Former KLA members' verdicts could be a sign


The dismissal of murder charges in the verdict of former KLA members is a positive gesture toward a dialogue continuation between Belgrade and Pristina, some say.

By Biljana Pekusic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 03/10/12


Former KLA members receive verdicts from the Belgrade Higher Court for War Crimes. [Reuters]

Belgrade's Higher Court for War Crimes announced the sentences for 17 members of the Kosovo Liberation Army in September, who were accused of war crimes against Serbs in Gnjilane in 1999.

Eleven of the accused were convicted of rape and abuse of two protected witnesses, while the court rejected the charges of murder of 47 civilians due to lack of evidence. Six accused were acquitted of all charges.

The September verdict was the result of a retrial of the so-called Gnjilane Group, after the Appellate Belgrade Court in December of last year quashed the first verdict.

In the first trial, nine defendants were found guilty of killing at least 32 civilians and sentenced to a total of 101 years in prison. Now, at the retrial, the murder charges were dropped.

"They were acquitted of murder because there was also no evidence at the first trial," Sonja Biserko, director of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Belgrade, told SETimes.

She added that different court verdicts on the same case indicate that Serbia is not a lawful state.

"It looks like such an attempt [to foster dialogue]," Biserko said. "But it will not affect any future dialogue if Serbia does not change its strategy in addressing relations with Kosovo."

Biserko, however, said that Serbia President Tomislav Nikolic's recent speech at the 67th UN General Assembly does not indicate a change in Serbia's policy that would allow the two countries to establish good relations.

According to Dusan Janjic, a researcher at the Institute for Social Studies in Belgrade, so far there are no signs of change in Serbia's approach to solving problems with Kosovo.

"Serbia provides hints that it will co-operate in the dialogue with Pristina, but it's not realistic to expect in the near future significant changes of the current government policy towards Kosovo," Janjic told SETimes.

He added that apart from the strategy change, the state should stop dictating stereotypes in which Kosovo Albanians are publically displayed negatively.

Dejan Pavicevic, Belgrade team chief for negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina, told SETimes it is still uncertain if the dialogue will be extended at the political level.

"We will implement all agreements reached so far, but try to interpret an agreement favorable for Belgrade," added Pavicevic. He thinks that Serbia's strategy for dialogue with Pristina will be ready soon, and be based on Nikolic's talks with the EU representatives.

In the Serbian media, Pavicevic rejected Pristina's accusations that Belgrade has not followed parts of the past agreements. "A large part of the implementation is completed or is in the final stages," he said.

According to Pavicevic, Belgrade's refusal to implement the agreed arrangements would lead to self-isolation and deny Serbia the opportunity to fight for the people in Kosovo and Metohija.

"It is better to implement the agreed upon, respect commitments and, on all fronts, fight the damage as little as possible, both by Kosovo citizens, and interests of Belgrade," Pavicevic told Blic daily.

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He told SETimes that Belgrade would form a technical working group trying to change parts of the agreements with Pristina, unfavorable for the Serbian side.

Borislav Stefanovic, the former head of Belgrade's negotiating team in the dialogue with Pristina, told SETimes that the new Serbian authorities have no strategy for talks with Pristina.

According to the Serbian public, however, the dismissal of murder charges is Serbia's attempt to positively gesture toward a dialogue continuation between Belgrade and Pristina.

The Gnjilane Group was arrested in 2008 in Presevo, southern Serbia.

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