THE UNBIASED OBSERVERS, Issue 37


From 1 September 2011 this newsletter service is subscription only. See Balkan News Service for details.


Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Politics and others:

Albania

  • Albania Backs Macedonia’s Membership in NATO

Bosnia and Herzegovina

  • The German Chancellor Has No One to Address in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bulgaria

  • Bulgaria’s PM “Col. Gaddafi Must Be Taken to ICC”

Croatia

  • The German Chancellor Discusses the Stability in Western Balkans with the Croatian President

Greece

  • Adeby Union Leader Spyros Papaspyros Resigns after 10 Years Representing the Greek Civil Servants

Kosovo

  • Kosovo Deputy PM Hajredin Kuci Promises Peace and Order in N Kosovo before 15 September
  • Haradinaj Retrial Scares Witnesses

Serbia

  • Serbian Defense Minister Dragan Šutanovac Confirms There is No Indication of Instability in South Serbia
  • Serbia’s government media department head Milivoje Mihajlović “A Silent War Against Serbia’s Diplomacy”
  • Serb Refugees from Croatia Ask German Chancellor Merkel for Help

Turkey

  • Turkey Continues its Operations against PKK Targets in N Iraq
  • Regulatory and Supervisory Authorities under Supervision of Ministries in Turkey

Economy:

Bulgaria

  • Bulgaria Postponed Again a Decision on Bourgas – Alexandroupolis Pipeline Project
  • Bulgaria Checks Lukoil Refinery for Tax Evasion

Croatia

  • Italian Bank Banco Popolare Stays in Croatia

Greece

  • Greece – Finland Collateral Deal under Question

Romania

  • Employers to Pay Social Contributions for Freelancers in Romania

Serbia

  • Nestle Buys Serbia’s Centroproizvod

Turkey

  • Turkey to Produce its Own Fighter Jets

 

BALKANS – POLITICS & OTHER

Albania

Albania Backs Macedonia’s Membership in NATO

Tirana, Prime Minister Sali Berisha and Defence Minister of Macedonia Fatmir Besimi have expressed their strong commitment to promote cooperation in all domains, ATA reports. On 22 August, Albania’s PM Berisha met with Besimi, who arrived in Tirana on a formal visit. The Macedonian Defence Minister stated that he was happy to pay his first formal visit to Albania, “a NATO country, and an inspiring example to all the countries of the region which aspire to NATO membership.” Berisha reconfirmed Albania’s full support for Macedonia’s membership of NATO, appreciating the fact that Macedonia “has met military and other criteria to become member of the Alliance.”

Bosnia and Herzegovina

The German Chancellor Has No One to Address in Bosnia and Herzegovina

“Chancellor Merkel has no one to address in BiH since BiH Council of Ministers has not been formed yet,” Fena Agency wrote.

Banja Luka, “German Chancellor Angela Merkel will not be coming to official visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina, because BiH has not yet appointed a new chairman of the Council of Ministers,” confirmed the German Ambassador to BiH Ulrike Maria Knotz in a statement quoted by Fena on 22 August.

Sarajevo,  “In terms of diplomatic standards, the official explanation of  Berlin on why the German Chancellor Angela Merkel will not travel to BiH is that the main host of the Chancellor and the ministers who come would have to be the state PM and ministers. The PM and ministers in Bosnia and Herzegovina have not been elected yet,” Head of Department for the EU at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of BiH Amer Kapetanovic told Fena.

Bulgaria

Bulgaria’s PM “Col. Gaddafi Must Be Taken to ICC”

Sofia,” We are convinced that Col. Muammar Gaddafi will be brought before the International [Criminal] Court in the Hague as a defendant for his crimes, including his crimes against the Bulgarian medics. He has be held accountable for his crimes against his own people and against the Bulgarian medics in the 1999-2007 HIV trial,” Bulgaria’s PM Boyko Borisov said, quoted by Sofia Press Agency’s Novinite,.com.

“The dramatic events from the past hours in Libya demonstrate clearly and unconditionally the crumbling of the regime of Muammar Gaddafi who has lost the trust of the international community, and remains in the past,” Borisov said in a special statement late on 22 August, as the Libyan rebels are closing in their grip on Gaddafi’s loyalist troops around Tripoli.

Bulgaria’s Prime Minister emphasized in his statement that the sooner Gaddafi understood the futility of the fraternal war he waged, the fewer innocent victims and bloodshed there would be.

“The international community, NATO and the EU have done everything necessary in order to implement the Resolution of the UN Security Council. The outcome in Tripoli can come any minute now. It is largely the result of the bravery of the Libyan people who are winning this historic battle before our eyes,” Borisov commented.

“I declare that Bulgaria together with its allies will continue to provide support to the Libyan people so that the consequences of the conflict can be overcome faster,” he added.

On June 28, 2011, Bulgaria became the 19th sovereign nation to have recognized formally the Libyan rebels’ National Transitional Council in Benghazi as the legitimate representative of the Libyan nation in international affairs.

The recognition of the rebels who have been fighting the regime of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi since February 2011 came during a visit of Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov in Benghazi, the rebels’ capital.

Bulgaria’s Borisov Cabinet thus reversed its position as of March 2011 when it refused to recognize the National Transitional Council stating that some of its members were involved in the torture and imprisonment of the 6 Bulgarian medics in the so called Libya HIV trial (1999-2007).

Croatia

The German Chancellor Discusses the Stability in Western Balkans with the Croatian President

Zagreb, Peace and stability in southeast Europe are possible provided that all countries in the region have European prospects, and Croatia sets a model and serves as support to them, Croatian President Ivo Josipovic and the visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after their meeting in Zagreb on 22 August.

“It is our strong belief that peace and stability in the Western Balkans will be maintained only if there are joint European prospects,” Merkel said at a news conference she held together with Josipovic. The latter said that he and Merkel discussed how Croatia could contribute to the progress of its neighbours and pledged Croatia’s support for the integration of Western Balkans.

“Croatia’s EU accession also sends a signal to others,” the German Chancellor said, referring to all Western Balkan countries’ prospect of joining the EU. She underscored that no country would be given any privileges and no country’s accession would be obstructed.

In a meeting with Croatian Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor during her single day visit to Zagreb, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said said she was impressed by what Croatia had achieved in the 20 years of its independence, particularly with its completion of EU entry talks, which was a huge success considering obstacles in that process, such as Croatia’s border dispute with Slovenia, the demanding EU accession criteria, and the fight against corruption and organised crime.  The German Chancellor emphasized that trust in Croatian institutions was growing among German business people and that tourism and the successful investments made so far were a guarantee of good future cooperation, tPortal reported.

Greece

Adeby Union Leader Spyros Papaspyros Resigns after 10 Years Representing the Greek Civil Servants

Athens, Leader of Greek ADEDY civil servants’ union, Spyros Papaspyros, who has been involved in a heated dispute with the PASOK government over further changes to civil servants’ salaries and working conditions, announced his resignation on 22 August.

Kosovo

Kosovo Deputy Prime Minister Hajredin Kuci Promises Peace and Order in N Kosovo before 15 September

Pristina, Kosovo Deputy Prime Minister Hajredin Kuci has stated that the action of establishment of peace and order in north Kosovo may be launched even before 15 September, the date of expiry of the oral agreement between KFOR and Pristina and Belgrade on the resolution of the north Kosovo crisis, Tanjug reported.

On 21 August during a presentation of the 1H 2011 activities of the Kosovo Ministry of Justice Hajredin Kuci confirmed that the Kosovo government was intending to take control over the Jarinje and Brnjak administrative checkpoints in north Kosovo,” Pristina-based Albanian language daily Koha Ditore wrote on 22 August.

“We are working hard and putting additional efforts to establish a normal state in the shortest possible term. At the moment, we have control over KFOR, and we will exert control over the crossings as soon as possible. That can happen even before 15 September, while after 15 September the rule of law and control over checkpoints will be established,” Kuci said.

As for the justice system in the north, judges and prosecutors should meet three criteria – to establish an integrated justice system, to be appointed by Kosovo institutions, and to be included in the system of Kosovo, Kuci explained.

Haradinaj Retrial Scares Witnesses

Pristina/Hague, A key witness in the trial of Ramush Haradinaj at the Hague Tribunal did not want to testify in the partial retrial on 22 August. The witness said he “could not answer questions and was unable to recall his earlier statements” – in which he talked about crimes in the village of Jablanica in Kosovo, B92 reported.

Sefcet Kabashi, who was specifically asked by the prosecutor whether he feared for his safety if he testified, said that he himself “was not afraid to speak”, but that he was “not sure whether he feared” for another person who was close to him.

The original not-guilty verdict against Haradinaj was overturned and the case was sent to partial retrial because of witness intimidation.

Kabashi was arrested in the Netherlands several days ago and extradited to the tribual to face charges of contempt of court, originating in 2007, when he refused to testify at the first-instance trial against Haradinaj.

“Where are other witnesses questioned by the prosecution? I am lucky to still be alive, and what about all those other witnesses? I know that they have been intimidated, that they fear for their lives, and both prosecution and defense spoke about that. I know very well that there are witnesses who are no longer living,” Kabashi said.

The retrial in the case Haradinaj and his accomplices Idriz Balaj and Lahi Brahimaj at the Hague began with opening statements by the prosecution and defense.

Three witnesses were killed before the Haradinaj original trial begun, and their families were intimidated. Two of the witnesses were killed in Kosovo, while the third one got killed in a traffic accident under mysterious circumstances in Montenegro.

Ramush Haradinaj, Lahi Ibrahimaj and Idriz Balaj were returned to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY, for a partial retrial after the prosecution convinced an appeal judge that two key witnesses had not been heard. The trio in the case, known as Haradinaj et al, were previously indicted on charges related to the murders, kidnapping, tortures and rapes of Serbs, Roma and Albanians between March and September 1998. During the conflict in Kosovo, Haradinaj was a commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA. Haradinaj, 43, was indicted in 2004 while serving as Kosovo’s Prime Minister, and voluntarily surrendered to the Tribunal.

Serbia

Serbian Defense Minister Dragan Šutanovac Confirms There is No Indication of Instability in South Serbia

Belgrade, Serbian Defense Minister Dragan Šutanovac said on 22 August that there was “no indication of instability in south Serbia,” B92 reported.

“That this does not mean that the situation is not being closely monitored,” Serbia’s Defense Minister said during a visit to Leskovac.

Serbian Defense Minister Dragan Šutanovac has added that it is important that there are no military threats, but that certain extremist groups have been heard in Priština and Kosovo and Metohija today as well.

“We are working in cooperation with police and international forces on prevention of any activities which could jeopardize security,” Šutanovac said.  Šutanovac asserted that he had been insisting that KFOR “should not cut the number its forces in Kosovo and Metohija since the time when he became the head of the defense ministry”.

When asked who was in control of the situation in northern Kosovo, Šutanovac said that considering the fact that Kosovo and Metohija is part of Serbia, all local self-governments have to act in keeping with the decisions of the Serbian government and the country’s top officials.

“There are certain structures which are obviously against peace since they make most profit in murky waters”, the minister said.

Milivoje Mihajlović “A Silent War Against Serbia’s Diplomacy”

Belgrade, In the past week Benin, Niger and Guinea, as well as some Caribbean countries, recognized Kosovo as independent. The province’s ethic Albanians made their unilateral declaration in February 2008, but Serbia rejected it.

„The Kosovo Albanian authorities in Priština had set aside big sums of money for their campaign of renewal of recognitions of Kosovo,” Milivoje Mihajlović, Serbian government media office chief told Belgrade-based daily Politika in an interview.

“We are in constant contact with those countries that have not recognized Kosovo, but also with those that have, and we are lobbying to have the problem solved through dialogue, to discuss the status at the UN, instead of unilateral actions that change the situation in the field,” he added. Mihajlović said “a silent war” was ongoing for the province, where Priština and powerful western countries were fighting against Serbia’s diplomacy.

Serb Refugees from Croatia Ask German Chancellor Merkel for Help

Belgrade, Representatives of associations of Serb refugees and displaced persons from Croatia will send an open letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel on 23 August, in which they would call for Germany’s support in the quest for their tenancy, property and human rights of which they were deprived in Croatia. The associations will file the open letter for Merkel to the German Embassy on 23 August, together with the text of the Vienna Treaty on Succession Issues, the Coalition of Refugee Associations in Serbia released.

In the agreement, signed on August 23, 1996, the undersigned countries took on the obligation to provide conditions for free and safe return of refugees and displaced persons and to make sure that they get their property back or receive compensation for destroyed, damaged or missing assets.

In the open letter, Serb refugees and displaced persons seek Germany’s support for the proposition according to which the EU should define tangible measures which would be implemented in case Croatia fails to meet all its obligations within the next two years, while it would be under monitoring before accessing the EU.

The German Chancellor will have meetings with Serbian top officials in Belgrade during her visit to Serbia on 23 August.

Turkey

Turkey Continues its Operations against PKK Targets in N Iraq

Istanbul, “No one can tell us that the government should stop operations. On the contrary, it’s a government obligation to carry out operations for the sake of the  peace of the nation. Those who hope for a rebounce to the dark past cherish illusions,” Prime Minister Recep TayyipErdoğan said in response to criticism of Kurdish politicians both in Turkey and Iraq.

In his words, PKK claims to practice Islam, but kills innocent people and that is how the Turkey has been provoked to react. The Turkish military specifically target terrorists and not civilians.

Unconfirmed reports that seven civilians were killed during Turkey’s aerial operations against PKK targets in northern Iraq triggered a critical reaction from the Iraqi Kurdish administration. Some Turkish politicians have likewise called for an end to the operations.

The PKK “forces citizens to pay yearly taxes in places like Hakkari [in Southeast Anatolia]. And my Kurdish citizens who are subject to this come to me for help. Is it not our job to protect them?” Erdoğan is quoted as saying by Hurryiet Daily.

The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

Regulatory and Supervisory Authorities under Supervision of Ministries in Turkey

Ankara, Some 10 independent regulatory and supervisory authorities in Turkey will be under the supervision of respective ministers, following a recently approved decree, Hurryiet reports. Most of the bodies were established after the 2001 crisis to regulate and control financial and capital markets. Officials refused to comment on the changes. Law No. 5018 on “Public Financial Administration and Control,” published in 2003, defines the duties and responsibilities of 10 independent “regulatory and supervisory” bodies. The bodies include some financial institutions such as the capital markets and banking regulator authorities as well as media regulators.

The decree approved last week defined the duties and responsibilities of the newly established European Union Ministry and thus redefined those of other ministries. The draft of the decree was prepared before the general elections on June 12, according to a recent report by daily Radikal. The administrative and financial autonomy of these bodies has thus been taken out their hands with the new decree.

BALKANS ECONOMY

Bulgaria

Bulgaria Postponed Again a Decision on Bourgas – Alexandroupolis Pipeline Project

Sofia, The Bulgarian government has granted Trans-Balkan Pipeline, a Bulgarian-Greek-Russian project company, another extension on the environmental assessment of the Bourgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline project, Bulgaria’s Sofia Press Agency’s online news-site Novinite.com reported. Bulgaria’s Environment Ministry is granting TBP until 30 September, 2011, to submit anew its environment assessment impact study on the troubled oil pipeline project.

The new extension means that the deadline for the final decision of the Bulgarian Environment Ministry and the Cabinet as a whole on the fate of the Burgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline will be pushed further, till the end of October 2011. TPP had requested the extension in mid July, a government spokesperson said on 22 August.

The new delay on the final decision of the Bourgas -Alexandropoulis pipeline project came after in June 2011 Bulgarian Environment Minister Nona Karadzhova had declared that she would give a 2-month extension to Trans-Balkan Pipeline to fix the environmental impact flaws in its project.  The Bulgarian government approved some time ago a contribution to the Bulgarian state company for the construction of the Bourgas- Alexandroupolis Project, which was at the bare minimum for keeping alive operation of the company, which holds on behalf of Bulgaria a share of 24.5% in the Trans-Balkan Pipeline company, a joint venture of Bulgaria, Greece, and Russia.

In June 2011, the Bulgarian government delayed further the project for the Bourgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline, returning its environmental assessment report for the second time to the Trans-Balkan Pipeline company, prompting Transneft President Nikolai Tokarev to describe the actions of the Bulgarian government as an insult.

The 300-km, planned to link the Black Sea port of Bourgas to Alexandroupolis on the Aegean Sea, is designed to transport 35 million tons of oil a year, with a possible expansion to 50 million tons, to ease the tanker traffic burden in the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles straits.

Transneft does not rule out finding a route bypassing Bulgaria to deliver Russian oil through Greece to the Mediterranean, Tokarev said.

Bulgaria Checks Lukoil Refinery for Tax Evasion

Sofia, Bulgaria’s Customs Agency inspects whether Lukoil Neftochim is being siphoned off by its subsidiary Litasco, which controls volumes entering and exiting the oil refinery.

The announcement was made Sunday by Customs Agency head Vanyo Tanov in interview for the Bulgarian National Radio on 21 August and the inspection work started on the following day. He explained that Litasco was an intermediary company registered in Switzerland. In Tanov’s view, as Litasco is assigned with determining both crude oil prices and prices of exported end-products, it is possible that the Swiss-registered firm accumulated the profits, leaving Lukoil to report losses. The inspection will be reportedly further complicated due to the registration of the company.

“The chain is broken and we cannot execute any checks as the output is mainly exported to offshore zones and we cannot say whether these are real transactions and whether real payments are being made between Litasco and the offshore companies”, Bulgaria’s Customs Agency Director stated. Tanov also informed that Lukoil Neftochim had not paid a single lev in direct taxes over the past two years because it reported losses, while the excise duty and VAT contributions of the firm were actually paid by consumers. He further suggested that the Bourgas-based refinery would manage to install 80% of the required measuring devices by end-October. The upgrade of oil terminal Rosenetz would be more time-consuming and would require bigger investments, meaning that the company would probably comply with all requirements under the Excise Duties and Tax Warehouses Act by the middle of 2012.

The Customs Agency Director also noted that the additional investments in the new equipment should not drive up end-prices of gasoline.

Regarding Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov’s statement that the suspension of the refinery’s license constituted a threat to Bulgaria’s national security and, Tanov responded that the state must not be left to run up debts to any company or to depend on a sole monopoly player.

Croatia

Italian Bank Banco Popolare Stays in Croatia

Zagreb, Banco Popolare Croatia has confirmed that the Italian group Banco Popolare will sell its Hungarian subsidiary, but it has dismissed reports by some Italian media that the bank could withdraw from Croatia. In a statement released on 22 August, Banco Popolare Croatia said that according to a recently adopted business plan for the period from 2011 to 2015, it would continue operating in Croatia, as shown by the bank’s recent recapitalisation.

Officials at Banco Popolare Croatia confirmed that the sale of the bank’s Hungarian subsidiary was under way,Tportal reported. The financial paper Il Sole 24 Ore wrote on 21 August, without revealing its source, that negotiations between Banco Popolare and a financier from Hungary on the sale of the bank’s Hungarian subsidiary were well under way and that the Italian banking group was planning to withdraw from Croatia as part of cost-cutting measures.

Greece

Greece – Finland Collateral Deal under Question

Athens, Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos insisted on Monday that growing complications over its collateral deal with Finland would not derail the EUR 8B loan installment Athens expects next month, but the agreement with Helsinki is becoming a major distraction in the eurozone rubber stamping the second bailout for Greece.

“September’s borrowing requirements will be covered either way. This has been decided,” Venizelos is quoted saying by Kathimerini.

However, Moody’s ratings agency also expressed concerns about Athens striking a deal to provide Finland with cash collateral in exchange for its participation in the EUR 109 B package. The agency suggested the issue could scupper the eurozone bailout for Greece, leading to the country defaulting.

“The agreement between Greece and Finland, which is small by itself, assumes much greater significance,” said Moody’s. “The pursuit of such agreements could delay the next tranche of financial support for Greece and so precipitate a payment default.”

Romania

Employers to Pay Social Contributions for Freelancers in Romania

Bucharest, Romanian companies will pay social security contributions for their freelance staff, if these employees also have a work contract with the same company, as well as for freelance activities carried out under an exclusivity cause, says a draft ordinance amending the Fiscal Code, Mediafax reports.

Meanwhile a survey of Consulteam reveals that companies operating in Romania have increased employees’ salaries between 4% and 7% in 2011.

Serbia

Nestle Buys Serbia’s Centroproizvod

Belgrade, Nestle, a leading Swiss food company, confirmed that it had reached agreement on acquiring Serbia’s Centroproizvod. The acquisition includes also the purchase of the Surcin producing plant of that major Serbian food producer, which expects sales revenues of EUR 25 million in 2011. Nestle sees this acquisition as a strategic step in strengthening its position in the region. The Swiss company, which has been present in the Adriatic region since 2003, currently employs around 500 people and operates one factory in Stara Pazova, Serbia.

Turkey

Turkey to Produce its Own Fighter Jets

Ankara, Besides an ongoing plan to develop a fighter jet program with the US or Europe, Turkey is seeking to broaden its fleet with a second option. South Korea’s KAI and Sweden’s Saab are the two possible partners, according to a Turkish procurement official, quoted by Hurryiet. Turkey is supposed to take part in the design of the possible project

Turkey recently had held separate talks with aeronautical officials from South Korea and Sweden for possible cooperation in the design, development and production of a new fighter aircraft in the next decade, a senior procurement official said at the weekend.

“The companies are South Korea’s Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) and Sweden’s Saab,” the official said.

KAI is the manufacturer of several military and civilian aircraft and satellites and is planning to produce the fighter aircraft KF-X. Saab is the maker of the multi-role fighter JAS 39 Gripen.

Turkey, whose present fighter fleet is made up of U.S.-made aircraft, also plans to buy the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Lightning II planes, a next-generation, multinational program also led by the United States.

But Turkish officials privately say they want another future jet fighter to be developed with a country or countries other than the United States, in an effort to reduce the country’s dependence on Washington.

Most of Turkey’s present fleet of F-16 fighters, being modernized by U.S. firm Lockheed Martin, and the planned future F-35s are open to U.S. influence. Only its older F-4 aircraft, modernized by Israel, and its oldest F-16s, being modernized by Turkey itself, technologically are free from this influence, the officials said. But these older aircraft are expected to be decommissioned around 2020.

“Turkey wants part of its fighter aircraft fleet to remain outside the technological and other influence of the United States. It believes this scheme would better fit its national interests,” said one Turkish defense analyst.

So as part of efforts to select a new fighter for the Turkish Air Force, Turkish Aerospace Industries, or TAI, has been assigned with the task to determine the specifications of the new fighter. It has until the end of next year to finish the process.

(Mariela Zamfirova, MBA; 23 August 2011)

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About Johann Brandstätter

Photojournalist and documentary photographer based in Bulgaria, working mainly in the Balkans and the Middle East. Conflicts & crises, social and environmental issues, defense & military, travel, transportation.
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