Former Kosovo guerrilla on trial for war crimes

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Plus, the EU could delay payments to Hungary and Poland, Tajikistan rejects the Taliban, and more.

The big story: The Special Court for Kosovo begins its work in The Hague

What happened: Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) veteran Salih Mustafa has been charged with arbitrary detention, cruelty, torture and murder by a special court in The Hague set up to try Ethnic Albanian Kosovars for crimes committed during the period 1998-1999 war with serbia. In opening statements, prosecutors said Mustafa and his men had “brutalized and tortured” their Kosovar compatriots, RFE / RL reports. The alleged victims, held in a compound in Zllash, Kosovo, in April 1999, were accused by the KLA of collaborating with the Serbs or of not supporting the KLA, reports Al Jazeera. The only crime of the victims “was to have political opinions different from the [KLA] and its senior leadership, ”said Senior Prosecutor Jack Smith.

More context: A 2010 Council of Europe report alleging widespread abuses against Kosovar and Serbian compatriots by KLA figures led to the establishment of the Kosovo Specialized Court in 2015, despite bitter resistance Kosovo lawmakers and former President Hashim Thaci, among others. Thaci was indicted last year for war crimes and is currently in detention awaiting trial.

To note: The specialized chambers of Kosovo formally represent the victims of war crimes. In its opening statement at Mustafa’s trial, the Victims’ Participation Office said: “Eleven thousand victims [of the Kosovo war] were civilians, some of them were victims of KLA members, ”reports Prishtina Insight. The Kosovo Memory Book project estimated that 10,812 Albanians, 2,197 Serbs and around 500 Roma and others died in the 1998-1999 conflict. The OSCE has estimated that 90% of ethnic Kosovar Albanians have been displaced during the fighting, most of them being temporarily driven out of the country by Serbian forces.

News from the regions

Central Europe and Baltic States

  • Hungary sold € 1 billion in bonds on Wednesday, and plans to sell more, to raise funds just in case special EU pandemic funding delayed. The EU could freeze funding unless it resolves a dispute with Hungary over issues such as gay rights and media independence, according to Reuters. The EU has yet to approve pandemic recovery funding for Hungary and Poland, which have similar disputes with Brussels, reports Deutsche Welle, noting that the European Commission has so far given its fire green to 18 national spending plans. The 27 nations of the bloc are expected to receive a total of $ 886 billion to mitigate the effects of the health crisis.
  • A Czech woman who was granted the right to claim compensation from Amazon for a work-related injury and was subsequently fired is one of the many current and former employees who speak publicly about working conditions at Amazon Czech distribution center. The problem is Amazon’s productivity system, ADAPT, which uses a proprietary algorithm to monitor employee performance, writes Balkan Insight. As workers use ADAPT-linked scanners to store or ship products, the system sends warnings and advice to workers who are not meeting performance targets; three of those warnings can lead to unilateral dismissal, according to workers and court documents cited by Balkan Insight. This could be illegal under Polish labor law, union lawyer Michal Sobol said. Amazon’s Czech and Polish distribution centers serve the German market.

South Eastern Europe

  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed words of hope and a veiled warning to the leaders of the Balkans during his farewell visit to the region this week. Merkel, who will step down later this month, said mutual cooperation was the best way for the six non-EU Western Balkan countries to move forward towards EU membership. The EU should not “always come up with new terms over and over again,” she said in Tirana on Tuesday, adding that she understood why this had led to disappointment, Deutsche Welle reported. In Belgrade on Monday, she reassured the six countries of German support for their EU membership but said they had a long way to go. “If the conditions for membership or the opening of membership talks are met, then the EU must keep its word,” said RFE / RL.
  • Zoltan Soos, mayor of Targu Mures in ethnically mixed Romania Transylvania region, is a rare local example of the larger regional phenomenon where progressive mayors garner support from both urban middle class and less wealthy voters, writes Deutsche Welle. Elected a year ago as the first Hungarian-born mayor of Targu Mures in more than 20 years, Soos led “a bilingual and bi-ethnic campaign,” said DW. His administration gained support by abandoning a dubious garbage collection business and began to digitize city services and revamp the aging public transport system. The town hall is also cutting back its own ranks, swollen even by Romanian standards, with hundreds of employees paid for ill-defined work. “We have now started laying people off and, in the long run, we aim to at least halve the number of employees,” Soos said.

Eastern Europe and Russia

  • Authorities in separatist Ukraine “Donetsk People’s Republic” will add hundreds of buses and dozens of trains to transport residents across the border into Russia to vote in this weekend’s State Duma elections, writes Meduza. By July, around 611,000 people in the Russian-backed breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine had received russian passports. Residents of these regions also have the right to vote online, Russia’s Central Election Commission said in July. At a rally for the ruling United Russia party in the Donetsk region, a woman said she would vote for the party in the hopes it would incorporate the region into Russia, Reuters reports.
  • Russian Ambassador to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, called for an urgent General Assembly meeting today to discuss what he called “clearly discriminatory” compulsory COVID vaccination prescription ahead of the annual UN summit next week. New York City officials said the order applied to all visitors to the summit, including world leaders. Only vaccines approved by the World Health Organization are allowed, a spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio said, reports AP. Russia’s Sputnik vaccine is under review by the WHO. In related news, Sputnik (the news agency) reports that the Russian president Vladimir Poutine, who isolated himself on Tuesday, said today that “several dozen” of his acquaintances have contracted COVID. Putin is “in perfect health,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. One reader commented: “But if these are members of President Putin’s inner circle, surely they must all have been vaccinated by now? “

Central Asia

  • Tajikistan is the only country in Central Asia to take a anti-taliban line so far, reflecting their difficult relationship over the past decades, analysts write. Tajikistan “has not been afraid to act in an unflattering manner towards the Taliban despite the possibility of falling victim to the group militarily and politically”, writes Umida Hashimova in The Diplomat, adding that Dushanbe strongly opposes a government exclusively Taliban in Afghanistan. This contrasts with Uzbekistan willingness to negotiate with the new Afghan leaders. Tajik President Emomali Rahmon’s opposition to the Taliban dates back to the 1990s, when Tashkent aided the Northern Alliance, which included many Ethnic Tajiks in its ranks, writes National Interest. In retaliation, the Taliban backed an Islamist insurgency in Tajikistan, which Rahmon and his allies ultimately quelled. “Hundreds” of ethnic Tajiks from southern Tajikistan have volunteered to join anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan’s Panjshir Valley, according to a September 8 report in National Interest.

Borders

  • Germany and other EU countries should help Afghanistan’s neighbors cope with growing number of migrants following the takeover of the taliban, the turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told his German counterpart. In a telephone interview Tuesday with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Erdogan said Turkey lacks the capacity to handle a possible new wave of Afghan refugees, Ekathimerini reports. Anti-immigrant sentiment is on the rise in Turkey, which already hosts the world’s largest refugee population. Erdogan said last month that there were already nearly 300,000 Afghan refugees in Turkey, which would be the second largest group of refugees in the country after some 3.7 million Syrians. Turkey will more than double the duration of a border fence on its border with Iran nearly 500 kilometers away, Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said yesterday.


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