The return of radicalised fighters from Syria and the threat of new recruits have prompted amendments and new laws in at least three countries.
By Miki Trajkovski for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 21/01/14
New laws in the Balkans treat recruiting and participating in foreign wars, such as the conflict in Syria, as grave criminal offences. [AFP]
Serbia, Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) are creating a legal framework to sanction citizens that participate in foreign wars, such as the one in Syria, intending to discourage participation and prevent returnees from going back.
The Social Democratic Party of Serbia (SDSP) proposed in parliament last week a new law that will sanction recruiters with prison sentences of up to 12 years, and those who depart to participate in foreign wars with prison sentences of up to five years.
The law aims to prevent participation of Serbian citizens in armed conflicts worldwide, regardless of whether for religious, material or other reasons.
"The vast majority of people who decide to fight abroad are manipulated most directly. They … are not only a security problem, but, very often, become promoters of the most radical political and ideological principles and crisis generators," said Rasim Ljajic, deputy prime minister and president of SDSP.
Islam in Serbia is a legally protected by the constitution like all other religions, and the state cannot position itself between religion and believers, said Milan Mijalkovski, professor at the Security Faculty in Belgrade.
"But that can change once the law in Serbia is passed, which stipulates that anyone going [there] to train will be sanctioned for terrorism even if they are not part of the war. The security services are capable of checking everybody who returns from Syria, but they do need legal authority," Mijalkovski told SETimes.
Last year, Serbia also upgraded the criminal law to include acts of international terrorism.
BiH security minister Fahrudin Radoncic initiated amendments to the criminal law that passed in parliament last December, and are now pending approval in the House of Peoples.
The amended law stipulates that citizens who agree to participate in a foreign war will be sentenced to three years in jail and recruiters to 10 years in jail.
Similarly, Macedonia is amending its criminal law -- submitted in parliamentary procedure -- to punish recruiters and citizens who agree to participate in foreign military or paramilitary formations with prison sentences of up to five years.
"There should be sanctions also for the participants themselves, they should be held accountable. Everyone involved should be sanctioned," Pavle Trajanov, former interior minister of Macedonia, told SETimes.
Trajanov said Macedonia is acting preventively given the dangers to interreligious and interethnic coexistence from the presence of foreign-trained paramilitaries.
"Those are persons trained to conduct complex military and terrorist operations, including how to use explosives and various kinds of weapons that are outside the interests of our country," Trajanov said.
The legal measures need to be complemented with measures on how to handle the Islamist fighters once they return from Syria and elsewhere, said Ivan Babanovski, former professor at the Security Faculty in Skopje.
"What will they do and more specifically who here will provide them the $10,000 [per month] salaries they are accustomed to? These are the questions that need to be addressed," Babanovski told SETimes.
Babanovski said there are more than 400 fighters from the Balkans participating in Syria, though some security services put the number at 2,000, and the potential to cause mischief is real. The fighting also creates a direct threat to neighbouring Turkey, which is housing as many as 600,000 Syrian refugees.
"The largest number comprise members of the El Mudzahedin unit from Bosnia and the KLA [Kosovo Liberation Army] from Kosovo. The most important thing now is to sanction them once they return from Syria or from any other state, and then place them in appropriate institutions where they can be resocialised," he said.
Correspondents Ivana Jovanovic in Belgrade and Mladen Dragojevic in Banja Luka contributed to this report.
What else can the Balkan countries do to stop citizens from fighting in Syria or in other foreign wars? Share your opinion in the comments space.