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OMRI: Pursuing Balkan Peace, Vol. 2, No. 6, 97-02-12

Open Media Research Institute: Pursuing Balkan Peace Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: Open Media Research Institute <>

Vol. 2, No. 6, 12 February 1997


  • [08] ...AND A DENIAL.


    This week, the injury tolls in Albania were the highest since cheated investors in pyramid schemes launched anti-government protests on 15 January. The confrontation now has claimed three casualties, and pure violence seems to have reached an even higher level than in late January, when protesters burned government offices all over the south. Tuesday -- the seventh day of consecutive protests in Vlora -- police failed to restore control over the southern port city. In Tirana, the opposition has called for peaceful daily street protests -- following the example of Belgrade -- but it faces a tough police crack-down. The political opposition, ranging from the left to the right and united in the Forum for Democracy, has so far failed in its call for non-violent mass demonstrations on the Belgrade model.

    Hundreds of police have been brought to Vlora since Sunday from Tirana and other cities to bring the situation under control. Koha Jone on Tuesday said the Interior Ministry had also mobilized about 1,000 students and peasants from the northern Albanian highlands and sent them to join riot police in Vlora, attracting them with salaries of about $400, which is extremely high by Albanian standards. Police made hundreds of arrests of suspected rioters but were unable to stop the demonstrations. Monday's protests started when an angry crowd of about 5,000 to 7,000 people attacked about 100 riot police and managed to isolate about 20 of them. The crowd then pursued the officers (who tried to escape), beat them, stripped off their uniforms, and seized guns, helmets and shields. It appears that the policemen then were let go, but the uniforms and equipment were burned in the center of town. Later in the day, police apparently lost control over the city center when more than 10,000 angry people marched through the streets. The demonstrators shouted "Vlora is our town" and "Down with the government." Crowds set fire to police cars and shops, German media reported.

    In the following clashes, 30-year-old Artur Rrustemi died after being shot in the back. The riots left about 81 people injured, many of whom are in serious condition. Rrustemi's assailant was not identified. The second victim, Maliq Banushi (51), died of a heart attack. On Tuesday, the funeral of Rrustemi quickly grew into a demonstration of 40,000 people, during which the headquarters of the local Democratic Party was burned. Police were nowhere to be seen, although journalists reported spotting exhausted riot police in damaged vehicles on the road leading back to Tirana. Crowds chanted: "Police killed him! The government killed him! [President Sali] Berisha killed him! Down with the dictatorship!" His widow said: "He only asked for his own money."

    Already on 9 February, another man had died of a heart attack and at least 40 were injured during clashes with riot police in Vlora. But violent clashes also occurred elsewhere. In Fier protesters set up road blocks and burned cars and tires on Sunday. Police attacked the protesters with clubs and injured at least ten of the demonstrators.

    The opposition Forum for Democracy, meanwhile, admitted that it has failed with its new "flowers-not-stones" campaign against the government. It had originally called for two hours of peaceful daily protests -- following the model of the Belgrade opposition -- and asked the public to shut off television sets during the state news program. Following the ban of a demonstration in Tirana on Saturday, however, police dispersed the protests and detained and beat badly some of the organizers. These included the head of the Association of the Politically Persecuted, Kurt Kola, and the communist-era dissident and human rights activist Fatos Lubonja, who had spent long years in communist prisons. But the arrests also hit the other end of the Forum's political spectrum, namely Socialist Party leaders Rexhep Mejdani and Kastriot Islami.

    Furthermore, others who had planned to participate in the demonstration were beaten or arrested. State television later aired government statements denying that opposition leaders had been rounded up or beaten. Instead, it said journalists had been attacked by "angry protesters." It became obvious, however, that police tried to prevent TV footage of police violence from getting out when three men identifying themselves as members of "special security forces" pushed their way into the Reuters office and demanded pictures and television film of the rally.

    The next day, Sunday, uniformed men beat up Democratic Alliance leaders Neritan Ceka, Prec Zogaj, Arben Demeti and the journalist Ilir Keko in a cafe. The opposition claimed the attack was committed by supporters of the ruling Democratic Party. They also charged the government with severely cracking down on opposition figures and the independent media. The daily Koha Jone protested the detention of its reporter Roland Beciraj. He had covered events in Korca twelve days earlier and was arrested as a suspected rioter. He was reportedly beaten in jail and has not been released.

    Elsewhere, the journalist Artan Cela was beaten by bodyguards of the VEFA pyramid company after reporting that VEFA President Vehbi Alimucaj was robbed in Permet. Arben Puto of the Albanian Helsinki Committee called for international support, saying: "It is important to have a few words from abroad condemning the violence, and a few words of encouragement for the opposition." Lubonja, meanwhile, stressed that "our strategy can involve only peaceful means. We hope one day soon there will be a chance for dialogue."

    President Berisha, meanwhile, sought to give the impression that the rule of law has not broken down. He has pledged an investigation into the beatings, saying that the use of force was "unacceptable against politicians and journalists." But the tensions are unlikely to subside. The opposition -- now ranging from the Monarchists to the Socialists -- seeks the creation of a caretaker government to prepare new elections and a referendum on Albania's future constitutional status. The Democrats, however, are unlikely to give in.

    Instead, they have gone on the offensive, blaming the protests on "red terrorists." The government also is about to put legislation before parliament on 11 February to impose a state of emergency in Vlora. The previous day parliament had delayed a decision of the issue because of an alleged legal gap in constitutional provisions. In late January parliament had issued a law allowing the use of the military to protect public buildings and roads, but the government has pledged not to use soldiers against protesters. News agencies said that the military has nonetheless arrived in the Vlora area. -- Fabian Schmidt


    Tensions have also continued in Serbia. Within a week of unleashing police violence against mass demonstrators calling for the recognition of opposition Zajedno coalition wins in the 17 November runoff elections, President Slobodan Milosevic revised his image. No longer the hard-liner willing and wanting to resort to force, Milosevic recast himself as a man of compromise.

    It was back on 5 February that the daily Politika ran a copy of a letter sent by Milosevic to Serbia's Premier Mirko Marjanovic, in which the president asked the republic's government to prepare draft legislation recognizing opposition victories. According to that letter, Milosevic "propose[s] that the government of Serbia submit a draft of emergency legislation to the [republican] parliament which will proclaim as final the part of local elections in Serbia which accord with the findings of the OSCE mission." It was in late December that an OSCE fact finding mission concluded the opposition had won in 14 localities.

    Meanwhile, on 4 February -- and presumably within hours of receiving Milosevic's correspondence -- Marjanovic made an announcement over state radio and TV that draft legislation recognizing the election results would likely be presented in parliament on 5 February. And in another seeming show of his willingness to make fundamental compromises, Milosevic met with trade union leaders on 4 February, noting fundamental changes addressing issues of income levels and employment were in the "interests" of workers, Politika added.

    But it was that legislation that seemingly held out the prospect that the regime might make concessions in recognizing opposition political gains. But it was a hope tempered by the realization that Milosevic, a consummate tactician bent on preserving his authoritarian regime, had throughout the past made promises he never had any intention of keeping. Thus, opposition reaction to news of the legislation, due to be discussed in the legislature on 11 February, struck a note of caution. Leaders of the Zajedno coalition from the outset tempered their remarks about the potential of a legislative breakthrough with a note of skepticism about Milosevic's sincerity. Democratic Party (DS) leader Zoran Djindjic, addressing the crowd of protesters in Belgrade on 4 February, said the move may be another Milosevic ruse, and vowed: "We will continue them [protests] until all [municipal] councilor mandates are verified, until freedom of the media is established, and until responsibility is established of all those who took part in the vote theft and brutal beating up of citizens," Reuters reported. For his part, Vuk Draskovic, leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement, said Milosevic's appeasement effort move may amount to little more than "a trick" to buy time and undermine opposition resolve.

    Moreover, signs quickly surfaced indicating that Milosevic's intentions were less than honorable. On 6 February, Slobodan Vuksanovic, a DS representative, strongly criticized Milosevic's bill, noting that while it did contain a list of districts where the authorities would be prepared to recognize opposition wins, it failed to specify key areas won by Zajedno. These included the districts of Novi Beograd in Belgrade and the Mladenovac area. This, said Vuksanovic, attested to the government's lack of sincerity in recognizing opposition victory.

    Finally, Milosevic has a history of using the judiciary to turn around what appear to be political concessions. Recent hints emerged suggesting that irrespective of what the legislature does on 11 February, Milosevic may ultimately turn to the courts to undo any advantage the opposition may gain. And his ally in such an undertaking may be the accused war criminal and ultranationalist leader of the Serbian Radical Party, Vojislav Seselj. Seselj, on 9 February, indicated he may be the catalyst for nullifying the substance of any legislation recognizing Zajedno election wins. He went on record saying he would "definitely" demand "a constitutional court evaluation" of the legislation, Radio B-92 reported. -- Stan Markotich


    The Albanian Foreign Ministry on 9 February protested the appointment of OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities Max van der Stoel as special OSCE envoy for Kosovo. A spokesman said the fact that van der Stoel would hold both positions would complicate his chances of success. The Kosovar shadow-state leadership argued that the appointment of the diplomat meant that the OSCE was treating the Kosovo conflict as a national minority issue, rather than as an international conflict. It also refused to meet van der Stoel as long as he holds his current position. The Kosovars refuse to be treated as a national minority within Serbia. -- Fabian Schmidt


    Returning to Bosnian affairs, the Rube Goldberg-like political structures set up in the Dayton agreement have been functioning as badly as might have been expected. Now, the collective presidency has decided not to have a single presidency office for a presumably single government, but to have two offices instead. There will thus be one in Sarajevo, in the mainly Muslim-Croat Federation, and another in Pale, in the Republika Srpska, Oslobodjenje reported on 6 February. According to the statement by the Muslim presidency member and current Chair Alija Izetbegovic, the Muslim, Croat and Serb members of this body will continue to meet periodically in Sarajevo and in its Serb-held suburb of Lukavica, but most of their work will be done out of the group. The decision encountered criticism from the Office of the High Representative for Bosnia, Carl Bildt, whose spokesman Duncan Bullivant said the presidency has showed little commitment to overcoming the obstacles to inter-entity cooperation, AFP reported.

    Meanwhile, Bosnia's Council of Ministers failed on 6 February to adopt rules of procedure. This was because its Serb member and co-premier, Boro Bosic, requested that deputy ministers be able to vote alongside the ministers on government actions. Other council members argued that would violate the country's new constitution. The other co-premier, the Muslim Haris Silajdzic, said the government should resign if it is not able to resolve the issue.

    That same day, Bosnian Croat representatives left the Federation government session in protest against the Muslims' refusal to allow the establishment of several new municipalities with a Croat majority. Muslim officials fear further ethnic and territorial divisions if the ethnic criterion is adopted as the only one. Yet another session was disrupted that same day: the cantonal government in the southern city of Mostar was broken up, because the delegates could not agree on a bank account. The Croats want to have a separate account, and Muslims insist on one common account for both groups. Also, Bosnian Croat representatives of the local government in the western town of Bihac walked out of the government session in protest over the low number of Croats in the Bihac cantonal government, although their number matches the percentage of population in the canton, international media reported. More than 90 percent of the population in the Bihac canton are Muslims. -- Daria Sito Sucic


    But the flashpoint of Muslim-Croat tensions was, once again, Mostar. A series of explosions that took place in the divided Herzegovinian city last week culminated on 10 February in a violent clash between Muslims and Croats on a level not seen since the end of the internecine conflict in 1994. At the end of the day there were 22 wounded and one dead, all of them Muslims. The problem of reintegrating the divided city has been fudged for three years now, and the only result has been a collection of unfulfilled promises by both local and international officials. After three years of negotiations on a common city structure, one can only observe that ethnic cleansing has been nearly finished, and that the two city halves were never more "ethnically pure."

    A series of continuous incidents began on 3 February, when a projectile was fired from the direction of the Franciscan monastery in Croat-held west Mostar into the Muslim eastern half. Four blasts were reported in western districts of the city in following days, with seven more on 6 and 7 February. There were no casualties. Croat leaders quickly blamed Muslim extremists, and Mostar's former Mayor Mijo Brajkovic, a Croat, said events in Mostar mirrored the fragile state of the Muslim-Croat Federation. "There is a defect in all of this; something is not functioning," AFP quoted him as saying. Brajkovic threatened that unless the international community's representatives do something to end the violence, local people will. But Muslim leaders said the explosions were the work of extremists trying to divide the city. The explosions follow a wave of evictions of non-Croats from the city that reportedly continued on 7 and 8 February.

    And indeed, as Brajkovic had already announced, local people took an action. On 10 February some 500 Muslims headed to the cemetery on the Croat side of divided city to mourn their dead on the second day of the religious holiday of Ramadan Bajram. There they were attacked by some 700 Croats attending a Roman Catholic carnival parade, according to Major Tony White, spokesman for the NATO-led Stabilization Force (SFOR). White said there were 22 injured, two seriously, and one dead, all of them Muslims. Mike Fabbro, a SFOR spokesman in Mostar, said that Croats, including policemen, had opened fire on the crowd. The senior Muslim cleric in Mostar, Mufti Sead Smajkic, was among the wounded, while Deputy Mayor Safet Orucevic was beaten up.

    Croatian media put the blame on Muslim terrorists and claimed that the visit to the graveyard was a provocation. Mayor Ivica Prskalo, a Croat, accused Orucevic, who was leading the group, of intentionally setting up the incident. Croatian media warned the population to stay at home overnight because "there is a possibility that war will start again." Curfew was imposed on both halves of the city following the fighting. A new wave of evictions of Muslims from the Croat-held part nonetheless followed during the night, according to Reuters on 11 February. An SFOR spokesman said there were at least eight expulsions in one hour, during which Croats evicted all Muslims from one apartment building. Yet another explosion was reported that night, but it was not clear on which side of town it took place.

    The international community's High Representative for Bosnia, Carl Bildt, strongly condemned the killing of "innocent civilians" in Mostar. He said that this was murder and "must be treated as such." But except for strong words, there is a little that the international community is either willing or able to do at the moment. Meanwhile, militant forces on both sides are taking over. Indecisiveness on the part of those who are supposed to solve problems peacefully encourages those who prefer force instead. In Mostar, this rule has been demonstrated for quite a long time now by one side. If the other side becomes impatient and accepts the "rules" of this game, there is little chance that the Muslim-Croat Federation can survive, and a permanent violence will become a Bosnian trademark again. -- Daria Sito Sucic


    Turning to disputes of more recent origin, Federal Vice President Ejup Ganic visited Washington at the start of the month to lobby officials regarding Brcko. Republika Srpska Vice President Dragoljub Mirjanic followed later for the same purpose. U.S. mediator Roberts Owen is slated to rule on 15 February on the future of the strategic northern Bosnian town, which was the one territorial question not settled in the Dayton agreement. In Bosnia, U.S. envoy John Kornblum discussed Brcko with Republika Srpska President Plavsic, with the Bosnian Serb member of the joint presidency, Momcilo Krajisnik, and with Izetbegovic. But the most attention was generated by yet another politician. Former Bosnian Serb civilian leader Radovan Karadzic told the Greek daily Elevtheros Typos: "If the question of Brcko is not resolved, we will go to war again," AFP reported on 2 February. In this rare interview, he also taunted NATO troops for failing to arrest him for war crimes, saying he has so far escaped detention "because I have 2,000 men who follow me everywhere, and if [NATO tries to make an arrest], there will be at least 500 dead." -- Patrick Moore


    The Brcko part of the statement, at any rate, produced a fast response. Colum Murphy, a spokesman for Bildt, said: "Dr. Karadzic's statement threatening war over Brcko is an outrageous provocation. Dr. Karadzic has made a major mistake. He will not only not be allowed to fan the flames of war, but by such outrageous statements he has hastened the day when he will be able to comment only from The Hague. We will also demand of our colleagues of the international community that indicted war criminals should go sooner rather than later to the Hague tribunal," AFP quoted him as saying. Silajdzic, however, said that the international community deserved Karadzic's remarks "because they left those war criminals running around freely for so long." -- Patrick Moore

    [08] ...AND A DENIAL.

    But the Republika Srpska's Information Ministry, AFP continued, denied the whole story: "At the most delicate moment in the process of arbitration... [the paper] inexplicably carried out an invented interview with Radovan Karadzic. [The text runs] completely contrary to the positions of the Republika Srpska regarding war and peace, the Dayton agreement and the arbitration itself. Having transferred all his powers to Biljana Plavsic on 30 June 1996, Radovan Karadzic has not made any public appearances, nor has he authorized anybody to put forward any views in public on his behalf, particularly not views contrary to the official Serb position." For his part, the Greek journalist claimed to have interviewed Karadzic near Sarajevo on 25 January. His daily ran a photo of him and a Greek legislator talking to Karadzic. Regarding Brcko, the Bosnian Serb leadership has relied primarily on quiet diplomacy in recent weeks, although on 16 December Plavsic also raised the specter of war should the arbitration go against the Serbs. On 10 February, SFOR officials said that both sides had increased their small-scale military activity in the area, but stressed that neither would be allowed to bring up big guns. -- Patrick Moore


    President Bill Clinton, for his part, told a Pentagon meeting with new Secretary of Defense William Cohen on 29 January that SFOR, at any rate, will not be used in arresting indicted war criminals in Bosnia. He suggested, however, that a permanent war crimes tribunal might be set up with some means of going after those it wants to try, news agencies reported. "We can't expect people who are sent into a very volatile situation... to do this other work unless they literally come in contact with those people who should be arrested and returned. So there would have to be a completely different way of dealing with this if we're going to have a permanent war crimes tribunal, which I think has a lot of merit," and which would be responsible not just for Bosnia. It is nonetheless difficult to see how any tribunal can function effectively as long as the U.S. and other powers are unwilling to risk casualties by going after war criminals. There is also ample evidence to suggest that both the peacekeepers and the UN police have often deliberately avoided arresting war criminals with whom they have come into direct contact. -- Patrick Moore


    Moving to Serb-held eastern Slavonia, incidents and political discussions continue. Eastern Slavonia is the last Serb-held part of Croatia and is slated to return to full Croatian rule in mid-July (see Pursuing Balkan Peace, 4 February 1997). In the latest in a series of violent incidents against symbols of Croatian authority, an explosion rocked the office that distributes Croatian identity papers in Tenja on 3 February, news agencies reported. Meanwhile, some 47 more Serb families have left the region, adding to the total of 15,000 out of a wartime population of 130,000. Croatian President Franjo Tudjman has urged the Serbs to stay and to take part in the 16 March local elections. The big sticking point is the Serb demand for local autonomy, which both Zagreb and the UN reject. -- Patrick Moore


    Ambassadors of the Contact Group and EU countries posted to Croatia went on a diplomatic offensive to smooth the transition in eastern Slavonia, news agencies reported on 5 and 6 February. The diplomats first met with Croatian Foreign Minister Mate Granic and other officials, and then with local Serb leaders Vojislav Stanimirovic and Goran Hadzic. U.S. Ambassador Peter Galbraith and the others said that the Serbs should take out Croatian citizenship and participate in the local elections. (That vote has been tentatively slated for 16 March but may be put off until April.) The Serbs were also informed that Croatia has guaranteed them sufficient rights and that the international community will continue to monitor their situation. Not all Serbs, however, were reassured, and about 500 of them marched through Vukovar on 5, 6, and 7 February. Local Serb judicial officials nonetheless met with Croatian Justice Minister Miroslav Separovic on 7 February and agreed to begin implementing Croatian laws, news agencies added. -- Patrick Moore


    But the local Serbs and the Zagreb authorities aren't the only ones concerned with eastern Slavonia's future. The Union of Refugees of Croatia held a special meeting in Osijek over the weekend to make sure that the Croats who fled the area are given back their full rights, Novi List wrote on 9 February. The refugees, who have often been at odds with the government, called on all Croatian political parties to put up a common list in the local elections so as not to split the Croatian vote. They also demanded that only those Serbs be allowed to vote who lived in the area -- and not elsewhere in Croatia -- before the war. The refugees fear that the Serbs will try to concentrate their numbers in rich eastern Slavonia in order to make a case for territorial autonomy. Since the region borders Serbia proper, the refugees also suspect what the Serbs' ultimate intentions might be. -- Patrick Moore


    Back in Zagreb, the Croatian president said on 31 January in an interview with CNN that his health is satisfactory enough to run for president in elections later this year, and that he will step down if he loses. "But there is no chance that I and the [ruling] Croatian Democratic Community could lose. We have the support of the majority of the people," Tudjman said. He downplayed reports that he is seriously ill with stomach cancer and called such accounts "somewhat exaggerated." Tudjman also dismissed the possibility that war criminals wanted by the Hague-based tribunal are hiding in Croatia. Commenting on evictions of Muslims from the Croat-held part of Mostar, Tudjman blamed "extremists on both sides," but charged that Muslims were more to blame. -- Daria Sito Sucic


    A team of international and Croatian doctors then issued a statement on Tudjman's health via Health Minister Andrija Hebrang on 7 February. They said that "diagnosed stomach disorders have ceased and lymph nodes have considerably diminished," Hina and Reuters reported. Hebrang, moreover, was quoted in Vjesnik of 10 February as stating that Tudjman "is in exceptional health and completely ready for a presidential campaign." The HDZ, meanwhile, announced that its election slogans will include "Tudjman yes, Balkans no," (Tudjman, a ne Balkan) a reference to the Croatian leader's firm and widely popular opposition to including his country in any southeast European regional groupings (see Pursuing Balkan Peace, 4 February 1997). The party will also keep its now-traditional slogan, "You Know What You've Got" (Zna se). -- Patrick Moore

    This material was reprinted with permission of the Open Media Research Institute, a nonprofit organization with research offices in Prague, Czech Republic. For more information on OMRI publications please write to

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