Send the prisoners home
UNMIK head Hans Hækkerup appealed to the government in Belgrade on Wednesday for the immediate release of Kosovo Albanian prisoners. Regarding the proposed amnesty, under consideration by the Yugoslav parliament, he urged the FRY authorities to release all those covered by the amnesty that he said he hoped would be adopted soon, in accordance with the principles of international law.
"Those prisoners who would not fall within the scope of the Amnesty Law should be returned to Kosovo, where they will have their cases processed through a judicial review in Kosovo conducted under the supervision of UNMIK," he said today. "UNMIK would make sure that this review would be initiated immediately, according to international human rights and judicial standards."
Leaders of Kosovo's three main parties supported the appeal. "The prisoners' issue continues to remain one that should be settled without conditions," said Naim Jerliu of the main Democratic League of Kosovo, a sentiment echoed by the other leaders.
Kosovo Albanian lawyer Teki Bokshi, who has been dealing with the prisoner question consistently, said that the amnesty law in Serbia is not effective because it does not include all the Albanian prisoners. "Only persons with short prison terms have been included," he said.
The amnesty law has been sent to the Serbian parliament for approval and it is expected that it will pass at the beginning of February. Mr Bokshi said that out of 680 Albanians still held in prisons only 250 would be released with the amnesty law.
"The SRSG is saying today that this is not enough. We want all the people returned, to be processed here in Kosovo," said UNMIK spokeswoman Susan Manuel.
Taxes are on the way back
The Kosovo Transitional Council (KTC) headed by the Secretary General Special Representative, UNMIK head, Hans Hækkerup has been holding discussions about Kosovo's budget for 2001.
The Central Fiscal Authority discussed means by which two thirds of the 2001 Budget can be raised domestically. Total revenues and expenditures are expected to be DEM 730 million. The budget will be bigger than last year, something that could be considered as good news for Kosovo's future.
Albanian KTC members asked that the budget include extra measures for pensioners, invalids, orphans and families of the war martyrs. They asked for special funding for the Albanological Institute, for institutes of history, the Academy of Sciences and Art, and so on.
Putting back the law
UNMIK head Hans Hækkerup stated his preference that the team of experts compiling the legal basis for Kosovo's future status should be led by an expert in international law. The most important task for the new body is to devise a framework of constitutional law and the provisional constitution that will be necessary before general elections can be held.
But the international community also hopes that most of the team will be made up of local Albanian and also representatives of minorities.
Kouchner speaks out
Former UNMIK head Bernard Kouchner said that with the coming to power of Yugoslav President Vojislav Koštunica a lot has changed for Serbs and the international community. But nothing has improved for Albanians, he said, who now seem forgotten by the international community.
Kouchner made his impassioned speech at the European Parliament, where he had been invited to talk about his time in Kosovo.
"During these seven days since I left Pristine I have noticed that Europe has forgotten Kosovo. The territory is not seen as a problem anymore. The main reason for that is the change of regime in Belgrade. The West's enemy Number One has fallen and for the West it seems that everything has changed," said Kouchner.
But meanwhile, he continued, Albanian prisoners are still held in Serb prisons and the fate of 3000 to 7000 other Albanians is not known. He also expressed his view that it is still too early for Kosovo Albanians to talk with Koštunica. Furthermore, he repeated that general elections should be held in Kosovo as soon as possible.
International workers still being targeted
Two unknown male suspects attacked an international employee of "OSCE," striking the victim in the head with an iron pipe as he attempted to enter his accommodation after work, reported United Nations Police spokesman Derek Chapel on Wednesday. The nationality of the victim was not revealed.
The suspects then fled. The victim was treated for his injuries. The circumstances of the incident are under investigation. The OSCE said his life was no longer threatened. "His condition is improving and he is out of danger," OSCE spokeswoman Laura O'Mahony said.
Bajram Rexhepi, Mitrovica's main Albanian figure since June 1999, said on Tuesday that he does not intend to take part in a meeting in London on the divided city.
"I believe that we do not have the capacity to talk about Mitrovica's major issues. Mitrovica is a political problem and this should be discussed at the Parliament, which will be formed after proper elections," said Rexhepi, who was the town mayor until the local election last October.
Mitrovica's British administrator Anthony Welch took the initiative for the meeting. He invited three Albanian and three Serb representatives to London in the hope that a better atmosphere might prevail.
"The purpose of the meeting is for the leaders of both sides to discuss their problems, including security, criminal acts, police, water supply, town cleaning and other issues concerning Mitrovica," said UNMIK Mitrovica spokesman Michael Keats.
"The issues of Mitrovica should be debated at the municipal Assembly, where the appointed Serbs will also have a voice," said Rexhepi.
Yanks don't go home
Kosovo Albanian politicians warned that a US military pullout would have severe consequences for the Balkans. "Without US troops on the ground, there can be no real peace in Kosovo," said Ramush Haradinaj, leader of the Alliance for Kosovo's Future and a former Kosovo Liberation Army commander. "In many ways, the Kosovo Albanians trust the American troops more than any other forces" in the NATO-dominated multinational peacekeeping force in the Yugoslav province, Haradinaj said.
Haradinaj also said that the coming general elections could not be held in Kosovo this spring, as had been officially proposed until now. He said they would probably be held in autumn, as the OSCE needed at least four months to prepare them.
"Kosovo's independence is the will of its people," he said, and declared his conviction that independence would be achieved in the future. "But it will be achieved after the creation of the institutions of a real state in Kosovo. Kosovo's parliament will be very meaningful for us."
More border arrests
On Monday, KFOR soldiers in eastern Kosovo arrested six Albanians who they suspected as members of the Liberation Army Preševo, Medveđe and Bujanovac (UÇPMB), KFOR spokesman Richard Kusak revealed on Tuesday.
The spokesman said the Albanians were arrested trying to cross the border into Serbia at the village of Vernezë. They were then sent to the US-run Bondsteel camp while investigations continued. Kusak said between 70 and 85 Albanians were being kept under arrest because of alleged links with the UÇPMB.
European Union foreign ministers have decided to send two teams of monitors to the Preševo valley in order to collect further information. "The situation at the Presevo valley is very tense," said Javier Solana, head of the EU foreign relations commission, who made also a visit to Kosovo this week.
Kosovo Albanian politicians hailed the decision, saying it could be a further step to bringing peace to the region.
And in other news...
- The Macedonian government agreed on Wednesday to establish diplomatic relations with the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). A spokesman for the Macedonian foreign ministry said the main purpose of the office would be "defining the status and the relating work of UNMIK with Macedonia."
- Albania and Kosovo have agreed a bilateral cooperation deal for the fields of art, culture and sport. The agreement, signed on Monday in Tirana, Albania by the Albanian minister Esmeralda Uruçi and a delegation of the Kosovo appropriate department, promotes the exchange of experiences in the spheres of art and recreation, and should lead to the holding of many different activities on both sides of the border.
- The United Nations Secretary General envoy to the Balkans, the Swedish statesman Carl Bildt, said there was a need to create the final framework for the negotiation of a definite solution to the Kosovo problem. He said that the framework for that would still be the UN Resolution 1244 but ethnic communities and political parties should find the proper ways to reach a final and negotiated solution to all their problems.
Llasar Semini, 25 January 2001
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