units. He also called the charges politically motivated, targeting one of those "who are not to the liking" of the ruling conservatives.


3. ‘Last dictator’ in Belarus could be frozen out as hockey host


A pariah in the West for his country's abysmal human rights record, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has been looking toward May, when his country will host the world ice hockey championships. Observers of the political scene there say the president is determined to show the world that Belarus' planned economy is thriving – despite hardship caused by rampant inflation that topped 100 percent in 2011 – and to show his people that he can orchestrate a world-class event.


But he has had to temper expectations recently, as the European Parliament last week called on the International Ice Hockey Federation to reconsider its decision to hold the games in Belarus.


"Belarus is the last dictatorship and the only country in Europe still imposing and executing the death penalty. The judicial process is arbitrary, torture in prisons is not uncommon, and respect for all basic human rights is absent," parliament member Olle Schmidt of Sweden said during the debate, according to a press release.


In response, Lukashenka earlier this week cautioned the event's organizers to prepare for the possibility of "cancellation, boycott, or postponement," Reuters reports.


The news agency says the president "has overseen the construction of 30 ice hockey stadiums in Belarus and this number is expected to grow to 50 before the May championships." Earlier this year, he told parliament that boycott threats were aimed at him personally, but said, "I'll survive," according to Reuters.


The hockey federation holds a semi-annual conference in Portugal today but it has not released a statement in response to the action in Brussels.


4. Russians detain Greenpeace activists in Arctic


Russian coast guard sailors detained two Greenpeace environmental activists 18 September after they attempted to climb up the first offshore oil platform in the Arctic, Reuters reports.


Greenpeace activists scaling the Prirazlomnaya platform. Photo by Denis Sinyakov/Greenpeace.


It was the second time Greenpeace had targeted the Prirazlomnay oil platform in the Barents Sea as a protest against what it calls inevitable environmental damage caused by drilling in the environmentally sensitive area.


Russian energy giant Gazprom, which owns the oil rig, delayed its exploration – citing technical issues – after Greenpeace members boarded the oil platform in August 2012, according to Reuters.


In the recent incident, the Russian Coast Guard fired 11 warning shots across the bow of Greenpeace’s Arctic Sunrise ship and arrested two activists who attempted to climb the rig, Reuters and Bloomberg write.


The group wants to call attention to new offshore drilling in the Arctic, which is expanding as major energy firms such as ExxonMobil, Eni, and Statoil have negotiated deals with Rosneft, Russia’s biggest oil producer, to explore the area for new sources.


While the other companies will take years to get started, Gazprom has already set up shop in the Arctic with what Greenpeace charges is an unsafe, makeshift platform.


“This ancient rig was cobbled together from rusting pieces of decommissioned North Sea rigs, which then sat rusting in Russian shipyards for years before being dragged, construction uncompleted, to where it now sits,” blogs Greenpeace Executive Director Kumi Naidoo.


5. Ukraine defies Russia with approval of preliminary EU pact


Thumbing its nose at Russian strong-arm tactics aimed at keeping Ukraine from getting too cozy with the European Union, the Ukrainian government approved a political association and free trade agreement with the EU 18 September, the BBC reports.


EU ministers said the deal is on track to be formally signed by both sides in November, contingent upon the freeing of jailed opposition party leader and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko as well as other reforms. Ukrainian lawmakers acceded to some EU demands on 5 September when they passed the first group of reforms mandated by the agreement.


The agreement is seen as a step toward EU membership by prominent Ukrainians, and Borys Kolesnykov, a lawmaker from the ruling Party of Regions and one of the 50 richest Ukrainians, said his country's wealthy largely support joining the EU, according to Radio Free Europe.


"The stronger the competition is, the more quickly Ukrainian enterprises will develop," Kolesnykov said.


Russian President Vladimir Putin is against Ukraine's relationship with the EU, urging the country to join the Russia-controlled Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia instead. Putin hopes to expand the Customs Union into a counterpart to the EU that will enable trade and cooperation among Eastern European and Eurasian states without the liberal-democratic standards of the EU, the BBC writes.

Erik N. Nelson is a TOL contributing editor. Barbara Frye is TOL's managing editor. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Alexander Silady is a TOL editorial intern.
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