Comment: Kosovars Say Judiciary Unfair

Many Albanians believe the Kosovo's judicial system is weighted against them.

Comment: Kosovars Say Judiciary Unfair

Many Albanians believe the Kosovo's judicial system is weighted against them.

Kosovo is directly affected by the international community's new priorities post-September 11. The Americans have embarked on a long conflict not only against terrorism, but also against the extensive, undemocratic world, which produces it.

The "war on terror" is now being waged here, with KFOR's arrest last week of six people accused of participating in an illegal organisation - the Ilirida Republican Army, ARI - the campaign's latest action.

KFOR has previously referred to "adventurous" youngsters engaged in cross-border activities in Macedonia, but these young men were not thought to be members of a serious organisation.

People I have spoken to in recent days agree that ARI poses no serious threat and suggest the arrests were made to pre-empt any potential problems this ramshackle organisation might create in fragile Macedonia.

Given general elections are scheduled there next month, the theory gains credence. Macedonian nationalists could exploit any incident to ignite a new wave of nationalism, thereby derailing one of the European Union's great conflict resolution successes.

Last week's arrests are part of a post-September 11 zero tolerance stance against armed groups seeking to secure their political ends by force.

The United States and her western allies see that the present crisis in the Middle East and Central Asia will require greater political, military, and economic investment in the near future. For this reason, it is important that the Balkans remains stable.

The arrest of former KLA commander Rrustem Mustafa-Remi, the new initiative to stabilise Mitrovica and attempts to dismantle parallel Serbian structures in the area should all be seen in this context.

Given their new priorities post-September 11, western powers must also nail down a schedule for their exit from the region. Although no final departure date has been set yet, two or three years hence would seem a reasonable bet.

UNMIK and KFOR need to set up self-sustaining institutions as soon as possible and transfer competencies to them within the time limit of this "exit strategy". Steps also need to be taken to eradicate elements, which could destabilise the situation - suspected war criminals, those organising and running parallel structures and organised crime groups.

A favourable political climate, especially around inter-ethnic relations, needs to be created for talks on future status to proceed.

But the process of creating a functioning state is fraught with problems. The Remi case, in particular, highlights the difficulties facing one of its key pillars - Kosovo's judicial system.

Remi's Kosovar supporters claim he is not guilty and the arrest is part of a campaign to discredit the KLA.

Those who defend Remi, for example, cite other cases where UNMIK has arrested people on charges of committing serious crimes and detained them for long periods (some for up to two years) before releasing them for lack of evidence. One such incident could be seen as a mistake, but as there have been several many here argue that the judicial process has become politicised and weighted against Albanians.

More than 60 former KLA fighters have been detained in less than a year, yet Milan Ivanovic, leader of the infamous Mitrovica 'Bridge Guards', has escaped arrest and at the same time humiliated the UN by freely turning up in the town to give a press conference.

Kosovo's judicial system is evidently ethnically selective, targeting members of one ethnic group more than others. It is not a real justice system, but not only for this reason.

In liberal democracies court and prosecutors are independent and function within an organised system with priorities set by social debate. In Kosovo, the judiciary is staffed by international officials on short-term contracts and operates on information provided by western-run intelligence services.

While three years have been devoted to building an international justice system, not a lot of time has gone into developing a local one.

The UN's chief administrator Michael Steiner recently appointed an expert to sort out the province's energy sector, illustrating how little executive power is invested in Kosovo's elected government. If the development of the Kosovo parliament continues at its present pace, it will take decades to establish a judicial and constitutional system fit for a country - much longer than developments in Kabul and Baghdad appear to dictate.

Veton Surroi is founder and publisher of the independent newspaper Koha Ditore.

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