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OMRI: Pursuing Balkan Peace, Vol. 2, No. 7, 97-02-18

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

From: Open Media Research Institute <>

Vol. 2, No. 7, 18 February 1997


  • [01] Serbian Political Opposition Calls Halt To Demonstrations
  • [02] Is There A Link Between The Albanian Government And Organized Crime?
  • [03] Dubious Settlement Of The Brcko Dispute Gets A Mixed Reception
  • [05] . . . GETS A MIXED RECEPTION.

  • [01] Serbian Political Opposition Calls Halt To Demonstrations

    by Stan Markotich

    Leaders of the Zajedno coalition on 15 February said they would suspend ongoing marathon mass demonstrations in order to allow the ruling Socialists a three-week grace period in which to ease restrictions on the state media, international media reported. This decision followed in the wake of the regime's recognition of opposition wins from the 17 November municipal elections. Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic, addressing some 10,000 people in downtown Belgrade on 15 February, observed: "Our three goals were getting back our election victory, achieving a freeing up of the media, and [obtaining] fair electoral conditions prior to the next voting. We achieved the first, but not the other two ... We'll give [the Socialists] three weeks, until March 9, and see what happens." Zajedno has stressed, however, that it will call for renewed demonstrations should the regime of President Slobodan Milosevic continue to conduct itself in bad faith.

    Nevertheless, student and independent labor leaders have continued with street protests, Nasa Borba reported on 17 February. An estimated 5,000 students gathered in downtown Belgrade the previous day to press ahead with their demands, which include the sacking of the pro-regime hard-line rector of Belgrade University, and calls for the bringing to justice of those responsible for the electoral fraud in the first place. And on the economic front, professionals, notably teachers, are emerging as among the most vocal in calling for wages long in arrears. In addition, the city's transportation workers backed demonstrators by again staging a warning strike.

    [02] Is There A Link Between The Albanian Government And Organized Crime?

    by Fabian Schmidt

    And are there "untruths" about Albania as well? There the government sharply denied recent articles published by the British daily The Independent, which said government ministers and the Democratic Party (PD) were involved in numerous illicit trade activities, including sanctions- busting and arms and drugs trading. The Albanian defense ministry, for its part, said it had begun libel action against Andrew Gumbel, the journalist who wrote the main article.

    Allegations of Albanian government involvement in illicit trade are not new and have been repeatedly denied by the authorities. The latest series of accusations began following a press conference of Italian national anti- mafia prosecutor Piero Luigi Vigna. Last week he told journalists that Italian organized crime might have been involved in pyramid investment schemes in which hundreds of thousands of Albanians lost their savings, which led to weeks of riots in Albania. Vigna said that investigations into the matter had started and that he suspected that the investment companies were laundering money from drugs trafficking and illegal immigrants. He added that Albania had become a marijuana producer and that apparently coca was also being cultivated there. Also he added there was evidence that mobsters from the Puglia, Calabria and Campania regions of southern Italy have linked up with Albanian organized crime. Top police official Alessandro Pansa pointed out that the Camorra was operating similar schemes several years ago in the Naples area, offering 85 percent interest annually. The money was then apparently used to in connection with flourishing contraband cigarette trafficking.

    According to a Reuters report from 14 February, a financial consultant with close ties to four Albanian pyramids gave another possible source of income for the schemes. He is quoted as saying that under normal circumstances a pyramid could survive only 18 months at most, but that in Albania they went on for years because they were used also to launder money from smuggling oil to Serbia and Montenegro. The agency also quoted diplomatic sources saying, moreover, that arms were routed via Albania into Bosnia. Some economists estimate that Albania made more than $1 million a day in oil trade during 1993 and 1994. Much of the money probably wound up in the investment accounts. A Tirana banker, who declined to be named, told Reuters that the last major shipment of dirty money arrived at the start of 1997, with the Mafia paying $1.5 million to a fund which laundered $20 million. He is quoted as saying that: "The dirty money is plunged into the pyramids and clean money sent out under the guise of bogus import deals," adding that "it is easy to watch the money clear the system." Following the lifting of the U.N. embargo against federal Yugoslavia after the Dayton agreement and stricter controls of the Otranto straits, the pyramids apparently engaged in a ruinous interest rate war, which finally resulted in their collapse.

    Charges from the Albanian opposition that the government was involved in these activities are now supported by The Independent. Gumbel wrote that drugs barons from Kosovo can operate in Albania with impunity, adding that the transportation of heroin and other drugs is believed to be organized by the Albanian secret police SHIK. He quoted unspecified intelligence sources as saying that the chain of command in the rackets goes probably all the way to the top.

    Moreover, Gumbel wrote that Shqiponja, a company holding a monopoly on oil trade, was run directly by the PD and chaired by current Foreign Minister Tritan Shehu. He also quoted allegations in intelligence circles that Shqiponja traded in guns and drugs. Shqiponja reportedly closed up shop in January 1996, but allegedly its activities are continuing. Gumbel further charged that former Interior Minister Agron Musaraj was pressured out of his job last May amid allegations that he was masterminding the entire drugs racket. According to The Independent , the Albanian police, during Musaraj's tenure, made only one significant drugs haul, seizing about three kilos of heroin in February 1995. He also quoted allegations that Defense Minister Safet Zhulali had used his office to facilitate the transport of arms, oil and contraband cigarettes. Moreover, he suggested that the biggest of all the schemes, run by Albania's largest private company, Vefa Holdings, has funded the PD's election campaigns and is under investigation in Italy for ties to the Mafia.

    Allegations against Musaraj and Zhulali were already brought up earlier by the Albanian opposition. Former Supreme Court Chief Judge Zef Brozi once accused Musaraj of "directing a Mafia network and employing despotic methods against arrested people." In 1995, former Defense Minister Perikli Teta, moreover, charged Zhulali with being involved in arms trafficking to Bosnia and published a list of politicians allegedly involved in illicit activities, including oil smuggling. Already back then the government reacted with a crack-down against journalists reporting Teta's allegations. In November 1995 the journalist Blendi Fevziu was sentenced for quoting Teta's charges. The government could not sue Teta himself, since he then enjoyed parliamentary immunity. Should international journalists and intelligence agencies now produce further evidence proving these various charges, it would give substantial underpinning to the opposition's demand for the government's resignation.

    [03] Dubious Settlement Of The Brcko Dispute Gets A Mixed Reception

    by Patrick Moore


    And in Brcko, too, the foreigners avoided grabbing the proverbial bull by the horns. International mediator Roberts Owen on 14 February put off a settlement of the thorny issue until 15 March 1998 (see OMRI Daily Digest, 14 February 1997), news agencies reported. His interim solution is to leave the Serbs in charge of the river port while creating the office of "international supervisor" to monitor the return of Croat and Muslim refugees and promote economic reconstruction, beginning with infrastructure. The supervisor will be an American. It is not clear exactly what powers this new official will have and how he will enforce compliance. Owen's program guarantees freedom of movement and the right of refugees to go home, but these provisions are already included in the Dayton agreement and have been neither respected nor enforced.

    In short, it seems that once again the international community has dodged a difficult decision that might have required military muscle to enforce, although it is the foreigners, not the former Yugoslavs, who have the last word in the region. Both the Federation and the Republika Srpska had threatened war should the other one get the strategic town, which is a key transportation hub. Brcko is also of vital importance to the Serbs, since it connects the eastern and western halves of their territory. For the Muslims and Croats, it is a test case in reversing the "ethnic cleansing" that the Serbs carried out starting in 1992. Brcko had just over 30,000 inhabitants before the war -- mainly Muslims and Croats -- but now it has become "home" to a Serbian refugee population believed to be at least as large as the entire prewar town. -- Patrick Moore

    [05] . . . GETS A MIXED RECEPTION.

    U.S. special envoy John Kornblum said that Owen's package was "definitely enough" to prevent fighting from starting again, news agencies noted on 14 February. This suggests that, as was the case with the 14 September local elections, the foreigners' main concern was to avoid violence. The international community's High Representative Carl Bildt warned, however, that "it is sometimes easier to write a thing in a Washington law firm than to do it on the ground in Brcko," and added that the reconstruction of Brcko will cost at least $200 million. Bildt stressed that he will appoint the new supervisor, but that this person's duties will have to be fleshed out at a meeting in Vienna slated for next month.

    The Bosnian Serb member of the joint presidency, Momcilo Krajisnik, was skeptical of Owen's plan at first and took a wait-and-see attitude. But Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic was more upbeat, saying the decision opens the way to investment and prosperity: "I think that it [Owen's decision] provides the people with a secure view to the future and that the Serb people have no reason to be upset. With this decision a lot will be invested in the region ... and I hope it will be an area of economic prosperity."

    This is indeed a key issue for the Republika Srpska. It has received little of the international community' reconstruction aid -- the foreigners say the RS leadership has not been cooperative -- and has a per capita income of $25-35 per month, as opposed to $153 in the mainly Croat and Muslim Federation. Both parts of Bosnia have huge unemployment problems because there is no work for tens of thousands of demobilized soldiers, among others. RS Prime Minister Gojko Klickovic on 12 February put the total cost of the war to his polity at DM 80 billion, AIM news agency reported. Some local Serbs, however, told journalists that they do not want another year of uncertainty and would have preferred to have done with the matter. Other press reports suggested that the Bosnian Serb military, for their part, are happy about an increased foreign presence in the region, since they believe this will deter the mainly Muslim and Croat federal army from launching possible attacks.

    On the other side of the former front lines, Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic said Owen's announcement "is not justice, but a step toward justice," and noted that it is not clear how it will be enforced. Before the decision was announced, he had threatened to resigned should the town go to the Serbs, as diplomatic leaks had indicated would be the case. In the end, he had to be reassured by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Some Muslim politicians and journalists, for their part, were outraged that Brcko was not assigned to the Federation.

    Other Muslims and Croats were more optimistic, stressing that the plan gives them direct access to what had been Serb-held territory. This was the view taken by Croat leader Kresimir Zubak, federal Vice President Ejup Ganic, and by some of the smaller non-nationalist parties.

    In short, persons on both sides of the former front line could -- and did -- view the glass as half empty or half full.


    Radio Index reported that journalists at the technically independent but pro-regime TV Politika may be preparing for a general strike as a means of registering a protest against the broadcaster's seemingly uncritical and pro-Milosevic editorial policy. Meanwhile, reports from within state television are saying that some 110 employees have signed a petition demanding the ouster of pro-Milosevic management and freedom of the media. In addition, other reports suggest that some employees of state TV outlets continue to be among the ranks of the street demonstrators, while at least two journalists have been sacked from their government posts for marching with those demanding reforms. -- Stan Markotich


    For their part, the authorities have already signaled that they are digging in. Recently appointed Information Minister Radmila Milentijevic hinted that not only will the authorities refuse to allow greater opposition access to the media, but that the regime may even try to influence foreign news coverage of events in Serbia, Reuters reported on 16 February. Milentijevic was quoted as telling the pro-regime daily Politika: "We must especially hold [foreign journalists] responsible for what they write. This means that if they write something which is not factually correct, we should react and demand that the untruth be corrected." -- Stan Markotich


    Still in Tirana, Vefa head Vehbi Alimucaj said on 17 February that angry investors should "roll up their sleeves and get back to work" instead of protesting and burning down buildings, Reuters reported. Vefa froze the deposits of its 80,000 investors after five pyramids went bust last month, but Alimucaj continues to claim that his investors have nothing to fear and will get back their deposits in three or four months, once the climate of insecurity has passed. Vefa continues making interest payments. Meanwhile, Berisha plans to address Democratic Party supporters in Lushnja on 18 February to explain his handling of the crisis. -- Fabian Schmidt


    About 3,000 Macedonian students demonstrated in Skopje on 17 February against a new law introducing teaching in the Albanian language at the teacher-training faculty. They chanted nationalist slogans, threw eggs and stones at government buildings, and called on Education Minister Sofija Todorova to resign, AFP reported. Parliament had approved Albanian-language education at the beginning of February. The opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) said meanwhile it has appealed to the constitutional court over the law, arguing that the constitution allows national minorities to be taught in their mother tongues only at primary and secondary school. The establishment of a full-fledged Albanian language university is a long-standing demand of Macedonia's large ethnic Albanian minority. The teacher-training project was considered a compromise in the face of the Albanian demand and Macedonian nationalist opposition. -- Fabian Schmidt


    Still in Skopje, eleven Greek and Macedonian human rights and refugee groups issued a statement on 9 February urging Athens to repeal a law that prevents non-Greeks who fled the country 50 years ago from returning, AFP reported. Greece passed a law in 1982 welcoming back citizens who fled after the civil war in 1946-49 but excluding those who were not of Greek origin. The law, in effect, discriminated against people of Macedonian-Slav origin in the north of the country. Athens does not recognize the existence of a Macedonian-Slav minority. -- Fabian Schmidt


    Bulgaria's caretaker government on 17 February said the country will apply for full NATO membership, Trud and Demokratsiya reported. Foreign Minister Stoyan Stalev said the decision was taken in accord with President Petar Stoyanov. It is the first time a Bulgarian government has unequivocally spoken out in favor of membership in the Atlantic alliance. Stoyanov in an address in the state media endorsed the government's decision, calling NATO "the only serious guarantor of security." Vladimir Topencharov of the Bulgarian Socialist Party said the decision should have been taken by a cabinet elected by the parliament rather than by a caretaker government. Russian Ambassador to Bulgaria Leonid Kerestedzhiyants said "the decision cannot go down without any consequences, but we will try to keep them as small as possible." He said Moscow does not see an anti- Russian attitude behind the government's decision. -- Stefan Krause


    Meanwhile in Herzegovina, tensions between Croats and Muslims threaten to undermine the Federation, which is a pillar of the Dayton settlement. Seven explosions rocked the Croat-controlled part of the divided city on 14 February in a terror campaign against minority Muslims, AFP reported citing SFOR. The next morning, two mortar rounds were fired at the Muslim half of the city but injured no one. The use of mortars represents a serious escalation of violence in the unstable Federation, which has recently been shaken by serious internal conflicts. For its part, SFOR has dismantled illegal checkpoints and roadblocks set up by local Croat police to prevent Muslims living in the Croat-controlled districts from returning to their homes. Many of these people had left before the start of the current troubles to visit their relatives living in the eastern, mostly-Muslim half of Mostar during the Islamic religious holiday of Bajram. However, of 35 Muslim families that were expelled from their homes, only 16 have returned with the help of SFOR and the UN police (IPTF), a UN spokesman said on 15 February. In the night of 12 February, the Croats and Muslims had reached an agreement that, among other things, allows those two forces a greater role in establishing law and order.

    The International Crisis Group (ICG), for its part, said in its latest Mostar report that a robust response by international community is required. Among other measures they have recommended is a need to investigate the failure of both SFOR and the IPTF to maintain a presence in the town on 10 February, when the main violent clash between Muslims and Croats took place (see Pursuing Balkan Peace, 11 February 1997). The ICG also insisted that individuals found responsible for the attack must be arrested and tried by an impartial court. In other news, the overnight curfew in the Federation was abolished on 14 February after more than four years, Oslobodjenje reported. But federal Interior Minister Mehmed Zilic said a curfew will remain in effect in Mostar "until the tensions calm down." -- Daria Sito Sucic


    Michael Steiner, the deputy to the international community's High Representative Carl Bildt, said that a new and radical approach may be needed to get refugees home, Reuters reported. To date practically no individuals have been able to return to territory under the control of another ethnic group, despite their right to do so under the Dayton accord. Steiner argued on 17 February that: "if as much energy were put into organizing the return of refugees [on a trade-off basis] as has been put by the OSCE into organizing elections, perhaps by having an R-Day or Return Day instead of an E-Day or Election Day, then we could achieve far more than we have with pilot projects which don't work because they lack internal balance." -- Patrick Moore


    Pentagon officials on 11 February said that Washington is consulting with its allies on means of bringing war criminals to justice, but that no firm plans have been made, AFP reported. The previous day, the London Daily Telegraph ran a story claiming that: "a series of 'snatch operations' [to catch war criminals]... has reached the detailed planning stage, diplomatic and military sources have disclosed." The article suggested that SFOR would provide support, that all 66 war criminals on the loose would probably be rounded up at once, that UN observers would be withdrawn before the operation began, and that the force would probably consist of elite British, French, and U.S. units under their own national commands. The paper, which has close ties to the Foreign Office, hinted, however, that some "senior British sources" are concerned lest the project open British troops on the ground to retribution. Might the story have been a deliberate leak to sabotage the entire project in advance? -- Patrick Moore


    After a 50-day delay caused by disagreements within Bosnia's three-man presidency over who should sign international aid contracts, presidency Chair Izetbegovic on 6 February signed three credit arrangements for the country's reconstruction, local and international media reported. The three loans include $7 million for local projects, $10 million for an emergency industrial restart project, and $15 million for hospital services, Onasa reported. Those credits for the first time allocate substantial reconstruction funds to the Republika Srpska. Under the current deal, the Serbs, who had received thus far only 2% of international aid because of their leadership's boycott of a donors' conference last year, will receive about one-third of the total credits. But the upcoming donors' conference scheduled for 5 March has been postponed into April because the inter- ethnic government has yet to approve draft laws proposed by the IMF on a single central bank, a single currency, and a government budget, Reuters reported. In other news, the Bosnian National Bank's Governor Kasim Omicevic said the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) will give DM 165 million for a one-year period aimed at reviving Bosnia's economy, Onasa reported on 7 February. -- Daria Sito Sucic


    President Franjo Tudjman announced on 12 February that the vote for the upper house of parliament and local government offices has been postponed to 13 April, Hina reported (see OMRI Daily Digest, 12 February 1997). Voting had been slated for 16 March, but the UN administrator for Serb-held eastern Slavonia, U.S. Gen. Jacques Klein, said that conditions there would not be ready for the March deadline. He urged the Croats to speed up the distribution of citizenship papers, and the Serbs to respect the April election date, Novi List wrote. The Croatian government wants eastern Slavonia to vote at the same time as the rest of the country to underscore that it is again part of Croatia. -- Patrick Moore


    .. Some 5,000 Serbian protesters marched through downtown Vukovar -- the main town of that last Serb-held region -- in a bid to secure local autonomy, international media reported. The protesters were demanding that eastern Slavonia become one county, that Croatia have an open border with neighboring Serbia, and that they be granted dual Croatian-Yugoslav citizenship. Most of the protesters in Vukovar said they would rather leave the area than stay under Croatian rule. One Serbian leader in eastern Slavonia, Vojislav Stanimirovic, said Serbs are afraid that they do not have enough time to prepare for the local elections, AFP reported. He added that the Serbs have not yet decided whether they will take part in the polls. -- Daria Sito Sucic


    Gen. Klein said that only about 15-20,000 of the 120,000 Croatian Serbs living in eastern Slavonia would leave for neighboring Serbia, Reuters reported on 16 February. "[Those who will leave] are Serb nationalists who simply cannot live in a Croatian Catholic state -- and they include war criminals, [and] people with guilty consciences," Klein said. The UN Transitional Authority in Eastern Slavonia (UNTAES) said some 650 Serb households have left the area since June 1996. This includes 450 in the first half of February alone, following the UN Security Council's backing of the Croatian government's letter of intent for peaceful reintegration. But more than 40,000 Serbs have meanwhile obtained Croatian citizenship papers in order to vote and keep their property and jobs. Klein said Serb leaders should insist on as many rights and posts for themselves from the Croatian government as possible, instead of maintaining unfeasible demands for territorial autonomy. The Croatian government promised Serbs various posts in the administration, as well as cultural and educational autonomy. "We urge them to guarantee themselves protection by being inside the system and looking out, instead of outside looking in," Reuters cited Klein as saying. -- Daria Sito Sucic


    On 17 February Tudjman met with Klein and Stanimirovic to discuss reintegration and the amnesty issue, Hina reported. Deputy Prime Minister Ivica Kostovic said afterwards that Tudjman guaranteed there will be no seeking of revenge. But Klein requested that a final list of war criminals be issued by the Croatian government so that people who are not on it know they can stay in the area. Last year Croatia put out an incomplete list of 811 "war criminals." Stanimirovic said the publication of the list will surely have a positive impact on local Serbs in persuading them not to leave. Klein also underscored the importance of the planned visit of Croatian Foreign Minister Mate Granic to Belgrade on 19 February. -- Daria Sito Sucic


    And in Ljubljana, Premier Janez Drnovsek on 17 February announced that he had reached an accord on forming a government that would include a cabinet composed of members of his own Liberal Democratic Party (LDS), the right- wing Slovenian People's Party (SLS), and the small Democratic Pensioners' Party (DESUS), Radio Slovenija reported. Drnovsek is reportedly hoping for the support of 52 of the 90 legislators when the cabinet comes up for parliamentary approval. Elections were held on 10 November, and an earlier cabinet proposal was rejected by parliament on 6 February. A rejection of this line-up may reportedly force early elections. -- Stan Markotich

    Edited by 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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