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The EU is stepping up pressure on Kosovo to agree to a tribunal to adjudicate war crimes cases involving members of the Kosovo Liberation Army.
The impetus for the court comes from a 2010 report by human rights watchdog the Council of Europe that alleged that during the Kosovo war leaders of the KLA ordered the harvesting and sale of organs from kidnapped Serbs and that they “ran organized criminal enterprises, including an ad hoc network of detention facilities on the territory of Albania,” according to Balkan Insight.
Among those accused in the report were Kosovo’s current prime minister, Hashim Thaci, and Shaip Muja, now a member of parliament.
The court “is an admission of failure by the West to hold its ethnic Albanian allies accountable for war crimes,” the Associated Press wrote last week. It is expected to start proceedings by next year, the news service reports, citing a senior EU official.
The court would sit in Kosovo but foreign jurists would preside. In January, 17 judges from the EU’s rule of law mission in Kosovo urged that cases of war crimes, “serious corruption, and organized crime” not be handed over to local judges, Balkan Insight reports.
Sensitive cases would also be heard outside Kosovo, where witness intimidation has hindered past prosecutions, the AP reports.
Christopher Lamont, an assistant professor of international relations at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, told Balkan Insight that despite efforts by the international community to improve judicial procedures in Kosovo, “the absence of political will to investigate and prosecute high-profile cases has meant that investigations that are politically problematic, from the perspective of potentially targeting one’s own side in the conflict, are just not a priority for local courts.”
Kosovo has not yet agreed to the EU-funded court, but if it resists the matter could go to the UN Security Council to decide, a step President Atifete Jahjaga said “would be considered damaging for Kosovo.”
Kazakhstan is seeking alternative routes for its oil exports, bracing for the possibility that the West will strengthen sanctions against its ally and oil transit partner Russia, Reuters reports.
“We don't know what sort of sanctions there can be,” Kazakh Oil and Gas Minister Uzakbai Karabalin told parliament, according to the news agency. “If our exports are curbed in any way, this can be done mainly along Russia-bound routes. In this case our oil exports will decrease, and we should think better about other options.”
Kazakhstan ranks second to Russia among oil producers in the former Soviet region with a yield of 81.7 million tons last year, of which about 22 million tons were transported via Russian pipelines or ports, Reuters writes.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, a pipeline stretching from northwestern Kazakhstan to Russia’s Novorossiysk port on the Black Sea carried an average of 614,000 barrels of oil per day in 2012, although, as Reuters notes, not all of it was from Kazakhstan. Another Russian pipeline that carries oil from Kazakhstan to Russian ports and pipeline networks in northern, Eastern, and Central Europe adds 600,000 barrels per day of capacity.
That compares with a Kazakhstan-China oil pipeline with a capacity of only 252,000 barrels per day, although it is being expanded to accommodate 400,000 barrels per day, according to the U.S. agency. Kazakhstan also ships up to 500,000 barrels per day of oil through a pipeline stretching from Azerbaijan to Turkey.
A source close to Kazakhstan's state-run oil company, KazMunaiGas, said the firm may consider focusing on the Chinese markets, rerouting exports to the Eastern Siberia-Pacific Ocean pipeline, Reuters writes.
According to Radio Free Europe, Karabalin, the oil minister, also said the country will have to focus more on the Azerbaijan-Turkey pipeline and could cooperate with Iran as well.
"We are watching attentively how [the West's] attitude is warming toward Iran," he said, according to Reuters. "If sanctions against Iran are lifted, we have a well-established route from [the Kazakh port city of] Aktau to the [Iranian] port of Neka.”
Hewlett-Packard has acknowledged its Polish, Russian, and Mexican branches committed bribery to obtain lucrative contracts and the computing giant will pay $108 million to resolve a U.S. corruption probe, Reuters reports.
Thirty-eight people in Poland, including a former deputy interior minister, have been charged with bribery in the case, Polskie Radio reports.
Prosecutors said that between 2006 and 2010, “HP paid more than $600,000 in bags of cash and HP products as bribes in Poland,” according to Reuters.
According to Zbigniew Jaskolski, a spokesman for the Appellate Prosecutors' office in Warsaw, the IT contracts in his country were worth a total of $39.71 million.
A former HP executive in Poland and a former government official, whose full names were not disclosed, are facing charges that carry prison sentences of two to 12 years, Jaskolski said, according to Reuters.
The U.S. Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission had charged the company with violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
Poland’s interior minister, Bartlomiej Sienkiewicz, called the investigation a “great triumph” for the country’s Central Anti-Corruption Bureau and a “breakthrough moment for Poland,” Polskie Radio reports.
HP executive vice president and general counsel John Schultz said in a statement that the firm cooperated fully with the investigation. “The misconduct described in the settlement was limited to a small number of people who are no longer employed by the company," Schultz said, according to Reuters.
The leaders of Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Russia are moving forward with plans to sign the founding treaty of the Eurasian Economic Union in May, even as they argue over key points governing the free trade area, Belarus Digest reports.
Belarus and Kazakhstan could be looking to wrest more concessions from Russia as Moscow relies more heavily on the union to offset its growing international isolation, according to the website.
Specifically, Kazakhstan wants an end to restrictions on its access to Russian pipelines, and Belarus wants to keep the $3 billion to $4 billion in export duties it now sends to Moscow annually after it sells goods produced from Russian oil to third countries.
For its part, Russia wants its partners to drop trade barriers on goods including medicine, tobacco, alcohol, and seafood.
Citing Eurasian Economic Commission President Viktor Khristenko, Belarus Digest writes that the Customs Union, a forerunner of the Eurasian Economic Union, “still has about 600 exemptions that restrict the free movement of goods, services, capital, and labor” among the three countries.
Belarus and Kazakhstan also want to be consulted more in negotiations with prospective new members such as Armenia, which is preparing to join the trading bloc.
Keeping to the May deadline to sign the treaty will mean that many issues will have to be worked out afterward.
Alexander Dzasokhov, a member of the board of trustees of the Russian Council on International Affairs, defended what seems to some like a rush to integrate, especially compared with the decades it took for the EU to cohere.
Dzasokhov told the Itar-TASS news agency that the key difference is that “50 years ago European countries found themselves with their backs turned on each other. But we have behind ourselves – not in archives but in the memories of people living now – a vast experience of joint fate within a single state.”
A move is under way on social media in Croatia to boycott 35 shops and businesses owned by ethnic Serbs in Vukovar, a flashpoint in the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s, Dalje.com reports.
The boycott is championed by opponents of a national law requiring the town to use both the Latin and Cyrillic alphabets on public signs. Croatian is written in the Latin alphabet, Serbian in the Cyrillic.
Ethnically mixed cities in Croatia must display bilingual signs in the alphabet and language of a minority group if it makes up more 30 percent of that city’s population. Although Serbs represent around 35 percent of Vukovar’s population, the city council voted in November to exempt Vukovar from the requirement because of the heavy damage it suffered at the hands of Yugoslav troops in 1991.
Cyrillic signs nevertheless have been placed on government buildings, and they have been subject to theft and vandalism.
Croatian Serb lawmaker Milorad Pupovac called the boycott proposal “horrendous,” likening it to tactics used by the Nazis, Fascists, and Croatia’s Nazi-allied Ustasha regime.
A group called Headquarters for the Defense of Vukovar is pushing a referendum to have the minority-population threshold increased to 50 percent. A committee in the Croatian parliament was set to debate the referendum proposal the day after the boycott calls surfaced, Pupovac noted.
The fall of communism brought with it expectations of an unfettered press safeguarding the young democracies of Central and Eastern Europe. But for the region's media, the past quarter-century has turned out to be much less uplifting. From oligarch-controlled television stations to politically partisan newspapers, from woeful ethical standards to outright corruption, the media often fall far short of acting as independent watchdogs over their societies, despite the existence of some scrappy publications and feisty reporters willing to uncover official wrongdoing and expose poor governance. If that weren't enough, the region's press has been hit hard by the same trends transforming the media around the world, including an explosion of alternative forms of entertainment, the growth of social media, decreased advertising revenues associated with the rise of the Internet, and general economic malaise. Get your copy here.