AIM: start

THU, 06 DEC 2001 00:14:45 GMT

Arrests as a Form of Political Pressure

AIM Pristina, November 30, 2001

Several days after Nov. 17 general election, UNMIK police said they arrested a member of the Kosovo Protection Corps on suspicion of serious crimes committed in 1998 and 1999. International investigating judge Leondi Asira questioned him for five hours and then ordered him detained for 30 days as part of the investigation. The arrested man was then identified as Gani Imeri, one of the former Kosovo Liberation Army commanders, and currently in command of a brigade of the Kosovo Protection Corps, an organization formed in the wake of the demilitarization and transformation of the KLA.

According to international prosecutor Mati Himenen, Imeri is suspected of abduction and attempted assassination -- he is believed to have, together with two other men, kidnapped five Serbs in the village of Gojbulja, Vucitrn municipality, on June 25, 1999. One of the abducted managed to escape while the fate of the other four is not known. Imeri rejected the charges, saying that during the war he fought for the freedom of his people and had no intention of endangering the lives of people belonging to other ethnic groups. "The charges against me are an insult to my military contribution; as a former KLA commander I never attacked civilians, nor can I be charged with such a deed," Imeri told the judge. It is up to investigators to find out the truth, but Imeri has already been marked as a man believed to be responsible for crimes against minority groups after the war in Kosovo.

Many Kosovo observers hold that the main problem is that war crimes, and crimes committed after the war, are treated as part of a political game. "The arrest of Imeri immediately after the election seems more like a reward to Kosovo Serbs for their participation in election than an attempt to truly solve these crimes," they say.

Almost three years after the war, only several people have been put on trial for war crimes, but not a single trial is over. One court would sentence a suspect, but a higher court would demand a retrial, not certain even whether there was genocide in Kosovo. The undeveloped justice system, which is lacking in even basic laws (the laws of Tito's former Yugoslavia are still being enforced in Kosovo), failed to establish a balance in the court system, in order to eliminate the possibility of a person being convicted of war crimes out of vengeance.

The most ridiculous part of the system is certainly a prison in the northern, Serb-dominated part of Kosovska Mitrovica. Over 24 war crimes suspects have so far managed to escape from this facility, which was once known as Kosovo's Alcatraz. The high-security prison has been turned into its opposite -- UNMIK officials have even registered a case in which an "escaped" prisoner returned to his cell to get some things he had left behind, and then escaped again. This prison is no exception, however. "Patients" from the prison infirmary, also war crimes suspects, have been known to escape from it escorted by people in white uniforms identifying themselves as doctors. All of them have found refuge in Serbia (much like all other war crimes suspects from throughout former Yugoslavia), while international police officials, after designating their cases as "Under Investigation," would say that public announcements should be avoided for the sake of confidentiality.

Only after talks between the U.N. mission and Belgrade officials began was it learned that the issue of escaped suspects had been mentioned, but it did not find itself in the official document. The agreement signed by UNMIK chief Hans Haekkerup and Serbian Vice Premier Nebojsa Covic, providing for Serb participation in the Kosovo election, tackles numerous open issues. It mentions Yugoslavia's sovereignty, a matter disputed by Albanians, and even offices where electricity and water bills will be paid, but not once war criminals. Still, Belgrade met its obligations by handing over Slobodan Milosevic to the Hague court. Kosovo Albanians, however, agree that he was the chief culprit, but that crimes "were committed by a whole chain of executioners, who ought to be brought to justice if officials really want reconciliation and tolerance in Kosovo."

It seems that the issue of war crimes and their perpetrators, and related charges and counter-charges will remain a part of the political game in Kosovo for a long time to come, and that international representatives will continue to use it to ensure that certain developments will take a desired course. The arrest of Gani Imeri is perceived as being precisely one such event, because it coincided with Serbian justice officials' loud demands for the arrest of Kosovo Albanian political leaders, primarily Hashim Thaci, the former KLA political leader and president of the Democratic Party of Kosovo, and Ramush Haradinaj, former KLA commander for western Kosovo and now president of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo.

Having regained its favor with the international community thanks to its "cooperation" in the Kosovo elections, Belgrade is back on the offensive, trying to "determine the truth about Kosovo" and exploiting for that purpose personal tragedies. All their meetings with international officials are marked by gatherings of relatives of people who disappeared during and immediately after the conflict in Kosovo. They carry photographs of their loved ones, among whom are some dressed in police and military uniforms, garb worn by the people responsible for crimes committed against Albanians in Kosovo, especially during Milosevic's campaign of revenge at the time NATO was bombing his troops.

Still, no one can deny that crimes against minorities, especially Serbs, have been committed, especially in the post-war period. Imeri was the first Albanian to be arrested on suspicion of having committed crimes after the war ended. After the war, several other Albanians were arrested in Kosovo on suspicion of committing similar crimes. Some are still in custody, but not one has been convicted. Not a single Kosovo Serb has been convicted either. And thus, three years after the end of the war in Kosovo, we are are back at square one, at least when it comes to punishing war criminals.

Besnik Bala