Balkans: Serbs And Albanians Sort Of Make Peace

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May 21, 2013: European Union diplomats have touted the April 19 Serbia-Kosovo diplomatic relations agreement as a break-through deal and evidence that frozen conflicts (embedded conflicts) can be resolved. However, both Kosovo and Serbia are saying that they have yet to agree on many specific details. The deal has some twists. Serbia has not recognized Kosovo as an independent state. Kosovo, however, has legal authority over its territory. The agreement stipulated that Kosovar Serbs in northern Kosovo (Mitrovica and at least three other municipalities) would have a high degree of autonomy. But what autonomy means is not at all clear. This has put Kosovar Serbs in a bind, particularly in the town of Mitrovica. The Kosovar Serbs in Mitrovica still want what they call formal partition, which means politically attaching the northern half of the town to Serbia. Around 20,000 ethnic Serbs live in Mitrovica. Currently 60,000 ethnic Serbs still live in northern Kosovo. An estimated 200,000 Kosovar Serbs have left Kosovo since the 1999 war and have not returned. The agreement also demands that Serbia and Kosovar Serbs in the Mitrovica area dismantle the “parallel institutions” (governing institutions) established by the ethnic Serbs. The Kosovar Serbs vehemently disagree with this demand. The agreement has roiled Serbia too. Serbian ultra-nationalists have accused the Serb government of treason.

May 17, 2013: Spain and Slovakia announced that they will not recognize an independent Kosovo. The Spanish announcement was particularly blunt. Spain will follow Serbian policy and will not recognize Kosovo’s unilaterally declared independence as long as Serbia does not.

Turkish security officers arrested a man they believe to be one of the chief planners of the terrorist attack on the town of Reyhanli.  Police did not release his name but said that the two cars used in the car bombing were registered to this individual. The man was arrested in the Samandag district (Turkish-Syrian border). Authorities believe that he intended to cross the border into Syria. Two key co-conspirators are still at large. So far, Turkish security agencies have arrested 16 people allegedly connected to the terror attack. On May 13th the government claimed that a group of Marxist rebels with connections to Syrian intelligence, the Revolutionary Peoples Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C), had carried out the attack. According to the police, at least five of the people under arrest are members of the group. The Syrian government denied that it had any involvement in the attack. The death toll in the attack has now reached 51 and 29 of the wounded are listed in critical condition. The DHKP/C is the largest surviving faction of the old Dev Sol left-wing terror organization. On February 1st a DHKP/C member tried to bomb the U.S. embassy in Anakara. He killed himself and a Turkish security guard.

May 16, 2013: Greece's two largest labor unions staged work stoppages to protest austerity economics and the government’s decision to block a teacher’s union strike. The government used its civil mobilization authority to ban a public high school teacher’s strike that was scheduled for the end of the school year university exams period. Meanwhile, a European Union commission tasked with evaluating the Greek economy determined that Greece’s recession will continue through 2014, and begin to improve late that year. Unemployment will peak at 27 percent in 2013. However, Greece will continue to have at least 20 percent of its labor force unemployed through 2016.  Interestingly enough, the current Greek unemployment rate is 27 percent but around 65 percent of employable young Greeks (age 15 to 24) are unemployed.

Albania accepted its first group of exiled Iranians who had been in Iraq since the early 1980s. The Iranians belonged to the Peoples Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK, Mujahedeen-e-Khalq) rebel group. MEK guerrillas fought against the Ayatollah Khomeini’s clerical regime. Saddam Hussein gave the MEK bases inside Iraq. Many Iraqis regard the MEK as allies of Saddam. The group had been living in Camp Ashraf near Baghdad and 210 MEK rebels will eventually relocate to Albania.

May 15, 2013: Greece and Serbia signed a bilateral military cooperation agreement. The agreement primarily addresses training cooperation and specifies programs for training liaison officers for deployment in multi-national operations. The agreement includes improving cooperation between special forces and the Greek and Serb air forces and cooperation on issues involving military medicine.

May 14, 2013: Preliminary vote counts in Bulgaria’s national election (held May 12) indicate that the country’s political stalemate will continue. The country is very divided politically. The center-right GERB Party got 31 percent of the vote, the Socialists (PES) 27 percent. The ethnic Turkish party, Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), got 11 percent. The far right Ataka Party will also have seats in parliament by winning seven percent of the vote. The government resigned in February after a series of mass demonstrations. Frustration with Bulgaria’s weak economy was the biggest issue. Most protestors demanded better living and working conditions. They also demanded an end to political and economic corruption. Others called on the government to fire incompetent bureaucrats.

The Fitch credit rating service raised Greece’s credit rating from CCC to B- (B minus). The rating service said that the Greek economy has improved slightly. The government has reduced the overall public deficit.  However, the report also acknowledged that political opposition to economic reform remained high. A B- rating means that Greek bonds are still regarded as extremely risky (ie, they are junk bonds).

May 11, 2013: Two car bombs exploded in the Turkish village of  Reyhanli. The town is on Turkey’s border with Syria. The bombs killed 47 people and injured over 100 others and the death toll could rise.

May 10, 2013: Over 3,000 Serbian nationalists held a demonstration in Belgrade protesting the government’s diplomatic relations agreement with Kosovo. The demonstrators accused the government of treason. The demonstrators claimed the government made the agreement because it wants to join the EU. The demonstrators are opposed to Serbia entering the EU.

May 9, 2013: Turkey claimed that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons against its own people. Turkey called on the U.S. to take stronger action against Syria. The Turkish statement indicated that Turkish intelligence had concluded that Syrian forces used rockets to deliver the chemical weapons. Turkish medical personnel have also treated Syrian refugees who have suffered from the effects of chemical weapons.

May 8, 2013: Croatian authorities in the town of Zadar have unearthed a mass grave containing the bodies of 56 ethnic Serbs who lived in Croatia. The Serbs were killed by Croat troops during the Operation Storm offensive in August 1995. Forensic experts will now try to identify the individual victims. Serbia recently exhumed the bodies of 10 Croats killed in Vukovar and is trying to identify the individuals. The Serbs and Croats were killed in fighting between Serb and Croat forces during the Yugoslav war of devolution. The governments reported that around 1,700 people missing (probably killed) due to Serb-Croat fighting are still unaccounted for and 700 of them are ethnic Serbs.

May 7, 2013: Bulgaria announced that it had signed a new bilateral military relations agreement with Qatar. The agreement primarily governs military cooperation and training.

May 1, 2013: The European Union has asked the Republika Srpska (RS, the Bosnian Serb portion of Bosnia) and the Serbian Orthodox Church to end the construction of a church in the town of Budak, Bosnia. The new church site is next to what was a mass grave site and near a memorial to the victims of the Srebrenica massacre. Bosnian Serb militias killed 7,000 Bosniak Muslim men at Srebrenica. The EU and several Bosnian citizens groups say that building the church by the grave site fans ethnic resentment.

April 30, 2013: Turkey’s long-running Ergenekon conspiracy trial is drawing increasing international criticism. Several foreign governments have expressed concern that the Turkish government has not respected the rights of the some 280 retired and current military officers under indictment. The criticism focuses on the extended pre-trial detentions. Meanwhile, the domestic political opposition is using the trial as a rallying point. During the month of April, several large rallies were held outside the Silivri Prison (near Istanbul) where several hundred of the accused are housed.

April 29, 2013: The European Commission's Task Force for Greece reported that the Greek government must continue to downsize the government bureaucracy and reform the public sector work force. Greece has just received another $3.6 billion in European Union loans. The loan money was released after the Greek parliament agreed to lay-off another 4,000 civil servants this year. Greece has agreed to shrink the public sector work force by 150,000 by the end of 2015. However, the government reform effort faces fierce resistance by public sector unions, by the hard left SYRIZA party and by several far right ultra-nationalists parties.

April 25, 2013: Greece’s economic problems continue to sap its military strength. The Greek military is downsizing and reorganizing to save money. Some of the changes under consideration include reducing the size of the First and Second Army Corps. About 50 military camps and facilities will be closed. The number of senior officers (this usually means colonel and above) will be cut by 20 percent. Command structure (eg., headquarters units) will be cut by 40 percent. The Greek Air Force (Hellenic Air Force) will also be re-organized. Its combat air groups will be consolidated. Four air detachments will be eliminated. The detachments are located at Ioannina, Agrinio, Santorini, and Timbaki.

April 22, 2013: European Union diplomats are calling the Serbia-Kosovo relations agreement a breakthrough. The agreement, however, has several peculiar elements. Serbia does not fully recognize Kosovo as independent but agrees that Kosovo’s government has authority in its territory. Kosovo has agreed to give Kosovar Serbs in northern Kosovo some autonomous control over their area. Kosovo’s small security force will not deploy in northern Kosovo.

April 19, 2013: European Union diplomats announced that Serbia and Kosovo had signed a preliminary accord which would be the basis for establishing normal political relations. The agreement will also increase bilateral economic opportunities for the two countries.  The agreement involves 15 major points. EU mediators said that the agreement was provisional but it was still a major break-through. It guarantees Kosovo’s territorial integrity. Kosovo committed itself to building a multi-ethnic state.

 

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