The World Today for January 10, 2017


Facing Up

Kosovo’s leaders are calling on a French court to release Ramush Haradinaj, an ex-prime minister and former guerrilla fighter who allegedly kidnapped, tortured and killed Serbian civilians during the tiny Balkan country’s war of independence against Serbia in the late 1990s.

His nickname was Rambo, according to Balkan Insight, a respected local news group.

French authorities arrested Haradinaj, 48, last week at the behest of Serbia, where officials are now preparing extradition papers to put him on trial, the Associated Press reported.

“It is sad how some countries still respect the decisions of the former Milosevic regime,” said Haradinaj, who is now an opposition leader. He was referring to Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian president during the war who died in 2006 in The Hague while facing charges of genocide and other war crimes.

A day after Haradinaj’s arrest, Kosovo levied war crime charges against an unnamed Serb extradited from Bosnia-Herzegovina, saying he could face life imprisonment for his unspecified deeds, another Associated Press story said. Kosovo also barred Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic from visiting ethnic Serbians celebrating Orthodox Christmas in Kosovo, the Irish Times wrote.

The contretemps kicked off a year that is likely to be stormy in Kosovo, where economic collapse has already led to an exodus of young people seeking jobs.

It has been nine years since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia with the support of the US – NATO keeps 5,000 troops there, and Bill Clinton Boulevard is a major thoroughfare in the capital of Pristina. Now, a long-awaited new special war crimes court is slated to convene soon in The Hague to try former Kosovo Liberation Army, or KLA, fighters like Haradinaj who stand accused of committing atrocities during and after the war.

Those up for indictment include high-ranking officials in Kosovo’s current government, including the country’s president and former prime minister, Hashim Thaci. He’s been accused of war crimes that include organ harvesting.

The cases aren’t slam-dunks.

A United Nations war crimes tribunal cleared Haradinaj of war crimes. Serbia asked Slovenia to detain him two years ago, but he was released.

Nevertheless, the special court is sure to reveal some unpleasant truths in a bloody war that reminded the world that even supposedly civilized Europeans could descend into barbarism.

Americans tend to view the Serbs as the bad guys in the conflict. Their forces killed an estimated 10,000 people, mostly Kosovar Albanians, during the war. Another estimated 20,000 women and men were victims of sexual violence, too.

Around 1,000 Serbs and Kosovar Albanians considered “traitors” have been declared missing, a Council of Europe study found in 2010.

The Kosovars probably massacred fewer people. Does it matter?

The world might soon discover that Kosovo’s so-called freedom fighters weren’t always innocent victims. And Kosovars, many angry over the new court, are bracing for the reverberations.


Food Trafficking

Amid desperate economic conditions in Venezuela, “food trafficking” is virtually the only business that’s booming.

Black market dealing in beans and rice and other staples is “a better business than drugs,” the Associated Press cited an unnamed source as saying. Meanwhile, the Venezuelan military is dominating the trade.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro gave the military complete control of the food supply last summer, after people began looting grocery stores (which were mostly empty) amid an economic crisis brought on by profligate spending and low oil prices, the agency said.

Unable to source goods from official channels, grocers like Jose Campos shop at illegal markets run by the military — which sells staples at 100 times the government-set price.

“The military would be watching over whole bags of money,” Campos told AP. “They always had what I needed.”

US prosecutors have opened investigations against senior Venezuelan officials, including members of the military, for laundering money from food contracts through the US financial system, the agency said. But so far nobody has been charged with a crime.

Gambia Gambit

The president of Nigeria and three other West African heads of state will visit Gambia on Wednesday in an effort to persuade President Yahya Jammeh to honor the results of the December 1 elections and step down.

Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyema told reporters that regional leaders are making every effort to ensure a peaceful transition in Gambia, but the West African bloc is “prepared and determined to take advantage of any of the options that it feels is appropriate” to install election winner Adama Barrow as the president, the Associated Press reported.

This will be the second visit by West African leaders to Gambia to try to talk Jammeh down. The regional bloc has said it has a military force on standby if he refuses to cede power when his mandate expires January 19.

Jammeh has mobilized troops, closed radio stations and ordered arrests, leading to a “mass exodus” of Gambians to their country’s interior and to neighboring countries, the agency quoted Onyema as saying.

Rohingya Refugees

Some 22,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled across the border to Bangladesh from Burma over the past week, marking a sharp escalation in the flow of refugees.

The new exodus brings the total number of Rohingya Muslims who have fled to Bangladesh to 65,000 since the Burmese military launched operations against the persecuted minority in early October, Time reported.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Monday that the displaced are being sheltered in refugee camps and other makeshift lodgings in the Bangladeshi city of Cox’s Bazaar, near the border with Burma’s Arakan state, the magazine said.

The refugees have alleged that the Burmese army is using gang rape, arson and extrajudicial killings to drive them out of Burma. The area in question, where there are some 130,000 people dependent on relief efforts, has been closed off to journalists and almost all humanitarian workers.

Her failure to check the military crackdown has led to accusations that Myanmar’s civilian government, and particularly Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, are complicit in the tragedy.


Seal Team Porpoise

Where international treaties and fishing bans have failed, the US government has developed an unorthodox solution to save the elusive, pint-sized vaquita porpoise from extinction: train an elite unit of search-and-rescue dolphins to save the species.

The Navy-trained dolphins will set out in the spring to locate the last remaining vaquitas, international experts told the Associated Press.

“They would signal that by surfacing and returning to the boat from which they were launched,” said Jim Fallin of the US Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific.

The vaquitas are casualties of illegal fishing for the swim bladder of the totoaba fish, a rare and pricey delicacy in China. The porpoises become caught in the wide-cast gillnet used to catch the totoaba fish, and drown.

Navy officials hope to relocate the three dozen or so remaining vaquitas from their natural habitat in the warm waters of the Upper Gulf of California to a sanctuary further down the Gulf in the Sea of Cortez where they might breed.

But the plan comes with risks: Vaquitas have never been raised in captivity, and many could die in the relocation process.

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