COUNCIL OF EUROPE – REGIONAL COOPERATION IN SOUTH EAST EUROPE
At a meeting in Belgrade dedicated to the region of southeast Europe, ambassadors of 47 countries of the Council of Europe assessed that the process of regional cooperation could help the Balkans become the most dynamic region on the continent. More by Sandra Pekic.
Reminding of Serbia’s slogan during its chair of the Council of Europe – "One Europe, Our Europe", Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Bozidar Djelic said that Europe remains divided until the entire Balkans becomes part of the EU. Djelic said that recently the region of southeast Europe has experienced the highest economic growth on the continent, and that foreign investments were constantly increasing. Intra-regional investments show that economy in the Balkans is making more progress than politics. He said that there were still serious consequences of the conflicts of the 1990s being felt and repeated that Serbia was determined to successfully conclude cooperation with the Hague Tribunal, as only by attaining justice will it be possible to open a new chapter of reconciliation. Speaking about the unresolved issues in the region, Djelic singled out the resolving of the future status of Kosovo and Metohija. Serbia remains committed to European values, but as any democratic country it will defend its integrity and sovereignty, said the Serbian Deputy Prime Minister adding that Serbia will not be a threat to stability in the region. He mentioned the extremely high degree of respect of human rights of minorities in Serbia, stating that the parliament after 17 years has an Albanian representative from southern Serbia, as well as representatives of minority parties of Roma, Hungarians and Slovaks.
Assistant Foreign Minister Milica Delevic reminded that just ten years ago, no country of the region wanted to be identified as a Balkan country, as this carried with it a negative connotation of violence and instability. Today this is a region with a developed economic and political cooperation among states, as the only way for overall development and overcoming obstacles, said Delevic. This does not mean that all problems and issues in the Balkans have been resolved, said Delevic and added that the expressed readiness to be a part of Europe and the region are guarantees that future problems will be successfully resolved in a democratic spirit.
Bulgarian Deputy Foreign Minister Todor Curov talked about forming ties in the Process of Cooperation of countries of southeast Europe and the Council of Europe. According to him, the future lies in the creation of a Europe without borders, whose foundations would be the basic values of the oldest organization on the Old Continent – democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Curov added that the priority of the Process of Cooperation of South East Europe, chaired by Bulgaria, is to help the transformation of the Stability Pact of South East Europe to a Regional Council with a seat in Sarajevo. He reminded that this new organization would in the future work on creating a functional and prosperous region which will have strong cooperation in the areas of the economy, development of infrastructure and human resources and the fight against crime.
SERBIAN POLITICAL SCENE
The central topics in Serbia in the last week were Kosovo-Metohija, a debate on the 2007 budget in the Parliament and the Network Affair, which started as a battle against the tobacco mafia only to turn into a dispute whether at issue is the shedding of light on or hushing up the political background of the assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. Djuro Malobabic has more.
After Moscow reiterated its positions on Kosovo-Metohija, Serbian officials insisted in all the diplomatic contacts with Brussels and the EU on the continuation of talks with Pristina on the status of the Province, but without the setting of deadlines and prejudging of their outcome. Serbia and Russia rejected the third draft resolution on Kosmet, proposed by the USA and the EU, as unacceptable, as it prejudges the outcome of talks and limits them to four months.
Serbian PM Vojislav Kostunica called on Thursday those who proposed the new resolution to withdraw the proposition, as it, contrary to the UN Charter, entails the seizing of a considerable part of the territory of Serbia, which is a UN member-state. Thanks to the principled stand of Russia, it is clear that a resolution breaching the basic international law principles cannot be accepted in the Security Council, he said.
Serbian Minister of Kosovo-Metohija Slobodan Samardzic presented Russian Ambassador in Belgrade Alexander Alexeyev with a document containing Serbia’s propositions and stands for further talks on the issue of Kosovo-Metohija. He would not reveal the details of the document, but stressed it is based on the present state platform and is aimed at giving initiative to the Russian side before the talks of the Russian and US presidents, Vladimir Putin and George Bush.
The president of the Serbian Radical Party – the strongest opposition party in the Serbian Parliament – Tomislav Nikolic, asked of the Serbian government to inform all the UN member-states that Serbia will review relations with any country recognizing independence of Kosovo-Metohija. Assessing the situation regarding Kosovo as very serious and and saying that the resolution does not defer a solution but imposes independence, Nikolic said the Radicals will insist on an emergency discussion on that issue in the Parliament. By the way, the document could be put to vote in the Security Council on June 28, Tanjug learns based on UN sources in New York. The USA and the EU intend to introduce the document in the vote procedure in the Council, despite the fact it cannot be accepted due to the opposition expressed by Serbua and Russia. The latest proposal leaves Serbia and Kosmet Albanians with another four months to try to reach a solution to the future status of the Province through talks. After the expiry of the 120 days, Martti Ahtisaari’s plan on supervised independence of Kosmet could be supported, unless the Council explicitly decides otherwise, taking into account the assessment of a UN special representative on the development of the talks.
Hague Chief Prosecutor Carla del Ponte also expressed support for the postpohement of a solution to the status of Kosovo, in order that the Belgrade leadership should be enabled to complete cooperation with the Tribunal and arrest the former commander of Bosnian Serbs Ratko Mladic. A quick solution to the status of Kosovo would ruin the plans of the Serbian leadership and it would be good to defer a solution until all the fugitives have been captured, Del Ponte said after the UN Security Council session.
The Serbian Radical Party officially proposed on Thursday that a vote of no confidence to the Serbian government should be cast after the return of the Serbian delegation from a session of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly in Strasbourg. As the session is to end on Friday, June 29, it is certain that the ouster of the government will be put to vote at the beginning of July.
The Network Affair started as a battle against the tobacco mafia only to turn into a dispute whether at issue is the shedding of light on or hushing up the political background of the assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. On the basis of a first-instance verdict of the Special Court of May 23 this year, the prime suspect, Milorad Ulemek Legija, convicted of organizing the assassination, and Zvezdan Jovanovic, convicted of assassinating the prime minister, were sentenced to 40 years’ imprisonment each. The statement of the Serbian police that Stanko Subotic Cane was the leader of the tobacco mafia which inflicted tens of million EUR of damage to the state in 1990s caused a surge of severe mutual accusations among former DOS politicians as to who and when got to know this businessman. The public conflict between former interior minister Dusan Mihajlovic and former head of the government’s Telecommunication Bureau Vladimir Beba Popovic also involved other former officials. Among those who have voiced their opinions were former PM Zoran Zivkovic and former justice minister Vladan Batic, as well as former deputy head of the State Security Sector Zoran Mijatovic. Finally, the leader of the LDP and deputy PM in Djindjic’s government, Cedomir Jovanovic, expressed suspicion that at issue is an attempt at hushing up the political background of the assassination of PM Zoran Djindjic.
While the European Anti-Corrpution Agency is fighting huge embezzlements in the EU seat and the World Bank is recovering from an affair with its head at the helm, Serbia is fighting this virus, which has entered all the spheres of life. Dajana Velickovic Sabotic has more.
Before the new government was formed, campaigns against various corruption affairs began – battles against the customs, oil, road, receivership, town planning, education and health mafia. One of the five key principles of the new government is battle against organized crime and corruption. In his expose, PM Vojislav Kostunica said he would be at the helm of the government as long as the law in Serbia is stronger than any individual and as long as he believes that the state is trong enough to combat all the forms of crime and corruption.
Intensive arrests have continused and a number of those responsible for various customs and road affairs have been caputers. A similar fate befell an organized group that used to forge documentation on the import and distribution of oil and derivatives. Under way is also a campaign against the so-called tobacco mafia. Special Prosecutor for Organized Crime Slobodan Radovanovic announced a request for freezing the assets and bank accounts of the wife and son of Slobodan Milosevic. His family is charged with an illegal transfer of money from this country and with an organized traffic in cigarettes, which, as assessed, inflicted billions of USD of damage to the state.
Many state officials who misused their office were not able to escape justice either. Spokesperson of the Special Prosecution for Organized Crime Tomo Zoric assessed that Serbia urgently needs a law on confiscating property from participants in organized crime. A working group, with the special prosecutor at the helm, will soon draw up such a law, on the model of the Italian legislature and submit it to the Parliament.
These days, Belgrade has hosted an international conference on regional cooperation of southeast European polices, in the field of financial investigations and confiscation of property from criminals. Within a Council of Europe regional project, CARPO, initiated in March 2004, a memorandum on cooperation was signed, providing heads of the regional polices with a new mechanism to facilitate their battle with organized crime.
Nevertheless, the Serbian government is aware of the fact that the arrest of corrupted individuals from the leadership and state structures is not enough to root out the problem. The only way to lead to an essential transformation of society is the continuation of reforms, which is to lead to the liberalization of economy and the market and to the state’s withdrawal from public company assets.
BALKAN INITIATIVES AND EUROPEAN INTEGRATIONS
Regional initiatives in Europe are the starting point for future EU members that by strengthening bilateral cooperation they can proceed more quickly in the process of Euro-Atlantic integrations. For Serbia, which borders eight countries, the issue of regional cooperation is one of the most important for its future. More by Sandra Pekic.
National Coordinator of the Stability Pact of South East Europe Dusko Lopandic says that the role of Euro-Atlantic integrations of the Balkans is positive and stabilizing, but it must take into consideration certain aspects. The first relates to bilateral cooperation of Brussels with some countries, which introduces the element of differentiation of states and can sometimes be destabilizing. This is visible through the policy of conditioning, the speed of access to European funds and the visa regime, says Lopandic. In order to remove the negative aspect of such a policy, the EU insists on regional ties, as a precondition for broader integration. However, Lopandic underlines the importance of a very developed so-called autonomous regional initiative reflected in the territory of the West Balkans through the Adriatic-Ionian, Danube and Black Sea cooperation. At issue are integrations, which help in developing the region at all levels, and stem from different interests of each state, said Lopandic.
Director of the Trans-Atlantic Center for Central and Eastern Europe from Bratislava, Pavol Demesh believes that the West Balkans should implement the good experiences of other European regions. Reminding of successful regional initiatives such as the Scandinavian, Baltic or the Benelux countries, Demesh says that these are countries which have successfully overcome former problems and open conflicts. Speaking about positive experiences of Slovakia, Demesh underlines that neighboring countries, gathered in the Visegradska group, have helped overcome problems and delays in attaining the necessary standards in Slovakia. Demesh says that for fulfilling a joint goal what is needed is solely political will. Also it is very important to develop regional identity, which is something politicians, the civil sector and individuals need to work on together. Therefore, this is not just institutional cooperation, says Pavol Demesh, but rather creating joint projects at the state and local level and opening funds for their implementation.
Eno Trimchev from the Albanian Institute for International Affairs points to the need more multidimensional cooperation among Balkan countries. According to him, political conflicts often spill over into the spheres of culture and the economy, which leads to a lack of positive aspects of cooperation. Trimchev says that the most important step is linking countries at all levels, especially among ordinary citizens. Mentioning the example of the resolving of the future status of Kosovo, Trimchev believes that there is a lack of understanding in Albania of the Serbian side as there is still not desire or interest to know more about our neighbors and to hear their opinions.
Regional initiatives and cooperation do not just play a part on the path towards European integrations, but also continue afterwards, experiences show. The aim of forming such ties is not just strengthening the position of the Balkan region in Brussels, but also resolving future specific problems of joint interest such as cultural cooperation, development of communications and infrastructure and the fight against organized crime.
20 JUNE – WORLD REFUGEE DAY
With some 100,000 refugees and 209,000 internally displaced persons from Kosovo-Metohija, Serbia has the most people with such a status in Europe, Republican Refugee Commissioner Dragisa Dabetic said on the occasion of June 20, World Day of Refugees. To that we must add another 200,000 refugees from former Yugoslav states who meanwhile have become Serbian citizens and found residence in Serbia. The refugee corpus numbers around half a million, which forms almost 7.5% of the total Serbian population, he said and added that there are officially 24,000 refugees and displaced persons from former Yugoslavia living in Montenegro. He emphasized that the state is doing everything to have refugees integrated in the community, but also to help them return to their previous places of residence. He specified that some 69,000 persons have returned to Croatia, some 100,000 to Bosnia-Herzegovina and some 30,000 to third countries. A symbolic number, however, has returned to Kosovo-Metohija since 1999 – only between 2,000 and 3,000, Dabetic warned. The international community believes that some 12,000 have returned to Kosmet, but they include those who have returned from Western Europe, Dabetic says. According to him, Serbia has dedicated great attention to this very important issue in the field of the protection of human rights. The 89 active collective centres, 17 of which are in Kosmet and 72 in central Serbia, have accommodated more than 8,000 refugees and displaced persons. In 2002, Serbia adopted the National Strategy for Resolving the Issue of Refugees and Displaced Persons, and so far some 25,000 people have found shelter through different programmes. On the occasion of the World Refugee Day, Serbian President Boris Tadic called on relevant institutions to intensively resolve the position of hundreds of thousands of refugees and expellees in the regions of the former SFRY. He expressed concern over the slow, almost non-existent process of the return of displaced Serbs and other non-Albanians to Kosmet and laid special emphasis on the issue of safety of returnees to the Province. On the same occasion, the UNHCR announced that the number of refugees in the world is on an increase and has reached almost 10 million. At the same time, there are another 25 million internally displaced persons fleeing from war, conflicts and repressions and seeking shelter all over the world, while regional governments and humanitarian agencies of international organizations are finding it increasingly more difficult to eliminate the problems faced by refugees and displaced people.
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