‘Serb crimes still fresh in Kosovar memories’ on Recak massacre anniversary

The Yugoslav Wars were marked by frequent mass killings, such as the Rezalle massacre, where 98 Kosovar Albanians were killed by Serbian forces. (AFP)
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The Yugoslav Wars were marked by frequent mass killings, such as the Rezalle massacre, where 98 Kosovar Albanians were killed by Serbian forces. (AFP)
The Yugoslav Wars were marked by frequent mass killings, such as the Rezalle massacre, where 98 Kosovar Albanians were killed by Serbian forces. (AFP)
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The Yugoslav Wars were marked by frequent mass killings, such as the Rezalle massacre, where 98 Kosovar Albanians were killed by Serbian forces. (AFP)
Arife Bilalli (L) pays respect next to the grave of her son during the anniversary of the 1999 Racak massacre on Jan. 15, 2022 in the village of Racak. (AFP)
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Arife Bilalli (L) pays respect next to the grave of her son during the anniversary of the 1999 Racak massacre on Jan. 15, 2022 in the village of Racak. (AFP)
An aerial photograph shows the devastation inflicted on Pristina, the Kosovo capital, by the NATO bombing campaign. (AFP)
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An aerial photograph shows the devastation inflicted on Pristina, the Kosovo capital, by the NATO bombing campaign. (AFP)
An aerial photograph shows the devastation inflicted Serbia's capital, Belgrade by the NATO bombing campaign. (AFP)
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An aerial photograph shows the devastation inflicted Serbia's capital, Belgrade by the NATO bombing campaign. (AFP)
Gen. Henry Shelton, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, briefs the US Senate Armed Services Committee on April 15, 1999, on the campaign in Serbia. (AFP file)
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Gen. Henry Shelton, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, briefs the US Senate Armed Services Committee on April 15, 1999, on the campaign in Serbia. (AFP file)
Kosovo Albanian men comfort each other in front of a commemorative plaque dedicated to the victims of the 1999 Racak massacre on Jan. 15, 2020 in the village of Racak.(AFP)
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Kosovo Albanian men comfort each other in front of a commemorative plaque dedicated to the victims of the 1999 Racak massacre on Jan. 15, 2020 in the village of Racak.(AFP)
A Kosovo Albanian woman visits a memorial dedicated to the victims of the 1999 Racak massacre on Jan. 15, 2022 in the village of Racak. (AFP)
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A Kosovo Albanian woman visits a memorial dedicated to the victims of the 1999 Racak massacre on Jan. 15, 2022 in the village of Racak. (AFP)
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Updated 18 January 2022

‘Serb crimes still fresh in Kosovar memories’ on Recak massacre anniversary

‘Serb crimes still fresh in Kosovar memories’ on Recak massacre anniversary
  • Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Lulzim Mjeku appeals for justice and preservation of peace in the Western Balkans
  • Comments come as Kosovar Albanians mark 23rd anniversary of 1999 killing that spurred NATO intervention

RIYADH: The people of Kosovo want to see more international involvement in the Western Balkans to stem a rising tide of hate speech and preserve peace in a still tense region, its ambassador to Saudi Arabia has told Arab News.

In an interview with Arab News in the run-up to Kosovo’s Independence Day on Feb. 17, Lulzim Mjeku cited a statement issued by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Jan. 14 as Kosovars were preparing to commemorate the 23rd anniversary of the Recak massacre.

The statement said individuals in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and in Serbia, have glorified atrocities, praised war criminals, targeted communities with hate speech and, in some cases, directly incited violence.

 

Mejku said that the OHCHR “called upon the international community to intervene and to take concrete action against hate speech. Unfortunately, we have seen denialism in recent times.” Denialism refers to the practice of rewriting the past and pretending that historical events did not happen as they did.

The incidents the OHCHR was referring to involved large groups of people chanting the name of Ratko Mladic, a Serbian war criminal, while holding torchlight processions and singing nationalistic songs urging the takeover of various locations in the former Yugoslavia.




Kosovo Albanians pay their respects to their relatives and victims of the 1999 Racak massacre in the village of Racak on Jan. 15, 2022. (AFP)

The hate crimes cited by the UN statement occurred in Serbia and in several locations in the Republika Srpska, an entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina northwest of Kosovo. In one incident, shots were fired near a mosque in Janja in northeastern Bosnia, where local Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) were mocked and threatened while returning from prayers.

Muslims populations of the Western Balkans know only too well the ugly history of ethnic hatred. “Forty years ago, the father of Donika Gervalla-Schwarz, Kosovo’s current minister of foreign affairs, was assassinated,” Mejku said, referring to the murders of Jusuf and Bardhosh Gervalla, Kosovar Albanian artists, writers and political activists, allegedly by the Serbian-Yugoslav secret police on January 17, 1982, near Heilbronn, a city in Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany.




The Yugoslav Wars were marked by frequent mass killings, such as the Rezalle massacre, where 98 Kosovar Albanians were killed by Serbian forces. (AFP)

“The gunmen also killed Kadri Zeka, a friend and collaborator of the Gervalla brothers. As dissidents who opposed Serbia’s oppressive regime in Kosovo and worked for their province’s independence, the three activists had been living in exile since 1980. The assassins have never been brought to justice.”

As a young journalist in 1999, Mjeku covered the massacre which occurred on Jan. 15 in Recak, a village in Kosovo. Forty-five people had been shot and their bodies dumped in a ravine outside Recak, apparently by ethnic Serb policemen and soldiers.

Other massacres of Kosovar Albanians followed, including in Krusha in March 1999, Meja on April 27, 1999, and Dubrava prison on May 22, 1999.




Kosovo Albanians pay their respects to their relatives and victims of the 1999 Racak massacre in the village of Racak on Jan. 15, 2022. (AFP)

“As we commemorate this month the 23rd anniversary of the Recak massacre, the horrible crime is still fresh in our memories,” Mjeku told Arab News. “As sad as it may sound, the Republic of Kosovo owes its very existence to the crimes that were committed against the Kosovan people.”

Nikola Sainovic, a former deputy prime minister of Serbia, was among those responsible for spreading widespread terror among the Kosovar Albanian population.




Nikola Sainovic, former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic' right hand during the Serb crackdown in Kosovo, faces trial at the UN War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague in 2002. (AFP)

In 2009, he was convicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed against ethnic Albanian civilians during the Kosovo War. Soon after he was granted early release in 2015, Sainovic was appointed to the board of the Socialist Party of Serbia.

Allegations of war crimes have also dogged members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, the main ethnic Albanian guerrilla force in Kosovo which fought against the Serbs.

After politicians unsuccessfully waged a years-long peaceful struggle for greater autonomy or independence, the KLA launched an armed uprising against Serbian rule in the mainly Muslim Yugoslav province in March 1998.




A French Mirage 2000N participating in the campaign against Serbia refuels from a US Air Force KC-135R tanker over the Adriatic Sea. (AFP/USAF handout photo)

This galvanized a disproportionate response from the Serb political establishment, which did not discriminate between Kosovar Albanian fighters and civilians, sending thousands of refugees into neighboring Albania and North Macedonia.

In response to the escalating violence, notably the Recak massacre, NATO launched a 78-day bombing campaign that eventually forced Serb policemen and soldiers to withdraw from Kosovo.




A "Tomahawk" cruise missile launches from the bow of the US Navy cruiser USS Philippine Sea at targets throughout Yugoslavia and Kosovo on March 24, 1999. (US Navy photo via AFP)

After Yugoslavia accepted a peace proposal in June 1999, NATO ended the bombing campaign and the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1244, suspending Yugoslav rule in Kosovo and forming the United Nations Interim Administration in Kosovo with a NATO peacekeeping element, KFOR.

The cessation of violence brought hope to Kosovars at a time of great despair, paving the way for a new reality and prompting a return of refugees.




An aerial photograph shows the devastation inflicted Serbia's capital, Belgrade by the NATO bombing campaign. (AFP)

Many KLA leaders subsequently moved into politics. Hashim Thaci, a former president of Kosovo and a commander in the KLA, stands accused by a court in the Netherlands of responsibility for almost 100 murders.

Mjeku believes now is the time for diplomacy to take primacy. “During all these years, Kosovo as a country has voted for stability and security, not only for its own population, but also for the wider Balkan region and Europe,” he told Arab News.




Lulzim Mjeku, Kosovo ambassador to Saudi Arabia

Kosovo, a country of almost 2 million people, is 90 percent ethnic Albanian. After nine years under UN control, Kosovo declared independence through its assembly on February 17, 2008. Since then, more than 100 countries have recognized Kosovo.

The US, several EU member states and the GCC countries recognized Kosovo’s independence early on. Today Saudi Arabia, which was among 35 states that submitted statements supporting Kosovo, covers the country on non-residential basis from its embassy in Tirana, Albania

Mjecku said that with the generous assistance of its friends, Kosovo has made progress in healing the wounds of the past. Sixty percent of the population is under the age of 30, and many have little memory of the years of grief and violence, he said.

The Western Balkans is calmer than it was 20 years ago, although ethnic tensions are rising again in advance of elections in Serbia in April, and in Bosnia and Herzegovina in October.




A Kosovo Albanian boy with a traditional hat plays drum in downtown Pristina on Feb. 17, 2020, on the day of 12th anniversary of Kosovo's declaration of independence. (AFP File Photo)

UNMIK, which at its peak fielded more than 50,000 soldiers, is now down to 3,500 men, headquartered in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo. The mission seeks to support a normalization agreement, better known as the Brussels Agreement, between Belgrade and Pristina brokered by the EU in 2013.

“As a young nation, we have made great progress in rebuilding our lives and healing our wounds,” Mjeku told Arab News.

“In this long-term journey, we have not been alone. We have had the assistance of our friendly countries, such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the institutions of our allies, notably the US and the EU.”


UK lawmakers criticize ‘absence’ of Afghan evacuation plan

UK lawmakers criticize ‘absence’ of Afghan evacuation plan
Updated 58 min 10 sec ago

UK lawmakers criticize ‘absence’ of Afghan evacuation plan

UK lawmakers criticize ‘absence’ of Afghan evacuation plan
  • The committee criticized the Foreign Office for the “total absence” of a plan for evacuating Afghans

LONDON: Britain’s withdrawal from Afghanistan was a “disaster and betrayal” hampered by a lack of leadership from senior politicians and civil servants, the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee said in a report released Tuesday.
The committee criticized the Foreign Office for the “total absence” of a plan for evacuating Afghans who supported the UK mission despite knowing for 18 months that such an evacuation might be necessary.
This was compounded by the fact that there seemed to be no clear lines of leadership among political leaders, with decisions made on the basis of “untraceable and unaccountable political interventions,” the committee said in its report.
“The fact that the Foreign Office’s senior leaders were on holiday when Kabul fell marks a fundamental lack of seriousness, grip or leadership at a time of national emergency,” the committee said.
The report was based on an eight-month inquiry during which the committee heard testimony from 20 witnesses and reviewed written evidence from 36 organizations.


Beijing ramps up COVID-19 quarantine, Shanghai residents decry uneven rules

Beijing ramps up COVID-19 quarantine, Shanghai residents decry uneven rules
Updated 24 May 2022

Beijing ramps up COVID-19 quarantine, Shanghai residents decry uneven rules

Beijing ramps up COVID-19 quarantine, Shanghai residents decry uneven rules
  • Chinese vice premier: Situation in Beijing manageable, but containment efforts cannot ease

BEIJING/SHANGHAI: Beijing stepped up quarantine efforts to end its month-old COVID-19 outbreak as fresh signs of frustration emerged in Shanghai, where some bemoaned unfair curbs with the city of 25 million preparing to lift a prolonged lockdown in just over a week.
Even as China’s drastic attempts to eradicate COVID-19 entirely — its “zero-COVID” approach — bite into prospects for the world’s second-biggest economy, new reported infection numbers remain well below levels seen in many Western cities. The capital reported 48 new cases for Monday among its population of 22 million, with Shanghai reporting fewer than 500.
Still, Chinese Vice Premier Sun Chunlan called for more thorough measures to cut virus transmission and adhere to the nation’s zero-COVID-19 policy during an inspection tour in Beijing, state agency Xinhua reported on Tuesday.
The situation in Beijing was manageable, but containment efforts cannot ease, she said, according to Xinhua.
In one example of the stringency of Beijing’s approach, around 1,800 people in one city neighborhood were relocated to Zhangjiakou city in the nearby Hebei province for quarantine, the state-backed Beijing Daily reported.
Still in place are instructions for residents in six of the capital’s 16 districts to work from home, while a further three districts encouraged people to follow such measures, with each district responsible for implementing its own guidelines.
Beijing had already reduced public transport, requesting some shopping malls and other venues to close and sealing buildings where new cases were detected.
In Shanghai, authorities plan to keep most restrictions in place this month, before a more complete lifting of the two-month-old lockdown from June 1. Even then, public venues will have to cap people flows at 75 percent of capacity.
With Shanghai officially declared to be a zero-COVID-19 city, some authorities allowed more people to leave their homes for brief periods over the past week, and more supermarkets and pharmacies were authorized to reopen and provide deliveries.
But other lower-level officials separately tightened restrictions in some neighborhoods, ordering residents back indoors to cement progress achieved so far during the city’s final lap toward exiting the lockdown.
That has led to frustration and complaints of uneven treatment among some residents.
While the zero-COVID-19 status describes the entire city, and residents in some compounds have been allowed to move in and out of their homes freely, others have been told they can only go out for a few hours, and many of those stuck indoors were told nothing.
Videos circulating on social media this week showed residents arguing with officials to be let out of their residential compounds.
The Shanghai government did not immediately respond to a request to comment.
One resident said people in his compound decided on the WeChat social media platform to go out in groups.
“Let’s strike at our gate tonight to demand that we be allowed to go out like many of other compounds in the neighborhood,” he quoted one of his neighbors as saying in the group chat.
A video he shared then showed a group of people arguing at the entrance of the compound with a man who described himself as a sub-district official, who asked the residents to go back inside and discuss the situation.
“Don’t bother with him,” one person said as some people were socialising outside the compound.
People in at least two other compounds were planning to try going outside despite not being told they were allowed to do so, residents said.


FBI counts 61 ‘active shooter’ incidents last year, up 52 percent from 2020

The FBI noted that its active shooter report does not encompass all gun violence or even all mass shootings. (REUTERS)
The FBI noted that its active shooter report does not encompass all gun violence or even all mass shootings. (REUTERS)
Updated 24 May 2022

FBI counts 61 ‘active shooter’ incidents last year, up 52 percent from 2020

The FBI noted that its active shooter report does not encompass all gun violence or even all mass shootings. (REUTERS)
  • The Las Vegas attack alone helped push 2017’s annual casualty toll — 143 killed and 591 wounded — to record highs even though there were only 31 active shooting incidents that year, about half the number in 2021

WASHINGTON: The United States experienced 61 “active shooter” incidents last year, up sharply in the sheer number of attacks, casualties and geographic distribution from 2021 and the highest tally in over 20 years, the FBI reported on Monday.
The 2021 total, spread over 30 states, was 52 percent higher than 2020 and about double each of the three previous years, according to the FBI. The agency defines an active shooter as someone engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a public space in seemingly random fashion.
Commercial businesses accounted for just over half of all such incidents last year, which also was notable for an emerging trend of “roving active shooters” opening fire in multiple locations, as was the case with a gunman who attacked several Atlanta-area day spas, the FBI said.
Last year’s active-shooter carnage left 103 people dead and 140 wounded, the report said. By contrast, the FBI counted 40 active-shooter attacks in 19 states that killed 38 people and wounded 126 in 2020, a year that coincided with the height of restrictions on social and economic life due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Comparisons with recent years are heavily skewed by data from 2017, the year a gunman opened fire on an outdoor music festival in Las Vegas from a high-rise hotel window, killing 56 people and wounding hundreds more in a single incident.
The Las Vegas attack alone helped push 2017’s annual casualty toll — 143 killed and 591 wounded — to record highs even though there were only 31 active shooting incidents that year, about half the number in 2021.
As high as last year’s death toll was, it ranks as only the seventh deadliest year in active shooting incidents dating back to 2000, the first year for which FBI figures are available. Still, it marks the biggest number of such attacks on record, exceeding only the 40 recorded in 2020.
California, despite having some of the nation’s toughest gun laws, accounted for more active shooter incidents than any other state last year, six out of 61, followed by Texas and Georgia with five each, according to the report.
The single deadliest incident of 2021 was the mass shooting at the Kings Soopers Grocery Store in Boulder, Colorado, in which 10 victims perished. Eight were killed and seven wounded at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis.
The FBI noted that its active shooter report does not encompass all gun violence or even all mass shootings, which the government defines as at least killings in a single incident.
Excluded from the data were gang- or drug-related acts of violence, incidents defined strictly as domestic disputes, isolated hostage situations or crossfire from other criminal acts, the FBI said.


South Asia’s intense heat wave a ‘sign of things to come’

South Asia’s intense heat wave a ‘sign of things to come’
Updated 24 May 2022

South Asia’s intense heat wave a ‘sign of things to come’

South Asia’s intense heat wave a ‘sign of things to come’
  • Current level of global warming, caused by human-caused climate change, has made those heat waves 30 times more likely
  • Heat wave blamed for glacier burst in Pakistan, causing floods, and scorching of wheat crops in India

NEW DELHI: The devastating heat wave that has baked India and Pakistan in recent months was made more likely by climate change and is a glimpse of the region’s future, international scientists said in a study released Monday.
The World Weather Attribution group analyzed historical weather data that suggested early, long heat waves that impact a massive geographical area are rare, once-a-century events. But the current level of global warming, caused by human-caused climate change, has made those heat waves 30 times more likely.
If global heating increases to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) more than pre-industrial levels, then heat waves like this could occur twice in a century and up to once every five years, said Arpita Mondal, a climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai, who was part of the study.
“This is a sign of things to come,” Mondal said.
The results are conservative: An analysis published last week by the United Kingdom’s Meteorological Office said the heat wave was probably made 100 times more likely by climate change, with such scorching temperatures likely to reoccur every three years.
The World Weather Attribution analysis is different as it is trying to calculate how specific aspects of the heat wave, such as the length and the region impacted, were made more likely by global warming. “The real result is probably somewhere between ours and the (UK) Met Office result for how much climate change increased this event,” said Friederike Otto, a climate scientist at the Imperial College of London, who was also a part of the study.
What is certain, though, is the devastation the heat wave has wreaked. India sweltered through the hottest March in the country since records began in 1901 and April was the warmest on record in Pakistan and parts of India. The effects have been cascading and widespread: A glacier burst in Pakistan, sending floods downstream; the early heat scorched wheat crops in India, forcing it to ban exports to nations reeling from food shortages due to Russia’s war in Ukraine; it also resulted in an early spike in electricity demand in India that depleted coal reserves, resulting in acute power shortages affecting millions.
Then there is the impact on human health. At least 90 people have died in the two nations, but the region’s insufficient death registration means that this is likely an undercount. South Asia is the most affected by heat stress, according to an analysis by The Associated Press of a dataset published Columbia University’s climate school. India alone is home to more than a third of the world’s population that lives in areas where extreme heat is rising.
Experts agree the heat wave underscores the need for the world to not just combat climate change by cutting down greenhouse gas emissions, but to also adapt to its harmful impacts as quickly as possible. Children and the elderly are most at risk from heat stress, but its impact is also inordinately bigger for the poor who may not have access to cooling or water and often live in crowded slums that are hotter than leafier, wealthier neighborhoods.
Rahman Ali, 42, a ragpicker in an eastern suburb of the Indian capital New Delhi earns less than $3 a day by collecting waste from people’s homes and sorting it to salvage whatever can be sold. It’s backbreaking work and his tin-roofed home in the crowded slum offers little respite from the heat.
“What can we do? If I don’t work...we won’t eat,” said the father of two.
Some Indian cities have tried to find solutions. The western city of Ahmedabad was the first in South Asia to design a heat wave plan for its population of over 8.4 million, all the way back in 2013. The plan includes an early warning system that tells health workers and residents to prepare for heat waves, empowers administrations to keep parks open so that people can shade and provides information to schools so they’re able to tweak their schedules.
The city has also been trying to “cool” roofs by experimenting with various materials absorb heat differently. Their aim is to build roofs that’ll reflect the sun and bring down indoor temperatures by using white, reflective paint or cheaper materials like dried grass, said Dr. Dileep Mavalankar, who heads the Indian Institute of Public Health in western Indian city Gandhinagar and helped design the 2013 plan.
Most Indian cities are less prepared and India’s federal government is now working with 130 cities in 23 heat wave-prone states for them to develop similar plans. Earlier this month, the federal government also asked states to sensitize health workers on managing heat-related illnesses and ensure that ice packs, oral rehydration salts, and cooling appliances in hospitals were available.
But Mavalankar, who wasn’t part of the study, pointed to the lack of government warnings in newspapers or TV for most Indian cities and said that local administrations had just not “woken up to the heat.”
 


WHO says no urgent need for mass monkeypox vaccinations

The logo of the World Health Organization is seen at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. (AP file photo)
The logo of the World Health Organization is seen at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. (AP file photo)
Updated 24 May 2022

WHO says no urgent need for mass monkeypox vaccinations

The logo of the World Health Organization is seen at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. (AP file photo)
  • The primary measures to control the outbreak are contact tracing and isolation, Pebody said, noting that it is not a virus that spreads very easily, nor has it so far caused serious disease

LONDON: The World Health Organization does not believe the monkeypox outbreak outside of Africa requires mass vaccinations as measures like good hygiene and safe sexual behavior will help control its spread, a senior official said on Monday.
Richard Pebody, who leads the high-threat pathogen team at WHO Europe, also told Reuters in an interview that immediate supplies of vaccines and antivirals are relatively limited.
His comments came as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it was in the process of releasing some Jynneos vaccine doses for use in monkeypox cases.
Germany’s government said on Monday that it was assessing options for vaccinations, while Britain has offered them to some health care workers.
Public health authorities in Europe and North America are investigating more than 100 suspected and confirmed cases of the viral infection in the worst outbreak of the virus outside of Africa, where it is endemic.
The primary measures to control the outbreak are contact tracing and isolation, Pebody said, noting that it is not a virus that spreads very easily, nor has it so far caused serious disease. The vaccines used to combat monkeypox can have some significant side-effects, he added.
It is unclear what is driving the outbreak, with scientists trying to understand the origin of the cases and whether anything about the virus has changed. There is no evidence the virus has mutated, a senior executive at the UN agency said separately on Monday.
Many — but not all — of the people who have been diagnosed in the current monkeypox outbreak have been men who have sex with men. But that may be because this demographic is likely to seek medical advice or access sexual health screening more readily, the WHO said earlier in the day.
Most of the confirmed cases have not been linked to travel to Africa, which suggests there may be large amounts of undetected cases, said Pebody. Some health authorities suspect there is some degree of community spread.
“So we’re only seeing ... the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
Given the pace of the outbreak, and lack of clarity around what is driving it, there has been worry that large events and parties this summer could make things much worse.
“I’m not saying to people don’t have a good time, don’t go to attend these events,” Pebody said.
“It’s rather around what people do at the parties that matters. So it’s about safe sexual behavior, good hygiene, regular hand washing — all these sorts of things will help to limit the transmission of this virus.”