‘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.”


Putin says new military infrastructure in Finland, Sweden would demand reaction

Putin says new military infrastructure in Finland, Sweden would demand reaction
Updated 6 sec ago

Putin says new military infrastructure in Finland, Sweden would demand reaction

Putin says new military infrastructure in Finland, Sweden would demand reaction
  • Russian leader says NATO’s expansion is a problem for Moscow
President Vladimir Putin on Monday said Russia had no issue with Finland and Sweden, but that the expansion of military infrastructure on their territory would demand a reaction from Moscow, as the Nordic countries move closer to joining NATO.
Putin, speaking in Moscow at a summit of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), said NATO’s expansion was a problem for Russia and that it must look closely at what he said were the US-led military alliance’s plans to increase its global influence.

Tokyo COVID-19 curbs declared illegal in ‘Kill Bill’ restaurant case

Tokyo COVID-19 curbs declared illegal in ‘Kill Bill’ restaurant case
Updated 16 May 2022

Tokyo COVID-19 curbs declared illegal in ‘Kill Bill’ restaurant case

Tokyo COVID-19 curbs declared illegal in ‘Kill Bill’ restaurant case
  • The orders, enacted in the capital during various states of emergency, included shortened operating hours and a ban on alcohol sales

TOKYO: Japan’s “Kill Bill” restaurant operator prevailed in a court case on Monday that declared Tokyo’s now defunct COVID-19 infection curbs were illegal.
The orders, enacted in the capital during various states of emergency, included shortened operating hours and a ban on alcohol sales, though there was a compensating government subsidy. Businesses that didn’t comply were subject to fines.
Global-Dining Inc, which runs more than 40 restaurants, defied the restrictions, taking the city government to court over the matter.
The district court said the Tokyo government had not provided a “rational explanation” for the measures. The court determined they had been illegal but it denied Global-Dining’s claim for $0.80 (¥104) in damages.
The restrictions ended in March. Whether this ruling would inhibit the city government in acting against any renewed COVID-19 outbreak is unclear.
In a statement, Global-Dining president Kozo Hasegawa, said the case revealed the “injustice and sloppiness of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.” His company crowd-funded more than 25 million yen to fight the case.
Global-Dining’s Gonpachi restaurant, with a cavernous inner courtyard, inspired the fight scene in Quentin Tarantino’s first “Kill Bill” film. It was the site of a dinner between then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and then US President George W. Bush in 2002.


Indonesia tourist bus smashes into billboard, killing 14

Indonesia tourist bus smashes into billboard, killing 14
Updated 16 May 2022

Indonesia tourist bus smashes into billboard, killing 14

Indonesia tourist bus smashes into billboard, killing 14
  • The bus was returning from a trip to Central Java’s Dieng Plateau, a popular mountain resort

SURABAYA, Indonesia: A tourist bus with an apparently drowsy driver slammed into a billboard Monday on a highway on Indonesia’s main island of Java, killing at least 14 people and injuring 19 others, police said.
The bus, carrying Indonesian tourists from Surabaya, the capital of East Java province, was returning from a trip to Central Java’s Dieng Plateau, a popular mountain resort, when it hit the billboard on the Mojokerto toll road just after dawn, East Java traffic police chief Latief Usman said.
Television news showed police and medical personnel removing victims from the bus, which crashed just 400 meters before the highway exit.
Usman said police are still investigating the cause of the accident, but that the driver reportedly appeared drowsy before the crash.
He said police haven’t yet questioned the driver, who suffered severe injuries. Nineteen people were being treated in four hospitals in Mojokerto, mostly for broken bones.
Road accidents are common in Indonesia because of poor safety standards and infrastructure.


Ukraine says troops defending Kharkiv have reached Russian border

Ukraine says troops defending Kharkiv have reached Russian border
Ukraine says troops defending Kharkiv have reached Russian border. (Reuters)
Updated 16 May 2022

Ukraine says troops defending Kharkiv have reached Russian border

Ukraine says troops defending Kharkiv have reached Russian border
  • Ukraine said troops defending Kharkiv had repelled Russian forces and advanced as far as the border with Russia

KYIV: Ukraine said on Monday troops defending the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, had repelled Russian forces and advanced as far as the border with Russia.
Reuters could not immediately verify Ukraine’s battlefield account and it was not clear how many troops had reached the Russian border and where.
If confirmed, it would suggest a Ukrainian counter-offensive is having increasing success in pushing back Russian forces in the northeast after Western military agencies said Moscow’s offensive in the Donbas region had stalled.
Ukraine’s defense ministry said in a Facebook post that the 227th Battalion of the 127th Brigade of Ukraine’s armed forces had reached the border with Russia, adding: “Together to victory!”
Kharkiv region governor Oleh Sinegubov wrote on the Telegram messaging app that troops of the 227th Battalion had restored a sign on the state border.
“We thank everyone who, risking their lives, liberates Ukraine from Russian invaders,” Sinegubov said.
Ukraine has scored a series of successes since Russia invaded on Feb. 24, forcing Russia’s commanders to abandon an advance on the capital Kyiv before making rapid gains around Kharkiv.
Moscow calls its invasion of Ukraine a “special military operation” to rid the country of fascists, an assertion Kyiv and its Western allies say is a baseless pretext for an unprovoked war.


French city rekindles burkini row with pool rule change

French city rekindles burkini row with pool rule change
Updated 16 May 2022

French city rekindles burkini row with pool rule change

French city rekindles burkini row with pool rule change
  • Burkini seen as a symbol of creeping Islamism by its critics and an affront to France’s secular traditions

GRENOBLE, France: The Alpine city of Grenoble is set to reignite one of France’s recurring summer debates on Monday when it votes to authorize the “burkini” in state-run swimming pools.
The all-in-one swimsuit, used by some Muslim women to cover their bodies and hair while bathing, has become almost as topical as ice cream and sun hats during the holiday season in recent years.
Seen as a symbol of creeping Islamism by its critics and an affront to France’s secular traditions, many right-wingers and some feminists would like to ban it outright.
It is prohibited in most state-run pools — for hygiene, not religious reasons — where strict swimwear rules apply to all, including men who are required to squeeze into tight-fitting trunks.
Grenoble’s city council, dominated by the EELV green party, is set to scrap its bathing dress code on Monday, effectively authorizing long body coverings, beach shorts and topless bathing.
“Our intention is to remove all of the abnormal clothing restrictions,” mayor Eric Piolle said recently. “The issue is not being for or against the burkini specifically.”
Opponents see it differently, including the influential conservative head of the wider Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region, Laurent Wauquiez, who has promised to withdraw funding from the city.
“I am convinced that what Mr.Piolle is defending is a dreadful dead end for our country,” Wauquiez said at the beginning of May, accusing him of “doing deals with political Islam” to “buy votes.”
The regional spat has put the burkini back in the headlines nationally, animating French talk shows and the political class ahead of parliamentary elections next month.
The issue of how people dress for the pool touches on highly sensitive topics in France, including fears about the influence of Islam and threats to the country’s cherished secularism.
The right to worship freely is constitutionally protected, but the French state is also bound by law to be neutral in religious matters, including inside institutions.
“The burkini aims, purely and simply, to impose Islamist values at the heart of bathing areas and public leisure pursuits,” an open letter written by opposition councillors in Grenoble said last week.
Attempts by several local mayors in the south of France to ban the burkini on Mediterranean beaches in the summer of 2016 kicked off the first firestorm around the bathing suit.
The rules, introduced after a string of terror attacks in France, were eventually struck down as discriminatory.
Three years later, a group of women in Grenoble caused a splash by forcing their way into a pool with burkinis, leading the prime minister at the time to insist that the rules should be followed.
French sports brand Decathlon also found itself at the center of a similar row in 2019 when it announced plans to sell a “sports hijab” enabling Muslim women to cover their hair while running.
Monday’s vote in Grenoble “is an important moment for everyone concerned and their allies, but also in the fight against Islamophobia and control over women’s bodies,” local campaign group Citizens’ Alliance wrote on its Facebook page.
Demonstrations supporting and opposing the move are also planned in the city following the council meeting where mayor Piolle is expected to succeed in pushing through the change.
French feminists are split, with some seeing the burkini as a symbol of male oppression and others such as Caroline De Haas writing that “no one should be stigmatized in a pool because of their choice of swimwear.”
Grenoble would not be the first to change its rules, however.
The northwestern city of Rennes quietly updated its pool code in 2019 to allow burkinis and other types of swimwear.
The debate about the burkini comes as French Muslim women footballers are battling to overturn a ban on the wearing of religious symbols during competitive matches.
The French Football Federation currently prevents players from playing while wearing “ostentatious” religious symbols such as the Muslim hijab or the Jewish kippa.
A women’s collective known as “les Hijabeuses” launched a legal challenge to the rules in November last year.