Kosovo to review ties with Serbia after ex-PM’s arrest

Protesters hold a combined US and Albanian flag and placards during a protest by Kosovo Albanians in front of the French Embassy in Pristina on Friday. (AFP)
Updated 06 January 2017
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Kosovo to review ties with Serbia after ex-PM’s arrest

PRISTINA/BELGRADE: Kosovo Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj said on Friday his country had retaliated against neighboring Serbia and would do so again after an ex-prime minister was arrested in France on a warrant issued by Belgrade.
The arrest on Wednesday of Ramush Haradinaj, a guerrilla commander in the 1998-99 war against Serbian rule who served briefly as prime minister in 2004 and 2005, has heightened tensions between the Balkan neighbors.
Kosovo accused Serbia of wanting to provoke “tensions and conflicts” in the Balkans, following the arrest in France of its former premier.
Belgrade accuses Haradinaj of war crimes against civilians in the late 1990s, when he led ethnic Albanian insurgents fighting Serbian forces for Kosovo’s independence.
Kosovo seceded from Serbia in 2008. Both states want to join the European Union membership but Brussels says they must normalize relations before their applications can go ahead. Kosovo opposition parties have called for their EU-mediated dialogue to be halted.
“Yesterday we took reciprocal measures with Nikolic (and) we will do that again in the future,” Hoxhaj told reporters in Pristina. “There has to be a revision of our relations with Serbia and a revision of the dialogue.”
Also on Friday, ethnic Albanian protesters in the western town of Gjakova — mostly families of those killed by Serb forces during the 1998-99 conflict — stoned a bus that was carrying ethnic Serb pilgrims marking Orthodox Christmas Eve.
Hoxhaj said Serbia had issued more international arrest warrants for Kosovo citizens, limiting their travel abroad.
Serbia does not recognize Kosovo as an independent state and together with its ally Russia is blocking Pristina’s efforts to join the United Nations and other international institutions.
Haradinaj, who appeared before a French court on Thursday, will remain in prison until Serbia makes a formal extradition order, which will then be examined by the court.
Serbia has charged Haradinaj with murdering Serbs in the late 1990s war. That conflict ended after NATO bombed Serbia for 11 weeks to compel it to withdraw forces that had killed some 10,000 members of Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority in counter-insurgency operations.
Thousands of Haradinaj’s party supporters gathered in front of the French Embassy in Pristina on Friday holding US and Albanian flags under heavy snow. “Do not offend Kosovo” one banner read.
The government is calling on French authorities to release the former prime minister who has been detained facing possible extradition to Serbia to face war crimes charges.
A French court Thursday ruled that Haradinaj, detained a day earlier, should stay in custody until it decides whether to turn him over to Serbian officials.
Kosovo Prime Minister Isa Mustafa on Friday urged “the French government to take into consideration that such warrants are fully political and have no legal or juridical base.”
France’s Foreign Ministry has refused to comment on Kosovo’s call for Haradinaj’s release.
Twice tried and acquitted, Haradinaj was detained on Wednesday as he arrived at the Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg airport, located near the Swiss and German borders, under an international arrest warrant issued by Serbia’s judiciary in 2004.

At a Cabinet meeting on Friday, Kosovo’s Prime Minister Isa Mustafa expressed “the government’s concern over this arrest and the judicial proceedings.”
Belgrade’s motivations are “political and unfriendly,” Mustafa said, adding that such arrest warrants were “completely illegal and unjust” with the consequence of “provoking tensions and conflicts, and damaging the European (integration) process in the region.”
Some 13,000 people were killed in the 1998-1999 war in Kosovo, a former province of Serbia that is largely ethnic Albanian.
In 2008 Kosovo unilaterally declared independence but its sovereignty is not recognized by Belgrade or Moscow.
A European-Union brokered agreement was reached in 2013 to “normalize” relations between Belgrade and Pristina.
The normalization process is opposed by Haradinaj but backed by his former companion in arms, President Hashim Thaci.
Briefly prime minister in 2004-2005, Haradinaj now leads an opposition political party.
On Friday, several hundred war veterans protested against his arrest in front of the French embassy in Pristina, carrying banners reading: “Haradinaj is Kosovo” and “Seek criminals in Serbia.”
“We are protesting against France for carrying out Serbian arrest orders. We expect France to release him as soon as possible,” said former pro-independence fighter Binak Sylaj, 44.
On Twitter, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama described the arrest of Haradinaj as an “absurdity.”
The French court says it is awaiting the formal extradition request from Serbia before it sets a date for a hearing.
Haradinaj, 48, a guerrilla fighter in Kosovo’s 1998-1999 war for independence from Serbia and now an opposition political leader, is accused by Serbia of committing kidnappings, torture and killings against Serb civilians when he was a senior rebel commander in western Kosovo.
Hundreds of former Kosovo guerrilla fighters and supporters from opposition parties staged a protest outside the French embassy to call for Haradinaj’s release.
In Belgrade, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic on Thursday expressed hope France would extradite Haradinaj and would not let politics override legal matters.
In a message Friday on Facebook, Haradinaj deplored that France would “still respect decisions of (Slobodan) Milosevic’s former regime.”
Haradinaj was cleared of war crimes charges in two lengthy trials by a UN war crimes tribunal. Two years ago Haradinaj was detained in Slovenia at Belgrade’s request, but later released.
“I have a message for Serbia’s friends within Kosovo and abroad: Kosovo’s road to statehood cannot be stopped by anyone,” he said.
Mustafa said the government is planning to take measures if “Serbia, misusing the international law and order mechanism, continues the application of such politically unacceptable and immoral acts to Kosovo’s activists and fighters for freedom.”


Some see signs of hope on North Korea as Trump heads to UN

Updated 22 September 2018
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Some see signs of hope on North Korea as Trump heads to UN

  • In the year since Trump’s searing, debut UN speech fueled fears of nuclear conflict with North Korea
  • The two leaders have turned from threats to flattery

WASHINGTON:North Korea’s Kim Jong Un is “little rocket man” no more. President Donald Trump isn’t a “mentally deranged US dotard.”
In the year since Trump’s searing, debut UN speech fueled fears of nuclear conflict with North Korea, the two leaders have turned from threats to flattery.
And there’s fresh hope that the US president’s abrupt shift from coercion to negotiation can yield results in getting Kim to halt, if not abandon, his nuclear weapons program.
Trump will address world leaders at the United Nations on Tuesday on the back of an upbeat summit between South and North Korea, where Kim promised to dismantle a major rocket launch site and the North’s main nuclear complex at Nyongbyon if it gets some incentive from Washington.
North Korea remains a long, long way from relinquishing its nuclear arsenal, and the US has been adding to, not easing, sanctions. Yet the past 12 months have seen a remarkable change in atmosphere between the adversaries that has surprised even the former US envoy on North Korea.
“If someone had told me last year that North Korea will stop nuclear tests, will stop missile tests and that they will release the remaining American prisoners and that they would be even considering dismantling Nyongbyon, I would have taken that in a heartbeat,” said Joseph Yun, who resigned in March and has since left the US foreign service.
Since Trump and Kim held the first summit between US and North Korean leaders in Singapore in June, Trump has missed no chance to praise “Chairman Kim,” and Kim has expressed “trust and confidence” in the American president he once branded “senile.”
But progress has been slow toward the vague goal they agreed upon — denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which has eluded US presidents for the past quarter-century. The US wants to achieve that by January 2021, when Trump completes his first term in office.
Although Kim won’t be going to New York next week, meetings there could prove critical in deciding whether a second Trump-Kim summit will take place any time soon.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has invited his North Korean counterpart Ri Yong Ho for a meeting in New York, and Trump will be consulting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, fresh from his third summit with Kim this year. It was at that meeting in Pyongyang that the North Korean leader made his tantalizing offers to close key facilities of his weapons programs that have revived prospects for US-North Korea talks.
Yun, who spoke to reporters Friday at the United States Institute for Peace in Washington, said the US goal of achieving denuclearization in just two years is unrealistic, but the offer to close Nyongbyon, where the North has plutonium, uranium and nuclear reprocessing facilities, is significant and offers a way forward.
That’s a far cry from last September. After Trump’s thunderous speech, Yun’s first thought was on the need to avoid a war. The president vowed to “totally destroy North Korea” if the US was forced to defend itself or its allies against the North’s nukes. “Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself and his regime,” the president said.
His blunt talk triggered an extraordinary, almost surreal, exchange of insults. Kim issued a harshly worded statement from Pyongyang, dubbing the thin-skinned Trump a “mentally deranged US dotard.” A day later, the North’s top diplomat warned it could test explode a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean.
Tensions have eased hugely since then, and cracks have emerged in the international consensus on pressuring North Korea economically to get it to disarm.
The US accuses Russia of allowing illicit oil sales to North Korea. Trump has also criticized China, which has fraternal ties with the North and is embroiled in a trade war with the US, for conducting more trade with its old ally. Sanctions could even become a sore point with South Korea. Moon is eager to restart economic cooperation with North Korea to cement improved relations on the divided peninsula.
All that will increase pressure on Washington to compromise with Pyongyang — providing the incentives Kim seeks, even if the weapons capabilities he’s amassed violate international law. He’s likely eying a declaration on formally ending the Korean War as a marker of reduced US “hostility” and sanctions relief.
That could prove politically unpalatable in Washington just as it looks for Kim to follow through on the denuclearization pledge he made in Singapore.
Frank Aum, a former senior Pentagon adviser on North Korea, warned tensions could spike again if the US does not see progress by year’s end, when the US would typically need to start planning large-scale military drills with South Korea that North Korea views as war preparations. Trump decided to cancel drills this summer as a concession to Kim.
“Things can flip pretty quickly,” Aum said. “We’ve seen it going from bad to good and it could fairly quickly go back to the bad again.”