Leader Development & Education for Sustained Peace Program: Cross-Cultural, Geopolitical & Regional Education

LDESP USEUCOM News Update – September 2012



Disclaimer: The purpose of the LDESP news brief is to increase your situational awareness concerning events that may impact your mission. Articles are taken from established and diverse professional periodicals, news articles, and editorial commentaries from different countries, reflecting a range of political views/biases, that are intended to provide readers with a better understanding of various interests and perspectives regarding the situation in the region. External links may expire at any time depending on the archiving policy of the particular news agency. News summaries may highlight only a portion of an article that is relevant to the readers and may not necessarily be the focus of the entire article or the headline. Opinions expressed in the articles/commentaries do not constitute endorsement by the Department of Defense, the US Navy, or the LDESP staff.


21-Year Sentence For Norwegian Killer Of 77 But He May Serve For Life

At first the news may be a shock because of what would seem to Americans to be such a relatively light punishment considering the crime: Anders Behring Breivik, the “self-styled anti-Muslim militant” who killed 77 people in Norway on 22 July 2011, was sentenced on 24 August by a five-judge panel in Oslo to a minimum of 10 years in prison and a maximum of 21 years, as The Associated Press reports. Twenty-one years is the most Norwegian law would allow. There is no death penalty in Norway. But, the wire service adds: “Such sentences can be extended as long as an inmate is considered too dangerous to be released. Legal experts have said that in Breivik’s case that could mean he will spend the rest of his life in prison.” The Norway Post puts it this way: the prison sentence can be “prolonged at a later date, five years at a time, if he is deemed to remain a danger to society.” Part of today’s ruling also focused on the issue of whether Breivik is sane enough to be held criminally responsible for the slaughter. The court concluded he is. (NPR)

Trucks Full Of Cash: U.S. Firms Make Plans For Greece Euro Exit

European leaders have vowed to do all they can to keep the eurozone intact, but U.S. companies are making contingency plans in case Greece is forced to leave the currency union. The New York Times said major U.S. banks and corporations are “preparing for what was once unthinkable” — Greece’s exit from the eurozone: “Bank of America Merrill Lynch has looked into filling trucks with cash and sending them over the Greek border so clients can continue to pay local employees and suppliers in the event money is unavailable. Ford has configured its computer systems so they will be able to immediately handle a new Greek currency.” The newspaper adds: “JPMorgan Chase … is taking no chances. It has already created new accounts for a handful of American giants that are reserved for a new drachma in Greece or whatever currency might succeed the euro in other countries.” (…) European leaders have insisted that the continent’s debt crisis can be managed and the eurozone can remain intact. On Thursday, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi is expected to outline a bond-buying program aimed at lowering borrowing costs for debt-strapped governments including Spain and Italy. (NPR)



UN Tribunal Rejects Karadzic Request For New Trial

The UN’s war crimes court has rejected a request by Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic for a new trial. Karadzic has been on trial since October 2009 on war crimes charges including genocide for allegedly masterminding Serbian atrocities during Bosnia’s 1992-95 war. He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges. Last month, he asked the International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for a fresh trial, accusing prosecutors of being late in disclosing evidence favorable to his defense. The ruling on 3 September by judges at The Hague-based tribunal says delays in evidence disclosure have not infringed Karadzic’s right to a fair trial. The UN court has repeatedly delayed Karadzic’s trial to enable him to review newly disclosed evidence. (RFE/RL)

Fresh Call For Probe Of Balkan War Disappearances

Human rights watchdog Amnesty International has urged authorities in Balkan states to investigate the fate of some 14,000 people still missing from the region’s conflicts of the 1990s and to punish those responsible for forced “disappearances.” The call was made in a statement issued by Amnesty International ahead of International Day of the Disappeared on 30 August. “People living in the Balkans have not closed the chapter of enforced disappearances,” the statement cautioned. Jezerca Tigani, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia deputy program director, called on governments to “ensure that all victims and their families have access to justice.” The statement accused authorities in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Kosovo of failing “to abide by their international legal obligations to effectively investigate and prosecute” missing-persons cases. (RFE/RL)

Turkey increases its cultural footprint in the Balkans

Turkey has been taking a multidimensional foreign policy approach in the Balkan region, with one of its focuses on the preservation of history. The Turkish International Co-operation and Development Agency (TIKA) has been conducting important restoration projects throughout the Balkan countries, which were under Ottoman rule from the 15th to the 19th century, to preserve cultural and historical heritage. During the Ottoman reign, 15,787 structures were built, including tombs, mosques, medreses, hamams (Turkish baths), bridges and fountains. However, due to the wars in the region, most of them have been seriously damaged. András Riedlmayer, an art documentation specialist at Harvard University, said that the Ottoman heritage of the Balkans is the common heritage of all the Balkan peoples, and the preservation of it is something that concerns not only ethnic Turks or the Republic of Turkey. (…) The restoration works have been inevitably galvanising Turkey’s esteem and influence over the host countries. According to the experts, the presence of Turkey’s footprint in each Balkan country under the restoration of historical monuments and other artifacts shows once again the deeply-rooted bonds between Turkey and the Balkan geography, as well as a common historical memory. While in Albania, the restoration of the Parruce Mosque gave the Muslim community a place for daily prayers. In BiH, the restoration of the Drina Bridge served as the preservation of a bridge on UNESCO’s world heritage list through a protocol signed between TIKA and Visegrad Municipality. Accordingly, TIKA restored a number of Ottoman mosques in Macedonia. In Kosovo, where there are a considerable proportion of ethnic Turks, TIKA has been focusing on the protection of cultural heritage in collaboration of the country’s Culture, Youth and Sport Ministry and Kosovo Islamic Community. (SETimes)

Bosnia and Herzegovina

BiH misses deadline to change constitution

Despite a 31 August deadline set by EU officials, the 13 parliamentary parties for Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) again failed to reach a compromise that would allow for constitutional and electoral changes enabling ethnic minorities to run for the country’s top posts. Official in Brussels and minorities are disssatisfied due to the unchanged constitution, while politicians hoping to find a solution in near future. Andy McGuffie, spokesperson of the EU Delegation to BiH and EU Special Representative, said that the tasks for BiH to move forward on the EU agenda are well known and unchanged. (SETimes)

EC, CoE disappointed of BiH’s unwillingness to implement road map

The European Commissioner for enlargement and European neighbourhood policy Štefan Füle and the secretary general of the Council of Europe (CoE) Thorbjørn Jagland expressed disappointment with the inability and unwillingness of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) to implement the road map for the country’s EU membership application. In a joint statement dating from 4 September, the EC and CoE representatives noted ‘with great disappointment that the institutional and political leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina missed the first timeline for implementing the road map’. The road map for the BiH’s EU membership application was agreed on 27 June and foresaw submission of a proposal by Bosnia and Herzegovina to the Parliamentary Assembly by 31 Ausgust containing suggestions for amendment of the Constitution, by making it compliant with the Sejdić/Finci ruling of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). According to the ECtHR ruling in the case Sejdic and Finci v. Bosnia and Herzegovina from 2009, Bosnia and Herzegovina violated article 14 ECHR (prohibition of discrimination) taken in conjunction with Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 to the ECHR (right to free elections) by providing in its basic law that only ‘constituent peoples’ (Bosniacs, Croats and Serbs) had the right to be candidates for the presidency and the House of Peoples of the parliamentary assembly. The plaintiffs, however, were of a Roma and Jewish origin which prevented them from the possibility to stand for elections. In addition, the court also found a violation of article 1 of Protocol No. 12 to the ECHR (general prohibition of discrimination). The agreed road map between the EU and the BiH government furthermore contained establishment of a high level mission of the European Commission to BiH in the first half of September; mid-term review of the agreements in the road map, as well as reply by Bosnia and Herzegovina by the end of October to the two lists of sectoral questions handed over on 27 June. Füle and Jagland clearly stated that the EU road map remained valid and the objectives will not change. The also said that the Sejdić and Finci judgment had to be executed. In addition, the EC and CoE representatives called on the leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina to uphold their responsibilities and work together to implement the judgement of the Strasbourg court; fulfil the country’s commitments to the Council of Europe and move the EU integration agenda forward. (New Europe Online)

Radical Islamic video puts police on high alert

Terror threats are at the forefront for many citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) as the trial of Mevlid Jasarevic, charged for the 28 October 2011, attack on the US Embassy in Sarajevo continues. A 19 August video posted by the website balkanskiemirat showing armed and bearded men in uniform celebrating Ramadan Bayram, prompted some to speculate that the video was recorded in the forest near the city of Travnik, in Central Bosnia, even as a spokesman for the website claims that the video was not recorded there. Even though rumors of Wahhabi radical groups preparing to wage terror attacks on civilians, foreign embassies and troops seem to surface in the media every few months, authorities are taking the potential threat seriously and are taking action to root out any extremist threats and keep people safe. Travnik police went into the forest to attempt to identify the place where video was allegedly recorded, but they found nothing. “We cannot confirm that individuals in this movie are members or close to Wahhabi movement,” police spokesman Sefir Barucija said. “In the last several months, as we know, there was no gathering of members of radical movements in this area.” Nonetheless, officials are taking the potential threat seriously and are constantly looking for ways to improve regional security. BiH Security Minister Sadik Ahmetovic said that several extremist individuals and groups are known to exist in the region, not just among Muslims, but also in all other ethnic groups. (SETimes)

Bosnian Serbs Call On Foreign Minister To Resign Over Syria Vote

Bosnian Serbs have called on the country’s foreign minister to resign for instructing Bosnia’s representative at the United Nations to support the latest General Assembly resolution condemning the Syrian regime. Since the end of Bosnia’s 1992-1995 war, the country has been run by a three-member presidency, made up of the former warring parties — Bosnian Muslims, Serbs and Croats — and any major foreign policy decision has to be unanimous. The Bosnian Serb member of the presidency, Nebojsa Radmanovic, said on 9 August that Foreign Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija has to resign because he did not consult the presidency before instructing the ambassador to support the vote. (RFE/RL)


Kosovo finalizes amendments for supervision end

Kosovo’s parliament approved a package of changes to the country’s constitution on 31 August after the amendments were finalised by the Commission for constitutional amendments. The changes, which the 120 seat parliament passed with 63 votes in favour, provide the framework for the official end of supervision in the country. Kosovo proclaimed its independence in 2008, based on a plan by UN envoy Marti Ahtisaari, which provided for a supervised independence for the new country. Serbia did not and has not accepted the independence of its former province. The head of the commission, Arsim Bajrami, told SETimes that the changes include 22 laws based on 50 amendments. “The legal package includes amended laws which were related to the presence and the competencies of the international civilian representative,” Bajrami said. These competencies mostly cover the appointment of the senior officials in Kosovo from the international civilian representative. (SETimes)

UN’s Kosovo Envoy Says Energized International Engagement Needed

The United Nation’s representative for Kosovo says an energized international push is necessary to help Kosovo and Serbia overcome their political impasse. Speaking before the Security Council in New York, Special Representative Farid Zarif said, “A more active and deliberate international political engagement with the parties is needed very soon.” Zarif spoke following a visit to the Balkans during July by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, which included stops in Serbia and its breakaway former province, Kosovo. In related news, Serbia and Kosovo have sent their prime ministers to the UN Security Council in New York for high-level discussions over the future of Kosovo. Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic reiterated on 21 August that his country would never, under any circumstances, recognize an independent Kosovo. Kosovo’s Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said Kosovo was a state recognized by nearly half the UN’s 193 members and that its territorial integrity would “never be put into question.” Belgrade does not recognize the unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority in 2008. An EU-facilitated dialogue between the sides, which was looking at disputed border crossings and other matters when it was suspended due to elections in May and the formation of a government in Serbia. (RFE/RL)

Kosovo negotiating extradition agreements

Kosovo is negotiating agreements with Germany, Albania, Slovenia and Italy for the appropriate extradition of convicted criminals, after successfully signing agreements with Macedonia, Turkey, Switzerland, Belgium and Ireland. The agreements are part of Pristina’s final negotiations on several bilateral agreements on criminal issues, and are a significant step forward for the four-year-old state in developing criminal justice and resocialisation programs for convicts, and integrating fully into the international community. Similar agreements with Austria, Czech Republic, Great Britain and Northern Ireland and Belgium, have been ratified by parliament — they were signed by the former Yugoslavia. Arber Gegaj, general director of the international judicial co-operation at the Kosovo Ministry of Justice, told SETimes that 12 people have been extradited to Kosovo since January, and 18 people were extradited last year. (…) However, according to the European External Action Service, the extradition procedure is not automatic. There are built-in safeguards that ensure discretionary power for judicial authorities to deny extradition. The enforced transfer of persons to and from a non-EU country is regulated mainly through individual extradition agreements that member states make with a third country. Extradition between two sovereign countries has limitations. States do not usually extradite their own nationals, and extradition is only possible in cases where the crime constitutes a serious criminal offence in both the requesting and the requested country — called the double criminality principle. “Kosovo institutions are not showing effectiveness in facing the actual level of crime in the country. A massive transfer of persons with criminal background, would double the crime level,” Ramadan Ilazi, co-founder of Kosovo NGO FOL (Speak UP), told SETimes. Kosovo lawyer Tome Gashi points out another problem, saying that resocialisation of those people in Kosovo is difficult, because the new state does not have yet such institutions. (SETimes)

Kosovo halts visa fraud ring; five arrested

Kosovo police arrested five individuals, including former government officials, on charges of abuse of official duty, bribery, smuggling immigrants, forging official documents and blackmail. The police explained that the five, which include Januz Kastrati, former trade and industry deputy minister, conspired to issue false documents to at least 10 Kosovo citizens seeking US visas that identified them as employees of Kosovo state institutions. “The suspects … obtained a sum of money in the amount of 20,000 euro [in exchange for the documents],” the police said. According to the police, the August 28th arrests were made based on a court order from the Pristina district court and searches were conducted in Pristina and Drenas. Police confirmed the investigation was carried out in co-operation with the US Embassy in Pristina. None of the people who obtained US visas has returned to Kosovo. Had the scandal gone unchecked, the fraud could have seriously damaged Kosovo’s image and its relations with other states, according to Merita Mustafa, transparency and anti-corruption programme manager at the Kosovo Democratic Institute. (SETimes)

Kosovo seeks firm borders with Montenegro, Serbia

Kosovo announced on 18 August that it is preparing to start the demarcation process of its border with Montenegro and potentially the much more complicated issue of Serbia, following completion of the process with Albania and Macedonia. The 79km-border with Montenegro goes mainly through a rocky, mountainous area, starting from the triangle between Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo up to the triangle between Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo. “No disagreements are expected between the two states [Kosovo and Montenegro],” Murat Meha, head of the governmental commission on demarcation, told SETimes. Montenegro has recognised Kosovo’s independence, but the demarcation of the border is always a difficult process in the Balkans, Meha said. (…) The commission is also working on the eventual demarcation of the border with Serbia. Kosovo and Serbia entered into EU-mediated dialogue in March 2011. Last year, an agreement was reached on border management in which each country’s citizens can cross into the other’s territory with a so-called entry-exit proof letter, which has to be shown at the border along with an ID card. (SETimes)


EP wants Serbia to “recognize Kosovo”, PM told

EP President Martin Schultz told reporters after his meeting with the Serbian prime minister that he and other EP officials had a “very frank” conversation with Dačić, and that “relations between Serbia and Kosovo, as part of a peaceful development, must end, the way we see it, in mutual recognition”. “It is clear to us that a long road is still head, with many obstacles, such as the ‘footnote’, the EP will not go into the details, because that’s an issue for diplomats and governments,” he continued. “Our goal is that in the end it will be possible for Serbia to become an EU member, by fulfilling all the measures and establishing peaceful, stable relationships between the two countries.” This, believes the EP president, is difficult “but not impossible”, while European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and others in the EU are facing “an internal problem” when it comes to such a resolution to the Kosovo problem: not all EU members recognize Kosovo. However, Schultz explained, the EU as a whole wants Serbia to recognize it. Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians in early 2008 unilaterally declared independence of the province – a proclamation that Serbia rejected as illegal. Five out of EU’s 27 member states have not recognized Kosovo. Schultz also told reporters that his meeting with Dačić also touched on Serbia’s reforms, the fight against corruption, economic development and unemployment, state budget issues and other problems “that the EU itself is facing”. Dačić for his part thanked the EP president, to whom he referred as “my friend Martin”. The Serbian prime minister said that it was his great pleasure that this official was at the helm of the EP, which he referred as an institution that “perhaps supports Serbia’s European future the most”. (B92)

Serbia and Cyprus struggling to prise loans out of Russia

Despite claims to the contrary from Belgrade, Russia said on 4 September that it has yet to complete an agreement on a $300m loan to Serbia. Cyprus is also struggling to seal a deal to borrow €5bn, as the Kremlin dangles the carrot of cheap financing in front of its struggling allies. Serbia’s Natural Resources and Mining Minister Milan Bacevic told Tanjug on 4 September, following a meeting in Moscow with Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak, that Belgrade is close to securing the funding. Explaining that the cash will go towards propping up the budget, Bacevic claimed that the $300m should be available to Serbia by mid-December. The Serb official also claimed that Belgrade hopes to see that loan quickly followed by another to support the 2013 budget. However, a representative of the Russian Finance Ministry contradicted Bacevic, insisting Russia has not held talks on such a loan with the Serbian government, reports Prime. (Business New Europe)


Co-operation is a precondition for internal security

Macedonia supports Kosovo’s participation in regional initiatives and forums on defense issues, Macedonian Minister of Defense Fatmir Besimi, said, adding that military co-operation between the two countries is flourishing and has reached “important initial successes.” (…) Andreja Bogdanovski, an analyst from Skopje-based Analytica, said enhancing regional military co-operation is a necessary step to towards a regional response to common threats, but it also signals an increase of trust between countries. “Kosovo, having its security forces built from scratch, requires additional support from the countries from the region in this regard. This is where countries such as Macedonia, Croatia or Albania can offer their experiences in contribution to peace support operations as well as national defense,” Bogdanovski told SETimes. Macedonia and Kosovo signed their first co-operation plan earlier this year, and have started to exchange experience and lessons learned in building national institutions of defense. “Kosovo Security Force (KSF) just finalised their first exercise in the military polygon of Krivolak [Macedonia], with the participation of 120 soldiers, with logistic support from the army of the Republic of Macedonia. We expect Kosovo Security Force to use the polygon in Krivolak for their military exercises in the future as well,” Besimi told SETimes. Agim Ceku, minister of the KSF, visited his contingent in Krivolak on 30 August. “The aim of this exercise is to exercise, but also apply in practice all the procedures of sending forces abroad,” Ceku said, adding that another goal is to strengthen the relations between KSF and Macedonian ministry of defense. Mentor Vrajolli, senior researcher in the Kosovo Centre for Security Studies, says KSF needs to demonstrate it has developed the necessary professional capacities and is ready to serve as a constructive force in the region and beyond. (SETimes)


Turkmenistan Plans To Hold First-Ever Military Maneuvers in Caspian

Turkmenistan says it is planning to hold its first-ever military maneuvers on the Caspian Sea. Defense Minister Begench Gundogdyev was quoted in state-controlled media on 30 August as telling President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov that the Turkmen Navy is ready to hold the exercises at the beginning of September. The announcement has come with Turkmenistan locked in a dispute with another Caspian state, Azerbaijan, over ownership of a section of the Caspian believed to hold lucrative energy reserves. In June, the two sides accused each other of provocations and vowed to defend their rights over the section of an undersea oil field called Kapaz by Baku and Serdar by Ashgabat. Experts are reported to have estimated that the region could be holding upward of 50 million tons of oil. (RFE/RL)


NATO Chief Visiting Armenia Amid Tensions

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen is expected to meet with Armenia’s leadership during a two-day visit to Yerevan beginning 5 September. The visit comes amid escalating tensions between Armenia and neighboring Azerbaijan over Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s decision to pardon an Azerbaijani military officer who had been jailed for life in Hungary for the murder of an Armenian officer in 2004. Hungary says it returned the officer to Azerbaijan after receiving assurances from Azeri officials that his life sentence would be enforced. It is not clear if the NATO chief will visit Azerbaijan, with NATO saying only that Rasmussen is opening a regional tour of the South Caucasus. Armenia and Azerbaijan have been in conflict for around three decades over Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenian-controlled territory inside Azerbaijan. (RFE/RL)

Armenian Earthquake Survivors Complain About Authorities’ Response

When Iran was hit by devastating twin earthquakes on 11 August, neighbor Armenia was quick to offer its help and extend condolences for the more than 300 victims. But Armenians affected by the aftershocks say their government has all but ignored them. Locals in Varkhavar, one of the villages in southern Armenia that sustained damage, say they have been left to fend for themselves. “Not a single official has come here to see how we are doing,” Valerik Davtyan told RFE/RL. Another villager echoed this complaint, saying that “our mayor is the only one trying to take care of us.” Residents are still reeling from the powerful aftershocks that damaged a number of buildings in their village. Some 30 aftershocks shook Armenia in the wake of Iran’s deadly quake, sending people fleeing out of buildings in the capital, Yerevan, and other cities across the country. (RFE/RL)


EU Suggests Azerbaijan Broke Pledges, Pardon ‘Endangers’ Region

A spokeswoman for the European Union’s foreign policy chief says Azerbaijan appears to have abandoned pledges it made to EU member Hungary ahead of the handover and subsequent pardon of an army man serving a life sentence for murdering a fellow NATO trainee from Armenia. A spokeswoman for High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton, Maja Kocijancic, also told RFE/RL’s Brussels correspondent that Baku’s actions threaten “fragile” stability in the region. She said the bloc was asking Baku to explain its freeing of Ramil Safarov, who confessed to having killed Armenian officer Gurgen Margarian with an ax in 2004 after Margarian allegedly “insulted” Azerbaijan. “According to what we know now, on the basis of the information gathered, it would appear that certain conditions and commitments that were agreed between Hungary and Azerbaijan on the transfer of Ramil Safarov have not been met,” Kocijancic said, “and in that respect we will continue or we will try to be in touch with the Azeri side to hear the explanation why this has happened and why the behavior that is endangering the fragile situation the region is continuing.” EU President Herman van Rompuy was joined by European Parliament speaker Martin Schulz on 4 September in condemning Baku’s actions. Safarov received a pardon from President Ilham Aliyev immediately after his return to Azerbaijan on 31 August and was given a military promotion the next day, infuriating Armenia and eliciting U.S. “concern.” Armenia has suspended diplomatic and other ties with Hungary as a result of the repatriation. Officials in Budapest insist they received certain guarantees from their Azerbaijani counterparts, and claim they acted under international law. Hungarians have also expressed anger at Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s (Fidesz) government, with nearly 2,000 people protesting in the capital over Safarov’s extradition. The co-chairs of the Minsk Group with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) announced on 3 September that they had met separately with the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan to discuss Safarov’s pardon. RFE/RL’s Brussels correspondent says EU foreign ministers could discuss the issue when they gather for an informal meeting on Cyprus on 7 September. (RFE/RL)

22 Azerbaijanis On Trial For Alleged Spying For Iran

Twenty-two Azerbaijani citizens have gone on trial for allegedly planning terrorist attacks targeting the U.S. and Israeli embassies in Baku. The suspects were arrested by Azerbaijani authorities in March and accused of having links to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. Azerbaijan’s Interior Ministry announced in March that AK-47 assault rifles, guns, and explosives were confiscated from the suspects. The trial is being held behind closed doors. Relations between Tehran and Baku have soured since it was reported in February that Azerbaijan had purchased some $1.6 billion of weapons from Israel. Also in February, Iran accused Azerbaijan of allowing Israeli spies to use Azerbaijani territory, while Azerbaijan arrested an unspecified number of people, saying they were linked to Iran and were planning attacks in Azerbaijan. (RFE/RL)


EU Concerns About Tensions Ahead Of Georgia Vote

EU officials have urged the Georgian government and the opposition to “ensure a peaceful, enabling, and competitive electoral environment.” In a statement released ahead of parliamentary elections, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele expressed concern “about the growing polarization and tension in this context — elections should be first of all about political programs and ideas.” Ashton and Fuele said Georgia remained a key partner for the European Union, adding that the 1 October elections will “set the stage for the quality and intensity of our relations in the future.” The vote will pit President Mikheil Saakashvili’s governing party against the bloc headed by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili. Tensions rose last month after a court fined Ivanishvili more than $12 million for an allegedly suspect cash withdrawal. (RFE/RL)

As Hostage Crisis Unfolds, Saakashvili Pledges To Maintain Georgian Stability

President Mikheil Saakashvili has visited the site of the gunfight that officials say has killed at least three members of Georgia’s security forces and 11 Islamic militants allegedly coming from the neighboring Daghestan region of Russia. During his visit on 30 August to the Lopota Gorge, Saakashvili vowed his government would not allow militants to move freely through Georgia. He said the kidnapping of Georgian citizens was “unacceptable.” Earlier, officials said Georgian security forces were still searching for up to six alleged militants. Officials also said 10 Georgian hostages who had been seized by the militants were freed as a result of action by the security forces. Saakashvili has vowed that “instability in a neighboring country will never affect” Georgia’s stability. According to Reuters, Saakashvili went on to say: “Another attempt to export a new wave of tension and instability into Georgia from our northern neighbor will be stopped at the very beginning.” Saakashvili said intelligence data showed that most of the abductors had been killed. The Interior Ministry earlier said five Georgian soldiers had also been wounded. It was not clear on 30 August whether the militants might still be holding Georgian security officers who might have exchanged themselves for the hostages. The motives of the alleged hostage takers remain unclear. (…) A website associated with the Islamic insurgency in Daghestan (vdagestan.com) claimed on August 30 that the fighters in the Lopota Gorge were from what it called the “Velayat [province] of Daghestan belonging to Imarat Kavkaz [Caucasus Emirate].” The website denied that the fighters had taken any hostages, and blamed Georgian authorities for starting the shooting that led to the fight. The fighting in the Lopota Gorge erupted on 28 August — the same day a female suicide bomber killed Daghestan’s leading Sufi Muslim cleric, Said Afandi Atsayev, and several of his followers. That attack prompted Daghestan’s leader, Magomedsalam Magomedov, on 30 August to order local officials to create self-defense and vigilante groups to help police bolster security in the violence-torn region. The insurgents in the region profess the extreme Wahhabi form of Islam and regularly attack police, military personnel, and moderate Muslims. The Caucasus Emirate is a self-proclaimed entity that says it seeks to gather all Russian North Caucasus republics into one Islamic-led state. The Chechen militant Doku Umarov is considered the movement’s leader. (…) The violence comes amid a campaign in Georgia for parliamentary elections scheduled for October. (RFE/RL)

Georgia’s Breakaway Republics Mark Independence Day

Georgia’s breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia marked four years of de facto independence on 26 August. In South Ossetia, parliamentary speaker Stanislav Koriev referred to the region’s “unbroken spirit” and called its people citizens of a “heroic nation.” President Leonid Tibilov handed out awards to “citizens who made contributions to the establishment and strengthening of sovereignty” in South Ossetia. In Abkhazia, Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Chirikba warned that the conflict with Georgia, which still claims both republics as part of its territory, was not finished. 26 August is the day the Russian Federation recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent nations. Only a few nations have followed Moscow in recognizing the two republics as independent countries. (RFE/RL)

Breakaway South Ossetia Plans ‘To Demolish Georgian Villages’

The leader of Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia, Leonid Tibilov, has been quoted as saying that Georgian villages in the region will be torn down. The Georgian population was driven out of the restive region and their abandoned houses were damaged during the five-day military conflict between Russia and Georgia in August 2008. Tibilov added that the villages would also be stripped of their Georgian names as “the settlements will not exist.” Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kapanadze harshly criticized the South Ossetian and Russian authorities for what he called a “continuation of the ethnic cleansing.” Moscow recognized South Ossetia and Georgia’s other separatist region, Abkhazia, as independent countries after the Russian-Georgian war four years ago. Georgia’s government and nearly all of the rest of the world consider both regions still part of Georgia. (RFE/RL)


Ingushetia Leader Accuses Kadyrov Of ‘Provocations’

The head of Russia’s southern republic of Ingushetia, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, has accused his Chechen counterpart Ramzan Kadyrov of “provocations” because of remarks Kadyrov made about their border. Earlier, Kadyrov said Ingushetia’s district of Sunzha and parts of its Malgobek district are “indigenous Chechen territories.” Kadyrov, during the last week of August, accused Ingushetia of “encroaching on Chechen territory” and called for “a clear administrative border” to be established between the two Russian republics. The two also recently have traded accusations about whether the other is doing enough to prevent cross-border terrorist attacks by militants.(RFE/RL)

Russian Activists Accuse Kremlin Of Trying To ‘Forget Beslan’

3 September was a solemn day in Russia — the Day of Remembrance of Victims of Terrorist Attacks. In Moscow, wreaths were laid and candles lit at the sites of 12 different terrorist incidents that have taken dozens of lives in the capital in recent years. But relatives of victims of perhaps Russia’s most horrific terrorist attack of all — the September 2004 hostage-taking at a school in Beslan — are disappointed with the way their particular pain has been handled. On 1 September 2004, armed Chechen militants seized more than 1,000 children, parents, and teachers who were gathered at the Beslan school to mark the start of the school year. Three hundred and thirty-four people — including 186 schoolchildren — died, many of them in the chaotic storming of the school two days later by Russian security forces. Ella Kesayeva, a member of the Beslan Mothers Committee, says Moscow’s policy on the tragedy now amounts to a very simple one: “Forget Beslan.” For example, she says, two years ago at this time, the headlines were dominated not by Beslan commemorations but by then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s road trip across Siberia in a Lada Kalina automobile. “In the past seven years, the leading figures of government only twice observed moments of silence in memory of those who died,” Kesayeva says. “In the other years, they were doing things like riding yellow Kalinas and they just forgot about Beslan. They made it clear that ‘we don’t want to remember this.'” She adds that her group’s efforts to secure passage of a federal law on assistance to victims of terrorist attacks have been stymied. “For years, we have been gathering signatures in support of a law on victims of terrorism — all victims, not just Beslan — but it still has not been passed,” she says. “To this day, victims have no social guarantees, no right to medical care. For years, people got medical help on an individual basis. Now, the situation is clear: ‘Forget Beslan.'” (RFE/RL)

Two Militants Killed In Security Operation In Daghestan

Authorities in Russia’s restive Daghestan region on 31 August that two suspected militants have been killed in a special operation in the republic’s Leninkent residential area near the capital, Makhachkala. Officials said the militants blockaded themselves in a house and refused to surrender. They were then killed by security forces, who later found an explosive device in the house. Experts were reported working at the scene to defuse the explosive device. Mostly Muslim-populated Daghestan is one of the most volatile republics in Russia’s North Caucasus, where Islamic insurgents professing the extreme Wahhabi form of Islam regularly attack police, military personnel, and moderate Muslims. (RFE/RL)



Germany admits training Belarus security forces

Germany has admitted that in 2008-10 it trained members of the security forces of Belarus – the country branded by the West as Europe’s “last dictatorship”. The government in Berlin said it had believed at the time that Minsk was committed to “a process of democracy”. But it said the co-operation was halted after President Alexander Lukashenko was re-elected in 2010, amid claims that the poll was rigged. Earlier, a German newspaper said the training continued until 2011. The Tagesspiegel daily reported that Belarus’ security forces accompanied German police as observers during an anti-nuclear demonstration in Germany in 2010. It also said that German officials also travelled to Belarus to train some 400 local border guards. “The German government intensified its dialogue with the Belarusian government between 2008 and 2010,” German Interior Ministry spokesman Philipp Spauschus told reporters on 24 August. He said it was “because there were signs that Minsk was ready to implement democratic reforms and conform to rule of law. But the spokesman said that – contrary to the Tagesspiegel’s report – the “co-operation with the Belarusian government was largely reduced, leading to a total freeze” after the 2010 election in the former Soviet republic. (…) Earlier this year, the European Union extended its blacklist of Belarusian officials, adding 21 names to the list, which already included more than 160 individuals. (BBC News)

AFP: Germany, Pakistan commit to dialogue on security issues

The foreign ministers of Germany and Pakistan signed an agreement on 4 September in which the two countries committed to a “strategic dialogue” on security issues, particularly regarding Afghanistan, AFP reports. The agreement, signed by Germany’s Guido Westerwelle and Pakistan’s Hina Rabbani Khar, set out a “road map” of future meetings between the two countries so the two countries could benefit from greater cooperation in this domain. “Pakistan has a decisive role to play in the stability of the whole region,” said Westerwelle. “We know that without Pakistan, there will no solution in Afghanistan and a stable Afghanistan is an objective that we both share,” he added. “Even after 2014 we will not forget Afghanistan,” he said. That is the year that the international NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is due to hand over responsibility for security there to Afghan forces. Khar also stressed that her country considered it in its national interest to have “a pacified, prosperous and stable Afghanistan”. She praised Germany’s leading role in the Afghan peace process, and insisted that Pakistan had no hidden political agenda regarding Afghanistan. Berlin is the third biggest contributor of troops to the 130,000-strong ISAF Force after the United States and Britain. It has 4,900 soldiers in Afghanistan but 500 are set to be withdrawn by 2013 before a complete pullout of international troops the following year. (Focus Fen)


Italy figures show increase in crime amid police cuts

The number of crimes reported to police in Italy went up last year, according to figures released by the country’s interior ministry. (…) The higher crime figures came out after police spending was cut as part of a harsh austerity programme. Meanwhile, angry protests have been reported against plans to close a court in a crime-ridden part of southern Italy. (…) Police unions blame spending cuts totalling over $3.5bn (£2.2bn) on police services imposed by successive governments, according to BBC reports. Under the spending cuts introduced by Italy’s government, some 37 courts are due to close, including the one in Lucera, in Foggia province. (…) The local bishop wrote a letter of protest to the president of Italy pleading: “Don’t abandon us to the Mafia!” and ordered the muffled bells of his ancient cathedral to toll as at a funeral. The public prosecutor, who has received death threats from Mafia bosses, angrily published his last will and testament. At least 20 local mayors have handed in their tricolour mayoral sashes to show that they are ready to resign if the closure goes ahead. The sashes were given in to Foggia’s prefect, along with thousands of electoral cards returned by citizens in protest. They hope the protest will reach the minister of home affairs who could take the Tribunale di Lucera off the list of those earmarked for closure. (BBC News)


Euro crisis: Greece budget cuts to be inspected

A team of inspectors from the so-called troika of the EU, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund are due in Athens during the first week of September to see how the government is progressing with its austerity programme. Greece is under pressure to speed up far-reaching reforms, including privatisation and civil service job cuts, in order to continue receiving instalments of its international bailout. (BBC News)


Yasser Arafat: France opens murder inquiry

French prosecutors have opened a murder inquiry into the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in 2004. His family launched a case during July over claims that he was poisoned with polonium-210, a radioactive element. Swiss scientists hired by a documentary crew said they found traces of polonium on some of Arafat’s belongings, as the BBC’s Hugh Schofield explains. (BBC News)

French police break up Roma encampment in Lyon

French police have begun breaking up one of the biggest Roma (Gypsy) camps in the city of Lyon, following a similar action in Paris on 27 August. Authorities said more than 120 people had been moved, by order of a court. Activists said many of those forced out were children and new-born babies. The local mayor admitted the crackdown was “completely catastrophic” for the families involved. The government has pledged new efforts to integrate Roma. There are an estimated 15,000 ethnic Roma living in illegal camps across France. As police moved into the Saint-Priest camp near Lyon on Tuesday, Roma families walked off the site without any provision being made to rehouse them. Women carried babes-in-arms, men hefted pushchairs loaded with belongings, and a crane was deployed to pick up empty caravans. (BBC News)


Spain evicts illegal migrants from islet off Morocco

At least 80 illegal African migrants have been evicted from a Spanish islet off the Moroccan coast in a joint police operation by both nations. Isla de Tierra, which lies within swimming distance of Morocco, is seen as an easy entry point into Europe. The migrants reached the island during the last week of August while another group tried to cross a fence separating Morocco from the Spanish enclave of Melilla. Authorities believe both actions were mafia-led human-trafficking attempts. The Spanish-owned Isla de Tierra belongs to the Alhucemas archipelago near the Spanish territory of Melilla, one of the easiest gateways into Europe from Africa. Melilla and Ceuta, another small Spanish enclave off Morocco’s coast, attract hundreds of thousands of immigrants desperate to escape poverty and political unrest. Spanish police said they evicted the migrants from Isla de Tierra. They are thought to all be from sub-Saharan Africa. “Many of the immigrants did not want to go to Morocco, but there was no need to use force nor any troubles,” a police spokesman said. The migrants were handed over to Moroccan authorities, he added. (BBC News)



Der Standard: Bulgaria can be separated from Romania in the Schengen issue

There is speculation that Bulgaria can be separated from Romanian on the issue of accession to the Schengen area, the Austrian newspaper Der Standard commented. During the last week of August, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso visited Bulgaria, not Romania and praised for Sofia. The decision depends on the ministers of interior and justice ministers of EU countries. Most likely, the issue will not be raised at the meeting of the EU Ministers on 20 September, and the next meeting on 25 October. There may be a new decision to postpone the extension of Schengen are as a sanction against the Romanian government. (Focus Fen)

Bulgarian Officials Seize 22 Kilograms Of Heroin Bound For Bosnia

Bulgarian authorities have seized almost 22 kilograms of heroin bound for Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Bulgarian Customs Headquarters said that customs inspectors found the drugs in a car at the Kapitan Andreevo border checkpoint on 9 August. A press release issued the same day said the heroin was travelling from Istanbul to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The heroin’s estimated street value is more than 1.5 million dollars. It was hidden in 23 packages in the car’s gasoline tank. The car was driven by a 44-year-old Bosnian national. (RFE/RL)


With impeachment overturned, Romania looks forward

President Traian Basescu’s return to office on 28 August after a two-month suspension engineered by Prime Minister Victor Ponta gives Romania’s government an opportunity to focus on the pressing tasks it faces — a fragile economy, joining Schengen and the rule of law. The distraction caused by Basescu’s impeachment and the long debate over the validity of a national referendum threatened to derail the nation from democratic and economic reforms. “Romania was already regarded as a vulnerable country by foreign investors. This political crisis has shown their fears were not groundless and proved Romania is a difficult country,” Aurelian Dochia, an expert with the Romanian Centre for Economic Policies, told SETimes. The effects are even more serious since the foreign capital injected into the Romanian economy was already decreasing, Dochia said. (SETimes)

Romania Announces Parliamentary Polls

Romania’s government has set parliamentary elections for 9 December. The elections come amid high tension between leftist Prime Minister Victor Ponta’s ruling USL coalition and center-right President Traian Basescu. In July, the USL launched a move to impeach Basescu, leading to a referendum that failed as voter turnout fell short of the required 50-percent threshold. The push by Ponta’s leftist alliance to dismiss Basescu slowed policy-making, battered the national currency, and raised questions about the fate of an IMF-led aid deal worth 5 billion euros. The European Union and the United States sharply criticized the impeachment move, voicing concerns that the EU country’s democracy was under threat. The USL government has been wracked by scandals since coming to power in April, with Ponta himself facing allegations of plagiarism. (RFE/RL)


Ukraine Rejects Reports Of Selling Missile Systems To Armenia

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has described as a provocation media reports in Azerbaijan alleging that Ukraine sold multiple rocket launchers and mobile missile systems to Armenia in 2011. Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleksandr Dykusarov said at a press briefing on 14 August that Ukraine had been strictly observing the international obligations assumed before the UN and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, as well as national legislation. Armenia’s Defense Ministry also denied the reports on 14 August. Armenia and Azerbaijan have been in conflict for around three decades over Azerbaijan’s Armenian-controlled enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, with a fragile cease-fire in place since 1994. The self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh has not been recognized by any other country. (RFE/RL)

Ukraine Extradites ‘Putin Plot’ Suspect To Russia

Ukraine has extradited to Russia one of two men who were allegedly plotting to assassinate Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russian television’s Channel One said on 25 August that Ilya Pyanzin, who is a national of Kazakhstan, had been brought to Moscow. Pyanzin was detained in Odessa in February after he was injured in an accidental explosion of a hand-made bomb that killed his associate. Pyanzin’s detention led to the arrest of the alleged mastermind of the plot Adam Osmayev, a Chechen, whose extradition to Russia was halted last week at the request of the European Court for Human Rights. Reports about the alleged plot to kill Putin surfaced days before Russia’s 4 March presidential election, prompting skeptics to say the plot was fabricated and timed to raise Putin’s popularity ratings before the vote. (RFE/RL)

Two Suspects Arrested Over Illegal Slovak-Ukraine Tunnel

Ukraine’s State Security Service says two men have been arrested on suspicion of involvement in the operation of an illegal tunnel across the Ukraine-Slovakia border. Officials said the pair was arrested this week in the Crimean city of Evpatoria. Slovak and Ukrainian border guards, during July, said they discovered the underground tunnel connecting the countries. There are suspicions that the tunnel may have been used for the illegal transit of humans and goods. Officials said the tunnel stretched for about 70 meters on the Ukrainian side of the border. (RFE/RL)

Yanukovych Tells Putin Kyiv Wants SCO Observer Status

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych said he is interested in the export of Ukrainian high-tech products to Asian countries and said Ukraine would like to get observer status in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). He also said Ukraine would like to change its stance regarding natural gas imports from Russia. He spoke while meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi. Putin told his Ukrainian counterpart he will provide detailed information on the results of a summit conference of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum due to be held in Vladivostok from 7-11 September. Putin said, “I think both the Ukrainian and Russian economies would benefit from devising some form of Ukrainian observance at APEC forums.” The meeting took place as part of Yanukovych’s working visit to Russia. (RFE/RL)

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