Archive for December 2008

Update on the Former Moldavian SSR Dispute

December 31, 2008

By Michael Averko

The on again/off again former Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) settlement talks were restarted with last week’s (Dec. 24) meeting in Tiraspol between the leaders of Moldova and Pridnestrovie (also referred to as Transnistria, Transdniestria, Transdnestr and Trans-Dniester). This meeting resulted in both sides agreeing to hold further talks on “confidence-building measures,” as quoted from the Moldovan state news agency Moldpres.

Some commentary is of the view that this summer’s war in the former Georgian SSR is quite relevant to the previous backtracking of negotiations between Moldova and Pridnestrovie. This opinion stresses the different positions taken by the former Moldavian SSR interlocutors on the mentioned conflict in the Caucasus. Putting aside diplomatic and other posturing, a key obstacle appears to be Pridnestrovie’s government wanting a lesser relationship with Moldova – which seems to be counter to the Moldovan government’s preference. Relative to the Georgian government’s August 7 strike on South Ossetia, Moldova has stated that it does not support military action to resolve the former Moldavian SSR dispute. Moldova’s non-recognition of Abkhaz and South Ossetian independence is currently shared by every country with the exceptions Russia and Nicaragua. Since November 17, 2006, Pridnestrovie, South Ossetia and Abkhazia have recognized each other as independent states. Russia continues to not formally recognize Pridnestrovie’s separation from Moldova. Shortly after its counterattack against Georgia, Russia repeated its support to see a negotiated former Moldavian SSR settlement that results in Pridnestrovie and Moldova as a national entity having regional autonomy.

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As Bosnia revives, so do Muslim faithful

December 29, 2008

International Herald Tribune    December 26, 2008
By Dan Bilefsky 
SARAJEVO: As several thousand worshipers streamed into the imposing King Fahd Mosque on a recent Friday, a young man sat outside selling a popular conservative Muslim magazine with President-elect Barack Obama’s image on the cover.
“Hussein, Will Your America Kill Muslims?” the headline asked, using Obama’s middle name, a source of pride for many Muslims here.
Thirteen years after a war in which 100,000 people were killed, a majority of them Muslims, Bosnia is experiencing an Islamic revival.
More than half a dozen new madrasas, or religious high schools, have been built in recent years, while dozens of mosques have sprouted, including the King Fahd, a sprawling €20 million, or $28 million, complex with a sports and cultural center.
Before the war, fully covered women and men with long beards were almost unheard of. Today, they are commonplace.
Many here welcome the Muslim revival as a healthy assertion of identity in a multiethnic country where Muslims make up close to half of the population. But others warn of a growing culture clash between conservative Islam and Bosnia’s avowed secularism in a fragile state.
Two months ago, men in hoods attacked participants at a gay festival in Sarajevo, dragging some people from vehicles and beating others, while they chanted “Kill the gays!” and “Allahu Akbar!” Eight people were hurt.
Muslim religious leaders complained that the event, which coincided with the holy month of Ramadan, was a provocation. The organizers said they sought to promote minority rights and meant no offense.
In this cosmopolitan capital, where bars have long outnumbered mosques, Muslim religious education was recently introduced in state kindergartens, prompting some secular Muslim parents to complain that the separation between mosque and state was being breached.
Bosnia’s Muslims have practiced a moderate Islam that stretches back to the Ottoman conquest in the 15th century. Sociologists and political leaders say the religious awakening is partly the outgrowth of the war and the American-brokered Dayton agreement that ended it, dividing the country into a Muslim-Croat Federation and a Serb Republic.
“The Serbs committed genocide against us, raped our women, made us refugees in our own country,” said Mustafa Efendi Ceric, the Grand Mufti and main spiritual leader of Bosnia’s Muslim community.
“And now we have a tribal constitution that says we have to share political power and land with our killers. We Bosnian Muslims still feel besieged in the city of Sarajevo.”
Religious and national identity have long been fused in multifaith Bosnia. It was tradition in villages to refer to neighbors by their religion – Muslim, Orthodox, Catholic – rather than as Bosnian, Serb or Croat.

Serbs murdered for their organs in Kosovo – new evidence

December 29, 2008

Russia Today    December 26, 2008



Serbian war crime prosecutors have received new evidence that hundreds of Serbs had their internal organs removed and sold by ethnic Albanians during the Kosovo war. The UN document obtained through unofficial channels contains photographs of what are believed to be mass graves of the victims.
Film-maker Ninoslav has put his life on the line to show the suffering of the Serbian population in Kosovo, but fewer and fewer people want to listen. Until now the West has ignored him completely and the Serbian government would also prefer he kept quiet.

“We see that they were killed and dumped. Now there’s legitimate concern that some of them had been used to take organs and killed later on. Now we can only reconstruct this. But what do we do today to make sure that a civilised solution to the Kosovo crisis will be achieved?” says Randjelovic.

However now that everybody wants to close the files, new evidence has emerged of what happened in Kosovo in 1999. Reports suggest Serb prisoners of war were taken by the Kosovo Liberation Army to the Kosovo-Albanian border.

In a place called ‘the yellow house’ their vital organs were cut out and sold on the black market. The Serbian war crimes prosecution has through its own means obtained photographs purported to show a nearby mass grave and a report on the fate of these kidnapped Serbs.

“We have evidence that there was an operating room in that yellow house. A UN Mission in Kosovo [UMIK] report, which we got through our own channels, said they found a couple of bottles of penicillin there. There’s not enough proof to say there was an operating room. From the report you can see that there were some other medicines and containers for transporting the organs. There are nine pages missing. The investigation is now on and we are trying to find out what really happened,” said Bruno Vekaric, prosecution spokesperson for Serbia’s War Crimes Court.

The UN, though, denies knowing about any of this. UNMIK spokesperson Russell Geekie said he has no information about this report.
“It may very well be an internal report. You have to go to the UN headquarters to ask about it, but they won’t necessarily be able to divulge anything about an internal report,” he said.

RT contacted the UN but they referred us back to Geekie.

The story first came to light when former UN Chief Prosecutor Carla del Ponte published her book earlier this year. For Russian journalist Evgeny Baranov it’s not surprising. He’s been working on this story since the war and the latest information just confirms what he suspected all along.
“The first serious information came in 2006. There is a town called Merderi at the administrative border between Kosovo and Serbia, and at that time the international forces were handing over remains of exhumed Serbs to Kosovo. Among the relatives was this woman who hysterically tried to tell the journalists gathered there that her husband had been gutted and his organs had been taken to a hospital in Gnjilane in Kosovo. His organs had been sold and his remains buried in the courtyard of the hospital. Everybody thought she was insane until April this year,” Baranov recalls.

In November Kosovo police arrested two people, one Israeli and one Turk, for illegal organ trafficking. They are currently under investigation.

A Mosque for Slovenia’s Muslims?

December 21, 2008

Written by

Slovenian authorities continue to procrastinate over authorizing the construction of the first mosque in Ljubljana, the Slovenian capital, despite that the Muslim community of Slovenia, which consists of 100,000 people, has been pushing for a mosque to be built for over 40 years.
The Catholic Church called for a referendum on this issue, which was carried out early 2008 and the majority of participants voted that the construction of the mosque should go ahead as planned. However the authorities, so far, have failed to issue the necessary permits required for the construction of the mosque.

In addition, Slovenian fanatics also sent a threatening letter to Slovenian officials warning them of the consequences should they grant Muslims permission to build the mosque and Islamic Cultural Centre. This letter was sent by an anonymous group calling itself ‘Slovenski Orli’ meaning Slovenian Eagles.

Although Muslims in Slovenia have waited many years for the dream of a mosque to be realized, they have not yet lost hope, especially since Muslims all over the world feel that the interfaith talks conducted between Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant leaders on a global scale seem to be bearing fruit.

The Muslim community of Slovenia covers several Slovenian cities including the capital Ljubljana, and Maribor, Koper, Jessenice, and others.

Leader of the Muslim community in Slovenia, Mufti Nedzad Grabus told Asharq Al-Awsat, “We have not lost hope, and we continue to demand our cultural rights, which are guaranteed under the Slovenian constitution, a number of European laws, and by the Universal Declaration for Human Rights.” He added, “Since the door has not been shut completely, and with God’s help it will not be, we will continue to remind them of our demands. It is better for the Slovenian government, and other European governments, to allow Muslim religious and cultural institutions to operate overtly, and not be forced underground.”

The Slovenian Mufti also highlighted the level of sympathy that the Muslim community has received “from the majority of the Slovenian people, and some political and intellectual figures, who are not blinded by bigotry and Islamophobia.” He added, “The referendum proves that the medieval mindset remains amongst a minority, in spite of its influence and grip.” There are over 3000 churches in Slovenia.

“Their reasons [for rejecting the mosque] are weak and founded on hatred. As I said before, it is better for Muslims and for the countries in which there are Muslim citizens, to allow us to practice our religion in the light of day, and not be forced to practice in unknown places, which is what occurred in France, for example.”


Iran called upon to halt winter deportations

December 18, 2008

Afghan government officials and aid agencies are calling on the Iranian authorities to halt the deportation of Afghans from Iran during the winter for humanitarian reasons.

“Large-scale expulsions during the cold season will push our country into a humanitarian crisis,” said Abdul Matin Edrak, director of the Afghanistan National Disasters Management Authority (ANDMA).

Mass deportations will exacerbate the plight of over eight million vulnerable Afghans who are already facing hunger this winter due to a severe drought, high food prices and conflict, according to aid agencies.

The Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation (MoRR) said more than 360,000 individuals, mostly young men, have been deported from Iran in the past seven months.

Every day about 1,000 people are being deported to western Afghanistan’s Herat Province through the Islam Qala border point, provincial officials have reported. Deportees are also entering the border province of Nimruz.

No one at the Iranian embassy in Kabul was available for comment.

Iran reportedly slowed down deportations last winter – ostensibly for humanitarian reasons – but resumed the process in April.

Remittances vital

Unemployment at home and better opportunities in Iran are prompting many young Afghan men to travel to Iran illegally, using a clandestine but “well-organised human smuggling network”, according to research by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Afghan migrants find jobs in construction, manufacturing and agriculture, and are willing to work in onerous conditions in a bid to support their families and dependants back home.

“The overall flow of remittances, calculated on the basis of an annual rate of US$2,496 per person, is estimated at US$500 million, representing approximately 6 percent of the national GDP [gross domestic product] of Afghanistan,” said the UNHCR/ILO study launched on 7 December.

“Iranian employers prefer hiring Afghan workers because they represent a cheap, flexible and highly productive source of labour,” the study said.


Mumbai chief operated in Chechnya, Bosnia and Iraq before India

December 13, 2008

Lashkar chief Hafeez Saeed remains defiant

Saturday, December 13, 2008

New Delhi: The UN Security Council has declared Lashkar-e-Taiba and its key men as terrorists, but who exactly are these men and more importantly what motivates them.

Hafeez Saeed may be one of the wanted men in the world, but on the day the UN banned the Jammat-ud-Daawa, popularly known as the front for the LeT. Its chief Hafeez Saeed was on every Pakistani channel holding a press conference from an undisclosed location claiming innocence.

“If there is evidence against us please present it in court and not to media,” said Hafiz Saeed.

Born in Shimlam, a teacher by profession, Saeed shifted to Pakistan after partition and co-founded the Markaz Dawat-ul-Irshad along with Abdullah Yusuf Azzam.

In 1990, he founded the Lashkar and became the key man behind the attacks in Jammu and Kashmir. Soon after, the Markaz-Dawat-ul-Irshad was banned but it returned as the Jammat-ud-Daawa.

Saeed and LeT have made it clear that their Jihad is not limited to Jammu and Kashmir, but that they will wage war across India.

The demolition of Babri Masjid and Gujarat riots became his fodder. According security agencies, these two events are the biggest motivators for Saeed’s recruits.

Along with Saeed, three other Lashkar operatives have also been put on the most wanted list. They are suspected to have carried out the serial train bombings in Mumbai, and the srtike on the India Parliament among many other attcks.

Zaki-ur Rehman Lakvi, a key commander from Okhara who has operated in Chechnya, Bosnia and Iraq before he turned his sights on India, is one of the Lashkar’s key planners.

The other two are Zaki-ur-Rehman and Haji Mohammed Ashraf. There are no available photographs of these men. Their role ensure funds for the LeT.

But what does the UN ban mean on the ground. After the Mumbai serial train blasts, Saeed was put under house arrest twice by Pakistan, only to be released without charges. The present arrests, Indian agencies fear, will go much the same way.

Security Mission to Kosovo Faces Local Reluctance

December 9, 2008

Wall Street Journal


DECEMBER 9, 2008

Civilian law-enforcement officials from the European Union, the U.S. and a handful of other countries began working in Kosovo Tuesday to bolster shaky police, courts and customs systems.

This unprecedented mission in a country recognized as a major conduit for smuggling drugs and weapons into Europe faces steep challenges. A bombing in Kosovo’s capital of Pristina and a murky spy affair involving German agents highlight some of the diplomatic difficulties as the EU begins the ambitious effort in the Balkans.

Three German intelligence agents were charged in a Kosovo court on Nov. 22 in connection with an attack on the EU envoy’s office there. The incident bared tensions over an international mission to boost rule of law in Kosovo.

“It’s an extremely difficult situation for the EU,” says Dusan Reljic, a fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin. “They are testing their capability for state-building in an area that is riven by factions and crime.”

The mission, dubbed EULEX, is the result of a complex series of agreements between the EU, Russia, Serbia and Kosovo that gives a legal mandate for nearly 2,000 law-enforcement officials to operate in Kosovo. The mission received €205 million ($260 million) from the EU for an initial 16 months, but is expected to be extended for several years.

Kosovo, which has a population of around 2.1 million, has officially welcomed the EU’s involvement, but many there oppose the program.

The operation is resented in Serbian-inhabited areas of Kosovo because, by bolstering Kosovo’s ability to police itself, it strengthens its independence. Russia and Serbia opposed Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia earlier this year.
Some ethnic Albanian Kosovars are also against the EU mission, arguing they don’t need what is effectively an overlay of foreign police, judges and prosecutors.

EU officials concede they are walking into a tricky situation, but say they have good relations overall with Kosovo and are optimistic.

Nevertheless, at the end of November Kosovo expelled three agents working for Germany’s BND intelligence service after courts alleged they were part of an effort to blow up an EU office in Pristina supervising Kosovo’s independence. After the blast Nov. 18, which caused light damage and no injuries, Kosovo police arrested three men taking photographs. They turned out to be BND officers.

Germany acknowledges the three men are BND agents, and said they were innocent. BND officials have said they should have sent an intelligence officer with a diplomatic pass — and thus diplomatic immunity. Beyond this, German officials say they did nothing wrong.

However, the BND has been critical of the Kosovo government, producing a 2005 report to the German government that accused Kosovo’s leaders of links to organized crime and extremism. That has led to speculation in German political circles and in the media that the agents were arrested in revenge for the report.

In the BND report, a copy of which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci is linked to paramilitary groups, cigarette smugglers, extortion rackets and drug dealers. The report details connections among the ruling elite to Islamist militants who helped Kosovars, who are mostly Muslims, to fight in a guerrilla war against Serbian forces.

Similar allegations have been circulated by Serbia. But the charges have more credibility coming from Germany, which took a lead in securing international recognition for Kosovo’s independence and is Kosovo’s second-largest foreign-aid donor, behind the U.S.

Kosovo officials say the allegations against Mr. Thaci in the report and any links between the report and the BND agents’ expulsion are unfounded. “These charges are pure speculation and the issues are not linked,” says Memli Krasniqi, the prime minister’s spokesman. “The government’s position was that [the bombing] is an issue that shouldn’t be politicized and should be investigated by the legal authorities. We stayed completely out of it.”

– Almut Schoenfeld contributed to this article.

Write to Ian Johnson at