Kosovo's President Reaffirms Security Forces' Preparedness to Face the War Crimes Trial

Kosovo's President Reaffirms Security Forces' Preparedness to Face the War Crimes Trial


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Kosovo has experienced widespread unrest as it seeks independence from Serbia. In this Western Balkan state, ethnic Albanian minorities are fighting for their rights after a 1998-1999 war that tore apart parts of Kosovo.

For weeks, the Serbian minority in northern Kosovo, who refuse to recognize Pristina or the state, has been blocking roads and protesting. On Tuesday morning, Serbs in Mitrovica erected new barricades as part of their continued demonstrations.

Kosovo’s President Reaffirms Security Forces’ Preparedness

Kosovo's president has declared her security forces prepared for the war crimes trial that begins on May 18. According to Reuters, Vjosa Osmani issued a statement affirming her country's readiness for trial.

Political activist Osmani, 38 years old and former parliament speaker and acting president, asserted that Kosovo Police and other security forces are well-prepared to handle any threat made against them in the run-up to trial. Married with two children, Osmani speaks Albanian, English, Spanish and Serbian fluently. Additionally he has advocated for dialogue that would bring normalization between Balkan nation and Serbia.

Osmani, who has served as parliament speaker since February 2020 and acting president between November 2020 and March 2021, is the second female leader of Kosovo since it declared independence from Serbia 13 years ago. Additionally, she is the first person to hold both positions simultaneously according to AFP's news outlet.

She is an outspoken anti-corruption advocate who has expressed the desire to normalize relations with Serbia and work toward European integration. As the daughter of a renowned academic, she has previously served on the boards of directors for multiple international organizations.

In a statement to the press, Osmani also called on country leaders to abandon violence as an avenue to attain their political objectives. Furthermore, she demanded Belgrade apologize and prosecute those responsible for crimes committed during 1998-99 war that ultimately led to Kosovo's independence.

As president of Kosovo, Osmani is expected to continue the peace process that was started by the United Nations and pursue various other initiatives. These include an economic development plan, draft constitution and creation of a civil service commission. She also wants to improve public services like schools, health care and transportation. Osmani also plans on increasing employment opportunities within the country with emphasis on small businesses; additionally she promises free and fair elections for a new president within five years as required by the constitution.

Kosovo’s First War Crimes Trial Begins

Two and a half decades after Kosovo's independence, its first war crimes trial is underway. Prosecutors have accused Salih Mustafa, former leader of the ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), of killing and torturing prisoners during Pristina's struggle for independence from Serbia in 1999.

He's the first to stand trial before a special court established in 2015 in The Hague. Staffed with international judges and prosecutors, it is funded by the European Union to protect witnesses from intimidation. Some former KLA leaders expressed concerns that its work would tarnish their reputations and hamper their ability to lead their country effectively.

HLC Kosovo believes Mustafa's trial is an encouraging sign for future war crimes prosecutions in Kosovo. It marks the first time local judicial institutions have taken on prosecution of war crimes without international oversight, according to their latest report.

The Humanitarian Law Center stated that Mustafa's case serves as a reminder of the necessity for judiciary to remain vigilant in prosecuting crimes committed during wartime. They stressed that trials must adhere to stringent provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code regarding durations in cases where defendants are detained, particularly during their primary trial.

In addition to Mustafa's case, the court is now gearing up for trial of Kosovo President Hashim Thaci who was indicted by the Council of Europe for alleged war crimes during the 1998-1999 independence conflict. He was included alongside three other former KLA members who are under pre-trial investigation for their roles in atrocities committed during that conflict.

However, despite recent progress, war crimes trials are far from reaching their full potential and remain at an early stage of the monumental task they present to the judiciary. According to Humanitarian Law Center Kosovo's assessment that EULEX's assessment that Kosovo judiciary is capable of prosecuting war crimes is premature; their latest report emphasizes that while Kosovo judiciary has made some strides toward providing justice to victims and families through war crimes trials, more professional development needs to be invested in order to continue working efficiently on these trials in the future.

Kosovo’s First Serb Mayor Resigns

Kosovo is a multi-ethnic, parliamentary representative democratic state governed by its Constitution and laws. It upholds freedom of thought, conscience and religion; equality before the law and gender equality.

Since 1999, Kosovo's Serb minority has struggled to integrate into the country, creating parallel institutions which has only served to further exacerbate tensions.

The Kosovo government is currently engaged in talks with Serbia to restore diplomatic ties. A key issue being discussed is the creation of an association of Serb-majority municipalities that would operate under Kosovo's laws, something both the United States and European Union have encouraged Kosovo to do.

In 2013, the EU brokered a deal to establish an association, but Serbia is blocking progress. As part of that plan, police chiefs in four northern Kosovo municipalities will be appointed by Serbs.

Now, ethnic Serbs have constructed more barriers to block roads leading to the border with Kosovo and NATO-led peacekeepers' demands that these be removed.

Barricades topped by large trucks have formed a wall around Mitrovica's main street, segregating ethnic Serbs from ethnic Albanians. This is the first time Serbs have blocked roads in this area since December.

Although it has been difficult to monitor the situation, the government has taken some steps to address it. It requested NATO-led peacekeepers remove barricades and hinted that if they did not, it may take action itself.

Another issue is a lack of trust between local Serbs and police. In some instances, officers have been accused of harassing and intimidating residents; they've even been arrested and charged with false crimes.

One of the major obstacles to maintaining security is that many police officers lack appropriate training for their duties. Their tactical uniforms and long-barrelled weapons make them unreliable when it comes to patrolling streets.

The Kosovo government has attempted to improve its capacity for monitoring by assigning members of its special operations units to patrol streets. These are a mix of professional police and mostly Albanian-speaking officers brought in from elsewhere in the country; yet despite their extensive training and skill, these officers are not fully trusted by local residents.

Kosovo’s EU Candidate

Kosovo, Kosovo's EU candidate, is gearing up for a referendum on their future membership in the European Union. Although Kosovo formally declared independence in 2008, Serbian government continues to refuse recognition of it as an independent nation. This lingering animus is at the root of an often-tense standoff with Belgrade that occasionally flares up.

Besnik Bislimi, Kosovo's deputy prime minister, told POLITICO he hopes Kosovo can reach an agreement with Serbia soon that will bring it closer to the European Union. He believes such a deal could pave the way for full normalization within years, depending on Serbia's willingness to compromise on its demands.

Bislimi, who serves as the government's chief European integration expert, anticipates many reforms being implemented over the coming months. He states that several issues must be tackled including corruption prevention and economic development.

He emphasized that Kosovo must strive to demonstrate its seriousness about joining the European Union. Much progress will depend on Kosovo's dedication to democracy, rule of law and economic development, according to him.

But gaining EU membership can be a lengthy and complex process, and five European states that haven't recognized Kosovo (Spain, Romania, Cyprus, Greece and Slovakia) appear unlikely to change their minds. Indeed, Hungary recently indicated it would block any moves which might indicate Kosovo's EU aspirations.

According to a person familiar with the matter who spoke to POLITICO under condition of anonymity, the EU must carefully consider whether to accept Kosovo's bid for membership and, if so, how best to ensure that its decision isn't politically motivated. It is an issue that needs careful consideration at this stage, according to someone familiar with it who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Though the EU has yet to officially accept any of its Western Balkan neighbors as members, its focus on the region has been rekindled in recent months due to Russia's conflict in Ukraine. Officials insist that it is critical for the EU to increase its geopolitical influence and ensure stability across Eastern and Central Europe by investing more resources.

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