Thursday, May 26, 2011

A joyous day in the Balkans: Top war crimes suspect Mladic arrested in Serbia

(Reuters) - Bosnian Serb wartime general Ratko Mladic was arrested in Serbia Thursday after years on the run from international genocide charges, opening the way for the once-pariah state to approach the European mainstream.

Mladic, accused of orchestrating the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the town of Srebrenica and a brutal 43-month siege of Sarajevo during Bosnia's 1992-5 war, was found in a farmhouse owned by a cousin, a police official said.

"Mladic was handcuffed and whisked away," said the official, who said he been cooperative during the arrest. The formerly burly and widely-feared general was not disguised but had false identity papers and looked haggard and much older, he said.

"Hardly anyone could recognize him."

A friend of the Mladic family said he had been put on a plane to the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague, but Serbia said he was still in its custody.

"On behalf of the Republic of Serbia I can announce the arrest of Ratko Mladic. The extradition process is under way," Serbian President Boris Tadic told reporters in Belgrade just hours before a visit by a top official of the European Union, which told Serbia it must arrest Mladic before it could join.

Tadic confirmed Mladic, 69, had been detained in Serbia, which had long said it could not find a man who is still seen as a hero by many Serbs and whose Bosnian Serb Army was armed and funded by the late Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic.

"This removes a heavy burden from Serbia and closes a page of our unfortunate history," Tadic said.

Shortly afterwards, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton arrived in Belgrade.

"It's of course a very important day for international justice and for the rule of law," she said, while EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele echoed her words but said Serbia still had many reforms to carry out on the road to EU membership.

Mladic was arrested in the village of Lazarevo, near the northeastern town of Zrenjanin around 100 km (60 miles) from the capital Belgrade in the early hours, the police official said.


Bosnian Muslim survivors said the news was bittersweet.

"I have been waiting for years for this criminal, who gave himself the right to take away my children and force me out of my town, to face justice," said Kada Sehomerovic, who lost her husband, son and two brothers when Bosnian Serbs under Mladic seized Srebrenica, designated at the time as a "U.N. safe area."

A Mladic family friend earlier told Reuters Mladic had been taken to the headquarters of the Serbian intelligence agency after an interior ministry official said police had arrested a man going by the name of Milorad Komadic on an anonymous tip.

The Mladic family friend said Mladic had left Serbia for The Hague by plane Thursday afternoon. "They sent him immediately," the friend, who did not want to be named, told Reuters. "It is a security risk to keep him in Belgrade."

But the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague said the transfer would take place after the completion of judicial proceedings required by Serbian law.

Many nationalists in Serbia, which was under international sanctions over the war in Bosnia and then bombed by NATO to stop atrocities in Kosovo in 1999, idolize Mladic and one representative made clear their fury with the government.

"This shameful arrest of a Serb general is a blow to our national interests and the state," Boris Aleksic, a spokesman for the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party said. "This is a regime of liars -- dirty, corrupt and treacherous."

Dozens of people were arrested and injured in 2008 throughout Serbia in riots following the arrest of Bosnian Serb wartime political leader Radovan Karadzic.

Tadic said he would not allow a repeat of such violence.

"This country will remain stable," he said. "Whoever tries to destabilize it will be prosecuted and punished."

Washington and other capitals hailed the arrest.

"The European prospects of Serbia are now brighter than ever," said Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt.

"Serbia is a country that has suffered a lot but the fact it has delivered presumed war criminals is very good news. It's one more step toward Serbia's integration one day into the European Union," French President Nicolas Sarkozy said at a Group of Eight summit in France.

Serbia's dinar currency rose more than one percent on the news, which Tadic said opened the way for reconciliation in the Balkans region, still recovering from the conflicts that tore apart old federal Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Mladic played a central role in some of the darkest episodes of Balkan and European history and called his arrest "an important step toward a Europe that is whole, free and at peace."

Although his arrest removed a diplomatic thorn from Belgrade's side, the revelation that Mladic was in Serbia, as many suspected, raises questions as to how he eluded justice for so long.

Monday, May 09, 2011

The Albanian-American Diaspora Appeals to the Albanian Foreign Ministry for the safety of Gjon Lucaj

The Honorable Edmond Haxhinasto
Deputy Prime Minister
Minister of Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Republic of Albania
Bulevardi Gjergj Fishta, Nr 6
Tirana, Albania

Dear Minister Haxhinasto,

We, the undersigned call on the Albanian Government not to extradite Mr. Gjon Lucaj to Montenegro. We intently appeal to the Foreign Ministry of Albania to protect Mr. Lucaj’s human rights pending further arrangements for a more permanent residence. We are petitioning your Office to take into consideration the facts surrounding the unethical and flawed Montenegrin justice system. Their handling of Albanian political prisoners has been thoroughly documented as inhumane, unjust, ethnically charged, and plagued by corruption. We plea that your Ministry comply with appropriate legal discourse related to international and local statutes regulating the deportation of a political detainees, and prevent the return of Mr. Lucaj to a country known for its abusive police practices.

Various international organizations have recorded the ill-treatment of Albanian political prisoners in Montenegrin jails. Montenegrin secret police have brutally assaulted Albanian political prisoners and viciously tortured them and their families. The Montenegrin police continue to violate local and international laws by systematically beating and torturing political prisoners with no legal recourse for their actions.

An Amnesty International report published in October 2006 stated that:

“Once imprisoned, the Montenegrin authorities have been maltreating political prisoners, and have been forcing political detainees to sign fabricated documents and statements against their will…The allegations include reports of repeated beatings, including with the intention of forcing a confession, using hands, fists, feet, sticks and on one occasion, a computer cable…Beatings were allegedly conducted by individual and groups of police officers at the police station, by the anti-terrorist police involved in the arrest and by police escorting the men to court…One individual reported that a hood was placed over his head; another that he had a gun held to his head; all were subjected to racist threats on the basis of their Albanian ethnicity.”

In the same vein, the U.S. State Department in a recent Country Report cited the Helsinki Committee of Montenegro that “police had used disproportionate force against some of the arrested persons and their family members during the arrests and subsequent interrogations.” Concurringly, Freedom House reported similar buses and stated that “the hospitalization of prison inmates after a police raid raised questions of brutality and resulted in a change in prison administration…accusations of political interference and complaints of lengthy judicial processes continued to plague the judicial and prosecutorial systems.”

Wherefore, we strongly believe that if Mr. Lucaj is deported to Montenegro, he will fall victim to a corrupt justice system and be denied a fair and free public trial while facing physical and mental abuse. We desperately appeal to the Albanian Government not to extradite Mr. Lucaj to Montenegro where cruel and inhumane treatment awaits him. We urge you to recognize that these bogus acts do exist and ask that you grant Mr. Lucaj a stay in Albania.

Respectfully submitted,

The Albanian-American Association "Malesia e Madhe"

"Ded Gjo' Luli"

"Homeland Unites Us"

Malesia Humanitarian Fund

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Malësor arrested in Albania to be extradited back to Montenegro

TUZ, Malësia, May 2, 2011 - Albanian police yesterday acted on an arrest warrant issued by Interpol and Montenegro to arrest Mr. John Lucaj (39) of Malësia. Lucaj was charged and sentenced to 3 years and 3 months imprisonment by the high court in Podgorica with activities associated with the infamous 2006 "Eagle's Flight" case where 18 men were sentenced to a combined 51 years imprisonment in May 2008, just days before the first general elections in Montenegro were to be held.

Organizations for Human Rights in Montenegro have criticized the charges as human rights violations, citing torture and other crimes against detainees and their families. The charges against the 18 men included convictions that they were preparing an armed rebellion in Malësia, with the aim of creating ethnic Albanian territories. None of those accusations were proven.

Official sources from the Albanian police suggest that within a few days Mr. Lucaj will be returned to Montenegro to face charges related to his escape and his alliance with the 2006 case.

In the United States, several Albanian-American associations have petitioned the Albanian government to immediately stop extradition processes of Mr. Lucaj due to the well-documented treatment of Albanian political prisoners in Montenegrin jails. It is well-known that the Montenegrin secret police brutally assaulted Albanian political prisoners in the recent past, including the arrest of innocent Albanians while viciously torturing them and their families. The Montenegrin police systematically violate local and international laws by beating and torturing political prisoners, and in doing so, they breach individual civil rights and liberties.