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

1 / 8
The Yugoslav Wars were marked by frequent mass killings, such as the Rezalle massacre, where 98 Kosovar Albanians were killed by Serbian forces. (AFP)
2 / 8
The Yugoslav Wars were marked by frequent mass killings, such as the Rezalle massacre, where 98 Kosovar Albanians were killed by Serbian forces. (AFP)
3 / 8
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)
4 / 8
An aerial photograph shows the devastation inflicted on Pristina, the Kosovo capital, by the NATO bombing campaign. (AFP)
5 / 8
An aerial photograph shows the devastation inflicted Serbia's capital, Belgrade by the NATO bombing campaign. (AFP)
6 / 8
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)
7 / 8
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)
8 / 8
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)
Short Url
Updated 18 January 2022

‘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 police end Downing Street party inquiry, 126 fines issued

Updated 53 min 28 sec ago

UK police end Downing Street party inquiry, 126 fines issued

LONDON: British police said on Thursday they had ended their investigation into COVID-19 lockdown parties held at Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Downing Street office, saying they had issued a total of 126 fines.
“Our investigation was thorough and impartial and was completed as quickly as we could, given the amount of information that needed to be reviewed and the importance of ensuring that we had strong evidence for each FPN (fixed penalty notice) referral,” London Police Acting Deputy Commissioner Helen Ball said.
“This investigation is now complete.”


One person wounded in German school shooting — police

Updated 19 May 2022

One person wounded in German school shooting — police

BERLIN: Shots were fired at a German school in the northern city of Bremerhaven on Thursday and one person was wounded, police said.
One person was detained after the shooting and the injured person was taken to hospital, they said.
German paper Bild had reported that a second suspect was on the run, armed with a crossbow. Police said they were looking into whether more than one person was involved.
The shooting took place at the Lloyd Gymnasium, Bild reported.
Online newspaper Nord24 said a schoolgirl who heard shots had called the police. Students barricaded themselves in their classrooms, it added.

North Korea completes preparation for nuclear weapon test: Seoul lawmaker

Updated 19 May 2022

North Korea completes preparation for nuclear weapon test: Seoul lawmaker

  • Biden will arrive in Seoul late Friday for a series of summits
  • North Korea announced its first COVID-19 cases last week, and is now reporting hundreds of thousands of cases of “fever” daily

SEOUL: North Korea has completed preparations for a nuclear test and is seeking the best moment to carry it out, a South Korean lawmaker said Thursday, a day before US President Joe Biden is due to arrive in Seoul.
Despite North Korea’s recent Covid-19 outbreak, “preparations for a nuclear test have been completed and they are only looking for the right time,” lawmaker Ha Tae-keung told reporters after being briefed by Seoul’s National Intelligence Service.
The United States said earlier it believes there is a “genuine possibility” that North Korea could conduct a nuclear test while Biden is on his first trip as president to Asia.
Biden will arrive in Seoul late Friday for a series of summits.
“Our intelligence does reflect the genuine possibility” of nuclear-capable missile tests or a nuclear weapon test around the time of Biden’s trip, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said.
Satellite imagery indicates North Korea is preparing to conduct a nuclear test, and the United States and South Korea have been warning for weeks that it could come any day.
North Korea announced its first COVID-19 cases last week, and is now reporting hundreds of thousands of cases of “fever” daily, with analysts saying a test could help distract the regime from the outbreak.


Battle for Mariupol draws toward close after surrender

Updated 19 May 2022

Battle for Mariupol draws toward close after surrender

  • The plant was the only thing standing in the way of Russia declaring the full capture of Mariupol

KYIV: The battle that turned Mariupol into a worldwide symbol of defiance and suffering drew toward a close as Russia said nearly 1,000 last-ditch Ukrainian fighters who held out inside a pulverized steel plant had surrendered.
Meanwhile, the first captured Russian soldier to be put on trial by Ukraine on war-crimes charges pleaded guilty Wednesday to killing a civilian and could get life in prison. Finland and Sweden applied to join NATO, abandoning generations of neutrality for fear that Russian President Vladimir Putin will not stop with Ukraine.
The Ukrainian fighters who emerged from the ruined Azovstal steelworks after being ordered by their military to abandon the last stronghold of resistance in the now-flattened port city face an uncertain fate. Some were taken by the Russians to a former penal colony in territory controlled by Moscow-backed separatists.
While Ukraine said it hopes to get the soldiers back in a prisoner swap, Russia threatened to put some of them on trial for war crimes.
Amnesty International said the Red Cross should be given immediate access to the fighters. Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty’s deputy director for the region, cited lawless executions allegedly carried out by Russian forces in Ukraine and said the Azovstal defenders “must not meet the same fate.”
It was unclear how many fighters remained inside the plant’s labyrinth of tunnels and bunkers, where 2,000 were believed to be holed up at one point. A separatist leader in the region said no top commanders had emerged from the steelworks.
The plant was the only thing standing in the way of Russia declaring the full capture of Mariupol. Its fall would make Mariupol the biggest Ukrainian city to be taken by Moscow’s forces, giving a boost to Putin in a war where many of his plans have gone awry.
Military analysts, though, said the city’s capture at this point would hold more symbolic importance than anything else, since Mariupol is already effectively under Moscow’s control and most of the Russian forces that were tied down by the drawn-out fighting have already left.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said 959 Ukrainian troops have abandoned the stronghold since they started coming out Monday.
Video showed the fighters carrying out their wounded on stretchers and undergoing pat-down searches before being taken away on buses escorted by military vehicles bearing the pro-Kremlin “Z” sign.
The US has gathered intelligence that shows some Russian officials have become concerned that Kremlin forces in Mariupol are carrying out abuses, including beating and electrocuting city officials and robbing homes, according to a USofficial familiar with the findings.
The Russian officials are concerned that the abuses will further inspire residents to resist the occupation and that the treatment runs counter to Russia’s claims that its military has liberated Russian speakers, according to the official, who was not authorized to comment.
Resistance fighting was reported in the occupied southern city of Melitopol, where the regional military administration said Ukrainians killed several high-ranking Russian officers and a Russian armored train carrying troops and ammunition overturned, causing the munitions to detonate.
The administration said on Telegram that the Russian military does not maintain the tracks and overloads the trains, and “with help” from resistance fighters the train derailed. The reports could not be independently confirmed.
In a sign of normalcy returning to Kyiv, the US Embassy reopened on Wednesday, one month after Russian forces abandoned their bid to seize the capital and three months after the outpost was closed. A dozen embassy employees watched solemnly as the American flag was raised. Other Western countries have been reopening their embassies in Kyiv as well.
In the war-crimes case in Kyiv, Russian Sgt. Vadim Shishimarin, a 21-year-old member of a tank unit, pleaded guilty to shooting an unarmed 62-year-old Ukrainian man in the head through a car window in the opening days of the war. Ukraine’s top prosecutor has said some 40 more war-crimes cases are being readied.
On the diplomatic front, Finland and Sweden could become members of NATO in a matter of months, though objections from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threaten to disrupt things. Turkey accuses the two countries of harboring Kurdish militants and others it considers a threat to its security.
Ibrahim Kalin, a foreign policy adviser and spokesman for Erdogan, said there will be “no progress” on the membership applications unless Turkey’s concerns are met. Each of NATO’s 30 countries has an effective veto over new members.
Mariupol’s defenders grimly clung to the steel mill for months and against the odds, preventing Russia from completing its occupation of the city and its port.
Its full capture would give Russia an unbroken land bridge to the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014. It also would allow Russia to focus fully on the larger battle for the Donbas, Ukraine’s industrial east.
For Ukraine, the order to the fighters to surrender could leave President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government open to allegations it abandoned the troops he described as heroes.
“Zelensky may face unpleasant questions,” said Volodymyr Fesenko, who heads the independent Penta think tank in Kyiv. “There have been voices of discontent and accusations of betraying Ukrainian soldiers.”
A hoped-for prisoner swap could also fall through, he cautioned.
Russia’s main federal investigative body said it intends to interrogate the surrendering troops to “identify the nationalists” and determine whether they were involved in crimes against civilians.
Also, Russia’s top prosecutor asked the country’s Supreme Court to designate Ukraine’s Azov Regiment — among the troops that made up the Azovstal garrison — as a terrorist organization. The regiment has roots in the far right.
The Russian parliament was scheduled to consider a resolution to ban the exchange of any Azov Regiment fighters but didn’t take up the issue Wednesday.
Mariupol was a target of the Russians from the outset. The city — its prewar population of about 430,000 now reduced by about three-quarters — has largely been reduced to rubble by relentless bombardment, and Ukraine says over 20,000 civilians have been killed there.
In other developments, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov said Russia has begun using a prototype new laser weapon in Ukraine that is capable of hitting a target 5 kilometers (3 miles) away, state news agency Tass quoted him as saying on national television. He said it was tested Tuesday against a drone and incinerated it within five seconds.
Borisov said a new generation of laser weapons will eventually allow Russia to conserve its expensive long-range missiles.
Speaking late Wednesday in his nightly video address, Zelensky likened the Russian boast to Nazi Germany’s claims of Wunderwaffe, or wonder weapons, as the tide began to turn against it during World War II.
A senior US defense official said Wednesday that the US has seen nothing to corroborate the claims. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the US military assessment.


North Korea’s suspected COVID-19 caseload nears 2 million

The official Korean Central News Agency said over 1.98 million people have become sick with fever since late April. (AFP)
Updated 19 May 2022

North Korea’s suspected COVID-19 caseload nears 2 million

  • The official Korean Central News Agency said more than 1.98 million people have become sick with fever since late April

SEOUL: North Korea on Thursday reported 262,270 more suspected COVID-19 cases as its pandemic caseload neared 2 million — a week after the country acknowledged the outbreak and scrambled to slow infections in its unvaccinated population.
The country is also trying to prevent its fragile economy from deteriorating further, but the outbreak could be worse than officially reported since the country lacks virus tests and other health care resources and may be underreporting deaths to soften the political impact on authoritarian leader Kim Jong Un.
North Korea’s anti-virus headquarters reported a single additional death, raising its toll to 63, which experts have said is abnormally small compared to the suspected number of coronavirus infections.
The official Korean Central News Agency said more than 1.98 million people have become sick with fever since late April. Most are believed to have COVID-19, though only a few omicron variant infections have been confirmed. At least 740,160 people are in quarantine, the news agency reported.
North Korea’s outbreak comes amid a provocative streak of weapons demonstrations, including its first test of an intercontinental ballistic missile in nearly five years in March. Experts don’t believe the COVID-19 outbreak will slow Kim’s brinkmanship aimed at pressuring the United States to accept the idea of the North as a nuclear power and negotiating economic and security concessions from a position of strength.
After maintaining a dubious claim that it had kept the virus out of the country for two and a half years, North Korea acknowledged its first COVID-19 infections May 12 and has described a rapid spread since. Kim has called the outbreak a “great upheaval,” berated officials for letting the virus spread and restricted the movement of people and supplies between cities and regions.
Workers were mobilized to find people with suspected COVID-19 symptoms who were then sent to quarantine — the main method of curbing the outbreak since North Korea is short of medical supplies and intensive care units that lowered COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths in other nations.
State media images showed health workers in hazmat suits guarding Pyongyang’s closed-off streets, disinfecting buildings and streets and delivering food and other supplies to apartment blocks.

 The official Korean Central News Agency said more than 1.98 million people have become sick with fever since late April
The official Korean Central News Agency said more than 1.98 million people have become sick with fever since late April. (AFP)

Despite the vast numbers of sick people and the efforts to curb the outbreak, state media describe large groups of workers continuing to gather at farms, mining facilities, power stations and construction sites. Experts say North Korea cannot afford a lockdown that would hinder production in an economy already broken by mismanagement, crippling US-led sanctions over Kim’s nuclear weapons ambitions and pandemic border closures.