Kosovo president expects to reach ‘historic’ deal with Serbia this year

Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaci said: ‘The deal between Kosovo and Serbia, which I believe will happen in 2018, will be a historic and comprehensive agreement which will result in Kosovo’s membership of the United Nations.’ (Reuters)
Updated 13 February 2018
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Kosovo president expects to reach ‘historic’ deal with Serbia this year

PRISTINA: Kosovo expects to resolve outstanding issues with Serbia this year by reaching an “historic” agreement that would pave the way for the Balkan country to get a seat at the United Nations, President Hashim Thaci said on Tuesday.
Kosovo seceded a decade ago from Serbia, but its independence has not been recognized by Belgrade, which together with its traditional allies Moscow and Beijing has blocked Pristina’s bid for a UN seat.
As Belgrade moves closer to membership in the European Union, Serbian authorities are under pressure to resolve relations with neighbors including Kosovo.
“The deal between Kosovo and Serbia, which I believe will happen in 2018, will be a historic, a comprehensive agreement which will result in Kosovo’s membership in United Nations,” Thaci told Reuters in an interview.
Serbia lost control over Kosovo in 1999 when NATO waged a bombing campaign to halt killings of ethnic Albanians in a two-year counter-insurgency war. Nearly a decade later, in 2008, Kosovo declared independence, backed by the United States and most of the Western European states.
Kosovo’s independence has been recognized by 115 states so far.
Thaci said the agreement with Serbia would bring full normalization of relations between the former foes, although they may not be required to recognize each other as independent states.
Kosovo’s relations with Western countries was soured by an initiative to scrap a law that established a war crimes court. The initiative was shelved under pressure by Western embassies in Pristina, and the court was set up in 2015, although it has yet to hear a case.
The Specialist Chamber, which has the authority to try ex-Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) guerrillas for alleged atrocities in the war that led to independence from Serbia, is part of Kosovo’s legal system but based in The Hague to minimize the risks of witness intimidation and judicial corruption.
Kosovo’s media have reported that some of the leading Kosovo politicians, including Thaci, who was commander of the KLA, could be indicted by the court or called to testify.
“This was a historic injustice but for the sake of keeping the strategic partnership with the US, EU and NATO we created that (the court),” Thaci said. “Kosovo has nothing to hide.”
Asked what he would do if called to testify as a witness or defendant by the court, he said: “The president or any other citizen of this country has no reason to be afraid.”
“We never violated Kosovo law or international laws. We have fought against a dictator, against a man who committed genocide,” he said, referring to former Yugoslav and Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, who died in 2006 while on trial for war crimes.
The 1.8 million-strong country is preparing for a big celebration on Saturday to commemorate the 10th anniversary of its declaration of independence. Kosovo-born British singer Rita Ora is due to hold a big concert in Pristina.


Over 50,000 Afghan troops deployed to secure election

Updated 26 min 57 sec ago
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Over 50,000 Afghan troops deployed to secure election

  • The Taliban has threatened to disrupt the poll, which has been delayed by more than three years and is viewed as crucial for the country’s stability
  • More than 2,000 polling centers will remain shut on election day due to security threats, the government said

KABUL: The Afghan government has deployed more than 50,000 troops to secure parliamentary elections that will be held on Saturday, officials said on Monday. 

The Taliban has threatened to disrupt the poll, which has been delayed by more than three years and is viewed as crucial for the country’s stability. Afghanistan’s last elections were marred by allegations of widespread rigging. 

“All security arrangements have been made,” said Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danesh.

“We have enough troops to deal with any security threat, and more than 50,000 security personnel — including police, army and intelligence — have been deployed and put on high alert.”

US-led troops will have no direct role in providing security during the voting, but will advise and assist Afghan forces if necessary, officials said.

A wave of attacks have hit election rallies and claimed scores of lives, including at least nine candidates.

More than 2,000 polling centers will remain shut on election day due to security threats, the government said.

Watchdogs and candidates say with the expansion of Taliban control and the spread of Daesh activities, even regions in the north and northeast that were safe during previous polls are now under threat.

“Almost two-thirds of voters in (the northern province of) Faryab will not be able to vote… after insecurity prevented them from registering,” the Afghan Analyst Network (AAN), a foreign-funded think thank, said in a recent report. “In 2014, Faryab province had one of the highest audited turnouts in the country.” 

Voting cannot take place in the central province of Ghazni due to political and tribal tensions, and turnout will be very low in at least four provinces in the southwest that have seen a rise in deadly Taliban attacks in recent days, tribal elders said.

“This year’s parliamentary elections were never going to be easy,” AAN said. “Nationwide, disenchantment with elections themselves, after the disastrous 2014 poll, has been coupled with a resurgent Taliban, who by controlling more districts than four years ago have been able to prevent millions of Afghans from even registering to vote.”

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) said all sensitive and non-sensitive materials have been dispatched to more than 5,000 polling stations, and the transportation of biometric devices will be completed in the coming days.

But some observers and candidates say the biometric devices are not connected to a data center, allowing people to vote multiple times.

Under pressure from political parties, the government bought the devices from abroad in order to hinder election fraud.

They “will make fraud a little harder, but it is still possible,” said civil rights activist Ahmad Shuja.

IEC spokesman Sayed Hafizullah Hashimi said watchdogs, observers and the media will monitor election day.

The Taliban last week urged its fighters to “halt this American-led process throughout the country… while taking… care of civilian Afghan lives and their properties.”

The new US special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, held his first direct talks with the Taliban in Doha on Friday.