Showing posts with label MONTENEGRO. Show all posts
Showing posts with label MONTENEGRO. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 27

MACEDONIA AND ALBANIA? YES - MONTENEGRO? NO!

Macedonian and Albanian leaders on Wednesday 27 welcomed the decision by European ministers to give a conditional green light to their EU accession talks.

“There will be sweat, tears and many disappointments but we will succeed!” Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov wrote on Facebook.

“Now we will climb a mountain road, narrow and steep, marred by rain and ghastly wind, but we will succeed,” he added.

Macedonia’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said it was great news for the country and offered a major “motivation” for achieving a “European Macedonia”.

After a long debate on Tuesday among the bloc's European affairs ministers, it was decided that Albania and Macedonia’s EU accession talks will start in June next year, dependent on certain conditions being fulfilled.

The unexpected outcome, despite broad EU support, showed French President Emmanuel Macron’s determination to postpone the decision until after European Parliament elections in May, for fear of stoking anti-immigrant sentiment, diplomats said.

It also puts a brake on the momentum Germany and EU chief executive Jean-Claude Juncker had sought in the Western Balkans to counter Russian influence by offering six countries a path to EU membership.

EU governments will “set out the path towards accession negotiations in June 2019” for Macedonia and Albania, according to a document agreed by the bloc’s 28 Europe ministers at what diplomats said was a long, fraught meeting in Luxembourg.

“It was a very difficult birth,” Germany’s EU minister Michael Roth said of the compromise decision.

Germany, Austria, Sweden, Slovakia and many other EU countries had hoped for an agreement on Tuesday that would give clear approval for membership talks to start. EU leaders were due to have signed off at a summit on Thursday in Brussels.

Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia all hope to join the EU.

Membership talks are already underway with Serbia and Montenegro. Albania, which is NATO member, and Macedonia, which has reached an agreement to resolve a dispute over its name with Greece, had won the support of the European Commission, which recommended that membership talks be opened.

Even with the delay, Macedonia’s deputy prime minister for European Affairs, Bujar Osmani, said on Twitter his country was now “on the path to open the accession negotiations next June”.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama also hailed the ministers’ decision “after 72 hours of stormy debate” as a victory. “The results of our huge reforms finally led even the sceptics to accept that Albania and Macedonia are ready to negotiate,” Rama tweeted in English.

However, opposition leader Lulzim Basha said Albania would be turned away in a year if it did not fight crime and corruption.

COUNTERING CORRUPTION
Macron, backed by the Netherlands, has said the bloc must first reform itself before taking on new members, although EU diplomats say Paris is mainly concerned about anti-immigrant sentiment at home.

The rushed accession of Romania and Bulgaria in 2007 and the poorly managed migration of eastern European workers to Britain, which turned many Britons against the European project, have made EU enlargement more difficult, officials say.

The Dutch parliament has approved opening EU membership talks with Macedonia after the agreement with Greece to change the country’s official name to Republic of North Macedonia. But the Dutch government was unwilling to move before France, diplomats said.

In their statement, EU ministers said both Albania and Macedonia needed to do more on judicial reforms, corruption and organised crime. Depending on progress next June and another report by the Commission, which oversees membership talks, EU governments could formally open negotiations by the end of next year.

Both countries have to show “a track record both in improving the rule of law and fighting organised crime”, Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok told reporters.

Many European countries, including Austria which will chair the EU rotating presidency from July, want to send a signal to Albania, Macedonia and other Western Balkan countries that the way to EU membership is still is open, especially as Macedonia looks set to be welcomed into the NATO alliance in July.Albanian PM Edi Rama said that "after 72 hours of stormy debate" the decision comes as a victory.

Albania and Macedonia hope the decision will clear the way for approval by EU leaders at a summit on June 28-29. EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn said after the meeting that the decision was a “key signal to the region that progress is rewarded”.

While most of the EU's member states supported opening the accession talks immediately, France and the Netherlands opposed the move, saying they first wanted to see Macedonia and Albania sustain their reforms.

The two countries were given several key conditions to meet before starting the talks. They include judicial reforms, active investigations and verdicts in high-level corruption cases, reforms in the intelligence and security sectors and public administration reform.

Arguably the most important condition for Macedonia is the implementation of the recent ‘name’ deal with Greece, under which the country should change its name to the Republic of North Macedonia.

Tuesday, April 24

THE SPECIAL FEELINGS BETWEEN C.I.A. AND MONTENEGRO

Dedicate to H.E. JOHN McCAINE (from Adriaticus)

U.S. Congressional investigators want to know what an former CIA operative was doing in Montenegro last fall at the time of an alleged Russian backed coup plot against NATO’s newest member.
Michele Rigby and Joseph Assad
(U.S. authorities say they are curious why former CIA operative Joseph Assad, seen above in 2016 with his wife, Michele, was in Montenegro last fall around when an alleged coup plot was foiled). 
Photo by Lady Hereford/ Palm Beach Atlantic University
Former Central Intelligence Agency‎ Officer Joseph Assad is celebrated in Washington for helping extract dozens of Iraqi Christians from Islamic State territory in 2015‎. Last October, days before a hotly contested national election in Montenegro, Mr. Assad flew to the tiny Balkan country that has been the subject of tensions between the U.S. and Russia.


The imbroglio is a sign that old East-versus-West spy games are alive again in Europe. Current and former U.S. and Russian officials acknowledge privately that their operatives are at work in the Balkans and in Montenegro in particular.


U.S. and Montenegrin officials say the campaign culminated in a Russian-backed plot that was thwarted at the last moment. The government’s opponents say the events amounted to a fake coup intended to rally the people to the ruling party’s side.


Montenegrin officials said they are investigating whether Mr. Assad was hired to help the alleged perpetrators. Prosecutors have charged 14 people in the alleged plot, including what the indictment describes as a group of Serb nationalists, several of whom called themselves The Wolves. 

The indictment, recently upheld by Montenegrin courts, says the men planned to overthrow Montenegro’s government, possibly kill its prime minister and install a pro-Russian regime. It doesn’t charge Mr. Assad, but names him as a potential contractor hired to help to lead a subsequent escape from the country.

U.S. and allied officials have said it makes no sense that the coup plotters would use an outsider to help extract their team from the country. But Montenegrin and U.S. officials said it is possible Russian operatives wanted to associate a former CIA officer unwittingly with the plot so as to obscure Moscow’s responsibility.

U.S. and allied officials said one reason they believe there was a coup planned was that Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić said his country’s security services had found “undeniable and material” evidence to back the Montenegrin account and cooperated with the investigation.

Prosecutors allege in their indictment that Mr. Assad approached a Florida security firm, Patriot Defense Group, looking for someone to help with “counter surveillance and evacuation” for the opposition party.

Brian Scott, a former CIA official and chief executive of Patriot Defense Group (John McCain), said a staff member spoke with Mr. Assad about general security work in Montenegro for a company affiliated with Patriot. Mr. Scott said he didn’t know if the work was to conduct an evacuation, adding his company quickly turned down the job because it wasn’t aligned with his firm’s mission to assist U.S. companies overseas.

Mr. Assad, who hasn’t been indicted, declined to speak to The Wall Street Journal. His lawyer, Vincent Citro, said Mr. Assad had been in Montenegro to assist a friend and colleague who was managing the opposition’s campaign. Mr. Citro says Mr. Assad had nothing to do with any plot and denies Mr. Assad was working as a spy for Russia or anyone else.

Mr. Citro confirmed there was a call between Mr. Assad and Patriot Defense Group. He said Mr. Assad has cooperated with the U.S. government “to clarify misinformation coming from Montenegro” but said he was told his client isn’t under investigation.

A story about Mr. Assad and his wife on the website of his college alma mater and a 2016 profile in a Florida newspaper provides this sketch of Mr. Assad: He is an Egyptian Christian raised in Lebanon and Egypt and is now a naturalized U.S. citizen. He moved to the U.S. to attend Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida, where he focused on political science and biblical studies and graduated in 1994. In 1999, Mr. Assad and his wife, born in the U.S., both joined the CIA.

In 2015, after Mr. Assad moved to a private security consultancy, ABC’s 20/20 featured a segment on how the Assads helped rescue 149 Iraqi Christians from ISIS.

Among those charged in the alleged plot in Montenegro are two accused Russian operatives, three members of the Montenegrin opposition and nine Serbs. The trial will hinge on the credibility of the government’s main witness, a (unindicted) Serb who in a statement cited in the indictment says he was recruited by a Russian intelligence agent to overthrow a government.

Staff members and investigators of the House Intelligence Committee this week reached out to Mr. Assad and Mr. Scott to ask them questions. “If Americans were involved we need to investigate,” said Rep. Devin Nunes (R., Calif.), the committee’s chairman. He recently visited Montenegro to meet with prosecutors about the allegations of Russian involvement. “This was an attempt to take down the pro-NATO government by Russian interests,” he said.

Last year, Montenegro’s Democratic Party of Socialists, which has ruled the country since independence in 2006 and has pushed for NATO membership, faced a stiff challenge from the Democratic Front, a coalition of opposition groups that campaigned on an anticorruption platform and called for a referendum on NATO.

The opposition hired Aron Shaviv, a British-Israeli campaign manager who had made his mark producing amusing political advertisements for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. With Mr. Shaviv’s satirical ads poking fun of the government on the air, Mr. Shaviv said, he was followed and pulled over by Montenegrin police and security.

Mr. Shaviv said he called Mr. Assad, with whom he had worked previously, to come to Montenegro to conduct a security assessment. Mr. Assad’s lawyer says his client provided the assessments for Mr. Shaviv, then left on the day of the election.


Montenegrin and U.S. congressional investigators have questioned the timing of Mr. Assad’s exit. In conversations with the Journal, they asked why a security adviser would leave his client on the day of the election, hours after high-profile arrests of alleged plotters.

Mr. Shaviv, who hasn’t been accused in the plot, said the Montenegrin prosecutors’ allegations amount to believing Moscow tried to topple a government using a team made up of a political consultant, a former CIA agent and “some farm boys from rural Montenegro with their hunting rifles.”

Mr. Shaviv said Montenegro’s government faced defeat in the October election and whipped up the “sloppiest conspiracy theory ever concocted.” Both the Montenegrin government and ruling-party officials deny the allegation.


While Russian officials deny they are trying to destabilize NATO aspirants or countries on their borders, U.S. officials said they expect more Russian interference across Europe. 

Gen. Ben Hodges, a senior U.S. Army commander in Europe, said Russia is “going to continue doing this, putting pressure on countries on their periphery.”

Write to Julian E. Barnes at julian.barnes@wsj.com and Drew Hinshaw at drew.hinshaw@wsj.com

Sunday, June 11

SCANDALO PER LA PALESTINA E SUOI RIFUGIATI

è un collaboratore molto vicino a Muhammad Dahlanconsiderato l'uomo che ha aperto la strada agli investimenti arabi in Serbia e MontenegroE' lui ad aver creato i legami tra i primi ministri Aleksandar Vučić e Milo Đukanović con la famiglia reale al-NahyanI media arabi hanno pubblicato una fotografia che vede ritratti, assieme Mohamed Dahlan, Aleksandar Vučić e Milo Đukanović, scattata nella casa a Belgrado del Primo ministro serbo.

Quando al-Fatah controllava senza problemi l'Autorità palestinese, Muhammad Dahlan era uno degli uomini più potenti di Gaza. Dopo l'arrivo di Hamas al potere ha dovuto lasciare la Palestina. E' entrato in conflitto col suo vecchio alleato politico, Muhmoud Abbas, attuale presidente palestinese ed è stato espulso da Fatah nel 2011. E' anch'egli accusato di aver sottratto risorse ai fondi pubblici.

Muhammad Dahlan è inoltre considerato vicino alla CIA ed è stato pubblicamente accusato in Palestina di traffico d'armi a favore di Israele. Mahmoud Abbas ha recentemente accusato Muhammad Dahlan di aver fatto imprigionare Yasser Arafat e di aver rubato 300 milioni di dollari di aiuti americani.

Questo denaro è stato ripulito in Montenegro, come affermano i media arabi? Secondo un articolo pubblicato la scorsa estate da Middle east eye, Mohammed Dahlan ha utilizzato il Montenegro per riciclare denaro guadagnato illegalmente negli Emirati arabi uniti

Muhammad Dahlan è titolare di due società registrate a Podgorica la cui attività è piuttosto oscura. Numerose fonti confermano che Muhammad Rashid sarebbe l'uomo di Muhammad Dahlan in Montenegro.

Nello stesso momento in cui Muhammad Rashid è ricercato dalle autorità palestinesi, le sue quattro società registrate in Montenegro hanno ottenuto un prestito di 12,8 milioni di euro dalla Prva Banka, banca di proprietà dei fratelli Đukanović, senza lasciare alcuna traccia su quale sia stata l'attività finanziata con quel denaro.

Per quanto riguarda la società Monte-Mena Investment, quest'ultima ha ottenuto invece un finanziamento di 5 milioni di euro da Hipo Banka, controllata da Petar Ivanović, ex-ministro dell'Agricoltura. 

Petar Ivanović sta attualmente gestendo un altro progetto di Milo Đukanović e dei suoi partner arabi: numerose decine di milioni di euro provenienti dagli Emirati Arabi Uniti che l'ex-ministro  ha presentato come un prestito di un Fondo di sviluppo di Abu Dabi (ADFD) che però non sono ancora arrivati agli agricoltori montenegrini. Il governo non avrebbe ancora firmato il contratto o un altro documento che definisca i dettagli dell'affare.

I fondatori della società Monte-Mena Investment, con sede a Panama, sono Muhammad Rashid, Samih Saviris – che ha costruito il complesso di Luštica – e alcuni collaboratori di Milo Đukanović: Veselin Vukotić e Vojin Vlahović.
L’Associated Press ha pubblicato un articolo nel quale si afferma che le Autorità Palestinesi avevano ufficialmente richiesto al Montenegro, alla Giordania, all'Iraq, agli Emirati arabi uniti e all'Egitto di congelare i beni di Mohammed Rashid

Muhammad Rashid ha acquistato altro terreno per 42 milioni di euro nel 2007, mentre il valore stimato attualmente dell'area va dai 10 ai 14 milioni di euro. Non è la prima volta che l'uomo investe in Montenegro senza alcuna logica economica apparente. Ha ad esempio acquistato un terreno municipale a Budva per 3,2 milioni di euro, tre volte più del suo valore di mercato.In Montenegro la richiesta non ha avuto seguito.

Numerose fonti indicano che il terreno di Kraljičina plaža è stato venduto a Muhammad Dahlan. Secondo il quotidiano Vijesti, quest'ultimo controllerebbe alcune società del gruppo Royal, che ha annunciato un investimento di 180 milioni di euro nel complesso turistico che dovrebbe essere costruito. L'opposizione e una parte della società civile considerano il progetto come pericoloso e contrario alla legge vigente.

La rete per l'affermazione del settore non-governativo – MANS – ha invitato il governo a bloccare il progetto e il parlamento nazionale a proteggere l'interesse pubblico. “Le disposizioni del contratto sottoscritto prevedono che il futuro acquirente avrà agevolazioni che non sono mai stata accordate ad alcuna azienda in Montenegro. 

Alcune parti del testo del contratto sono in violazione di leggi esistenti. Noi riteniamo che contratti del genere non sarebbero possibili senza elementi di corruzione all'interno del governo o, più precisamente, all'interno dell'DPS (Partito di Milo Đukanović, ndr)”, sottolinea Dejan Milovac di MANS.

Se le promesse fatte dal governo e da alcuni investitori arabi fossero state rispettate la costruzione di un complesso turistico nella area di Skočiđevojka, nei pressi di Sveti Stefan, avrebbe già trasformato il Montenegro in una Monte Carlo! Un progetto faraonico, con 220 camere, 23 ville, un casinò, un club per mega yacht, un centro commerciale, una spa e ristoranti su una superficie complessiva di 66.000 m2. 

Il tutto doveva essere pronto da anni, almeno secondo quanto dichiarato dagli investitori, la Joud Real Estate Fond e la Monte-Mena, società appartenente al palestinese Muhammad Rashid, partner d'affari del controverso ex-primo ministro montenegrino. Nella realtà nulla è stato fatto

Mentre Muhammad Rashid acquistava terreni in Montenegro, strapagandoli per poi lasciarli fermi, è divenuto oggetto di un mandato d'arresto internazionale. Le autorità palestinesi lo ricercano accusandolo di sottrazione di ingenti fondi pubblici. 

Secondo l'Associated Press la Giustizia palestinese lo ha condannato nel 2012 a 25 anni di prigione per aver sottratto 33,5 milioni di dollari da un Fondo di Investimento palestinese.

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Friday, February 10

TO NATO OR NOT TO NATO? SHAKESPEAREAN DILEMMA

RT- "Montenegro is being dragged into NATO at an accelerated and strengthened rate. Montenegro does not meet in any way the criteria of membership in the alliance, which were developed in the past," Kelin warned, adding the country's economy is currently in deplorable state while its armed forces are comprised of less than 2,000 military servicemen.

"The alliance gains nothing from making Montenegro a member, and it takes on one more security dependent that we already know won't pull its weight," Larison said. He noted that besides the fact that Podgorica adds "almost nothing to the Alliance," its NATO bid does not have broad support at home.

"It doesn't make sense to take in a new alliance member when there is no consensus in that country in favor of belonging to the alliance. 

NATO shouldn't be adding new members in any case, but it certainly shouldn't be taking in a country that doesn't have a majority behind the idea of joining," the US commentator noted.

In his article Hanna cited Senator Rand Paul who has recently raised concerns over a potential provocation against Russia.

"I think that many are referring to this as a provocation to Russia, and also, I think NATO is too big already," Paul said as quoted by the journalist, "Ultimately, joining NATO is not necessarily a benign thing."

"I look forward to welcoming Montenegro into the NATO Alliance and continuing to support its path towards further Euro-Atlantic integration," Senator John McCain said in an official statement commenting on the matter.

In the other side: "If we abstract from some media reports and statements, the attitude of the Russian Federation toward the further expansion of NATO to the east is well known. This attitude is negative," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Tuesday. Peskov added that the Kremlin would abstain from commenting on media reports on Montenegro accession to NATO. He said that Moscow has not yet received any official statement on the matter from the Trump administration.

The fate of Montenegro's NATO membership is now in the hands of US President Donald Trump. While some US lawmakers continue to push ahead with Montenegro's accession to the alliance, others regard it as a potential provocation against Russia and argue that the Balkan country adds "almost nothing" to the bloc's security.

US National Security Adviser Michael Flynn may recommend President Donald Trump to back Montenegro's NATO membership, Andrew Hanna of Politico.com reported on Monday, citing a senior administration official.

The journalist noted that twenty-three of 28 NATO member states have already voted in favor of Montenegro's bid. the United States, Canada, Spain, Germany and the Netherlands have yet to announce their decision. 

Meanwhile US lawmakers signaled their willingness to support Montenegro's NATO bid: the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted in favor of the treaty with the Balkan state on January 11, 2017.

"Because adding a nation to NATO is a treaty measure, support from two-thirds of senators is required to secure passage. But the Constitution delegates the power to negotiate treaties to the president and Trump could refuse to relay the ratification to NATO, indefinitely stalling the process," Hanna highlighted. 

It is no secret that NATO's eastward expansion, including the possible admission of Montenegro to the alliance, remains a sensitive issue for the Kremlin.

Meanwhile, on January 26 Montenegro's Prime Minister Dusko Markovic announced that Podgorica expects to become a full-fledged member of NATO before the next summit of the military alliance. However, national polls, cited by Hanna indicate that only 39.5 percent of Montenegrins favor the country's NATO membership while 39.7 percent oppose it.

Furthermore, according to Andrei Kelin, the head of the Russian Foreign Ministry's European Cooperation Department, as of yet Montenegro has failed to meet the criteria for NATO membership.

"We were exposed to pressure aimed at blocking our accession to NATO, but we have resisted them due to the power of the state, its institutions, democracy and democratic principles," Markovic said in a reference to the opposition boycott, which he called "part of plans to destabilize Montenegro in political terms and disable it to become a member of NATO".

Friday, February 3

MOHAMMED RASHID FORMER ARAFAT MONEYMAN

The late Yasser Arafat’s powerful moneyman MOHAMMED RASHID is the target of the highest-profile Palestinian corruption probe to date, facing allegations he syphoned off millions of dollars in public funds, the chief investigator has said.

Anti-corruption campaigners lauded the case against the shadowy former aide, Mohammed Rashid, as a sign of the maturing of the Palestinian political system, although the probe also appeared to be tinged with political intrigue.

Rashid, who has in the past denied wrongdoing, made veiled threats on a website to disclose purported secrets about the rise to power of Arafat’s successor, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. And Palestinian watchdogs, while praising growing government vigilance about corruption, expressed concern that such investigations are at times being used selectively to settle personal scores.

The tall, dark-haired Rashid left the Palestinian territories after Arafat’s death in November 2004, and his current whereabouts were not immediately known. Rafik Natche, head of the Palestinian Anti-Corruption Commission, said Mohamed Rashid holds business interests in Jordan, Egypt, Montenegro, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates, and that the Palestinian Authority has asked all five countries to freeze his assets and extradite him.

An Iraqi citizen of Kurdish ancestry, Rashid befriended top PLO officials in the 1980s.

From the 1994 establishment of the Palestinian Authority, a self-rule government in parts of the West Bank and Gaza, to Arafat’s death a decade later, Rashid was in charge of many of the Palestinian leader’s financial dealings. The iconic Arafat was known for a frugal lifestyle, but needed large sums to buy loyalty and allowed corrupt practices by those in his inner circle.

It is not known why Arafat put Rashid, a former journalist without formal business training, in charge of most of his business affairs.

Rashid “came to the Palestinian revolution without a penny in his pocket and became a multimillionaire,” Natche told The Associated Press. “Where did he bring his money from? Of course, this is the money of the Palestinian people.”

Natche said Rashid is suspected of having taken millions of dollars out of the Palestinian Investment Fund and the PLO’s treasury, as well as setting up fake companies in his name and in the names of relatives. “The money and the companies disappeared,” Natche said, citing documents.

In comments posted Tuesday on the website Inlightpress, Rashid said he would not respond to the allegations now, but warned that Abbas “made a huge mistake and must suffer the consequences.” He did not elaborate. The website, which is believed to be linked to Rashid, announced in a separate section that it would soon run a series of articles by Rashid about the circumstances of Abbas’ rise to power.

After keeping a low profile for years, Rashid started drawing attention to himself with a series of interviews that the Arab satellite TV station Al Arabiya began broadcasting last week. Rashid told the station he was asked by Palestinian officials in 2008 to provide documents about the investment fund, and that he told them the documents were at the fund’s office. He said he has not been contacted since then.

The first decade of the Palestinian Authority was marked by rampant corruption and official mismanagement. During those years, Rashid “ran a network of financial transactions outside the law and outside the budget,” said Azmi Shuaibi, a leading anti-corruption campaigner in the West Bank.

In 2003, the international community, concerned about millions in foreign aid going to waste, asked Palestinian economist Salam Fayyad to supervise Palestinian Authority spending. Fayyad, now the West Bank-based prime minister, is credited with providing greater transparency. However, for years, little was done to go after those suspected of stealing public funds.

Two years ago, Abbas set up the Anti-Corruption Commission and a special court. So far, the commission has handled 85 cases, including those of two Cabinet ministers who were forced to resign, but the court has not yet handed down any verdicts, Natche said.

The commission filed charges of fraud, embezzlement and money-laundering against Rashid on April 30. On May 8, the court urged Rashid through an announcement in a local newspaper to surrender to Palestinian authorities, Natche said. Rashid will be tried in absentia if he cannot be brought to the Palestinian territories, he added.

Shuaibi praised stepped up efforts to go after government corruption, but expressed concern about the way targets for investigation are being chosen. He noted that Rashid is a longtime associate of former Gaza strongman Mohammed Dahlan, who had a falling-out with Abbas last year after seemingly challenging the president’s leadership. The connection between Dahlan and Rashid created an impetus “to pursue Rashid as well,” Shuaibi said.

“I think the priorities (for investigations) are being set on a personal basis,” said Shuaibi. He said he told Abbas that “we have concerns that the issue is being handled in a way of settling personal scores.” Shuaibi said Abbas told him all suspicions were being investigated.

Officials in Abbas’ office declined comment. Natche said anyone can approach the commission with information about alleged corruption, but acknowledged that most of his leads come from government agencies.

Daoud Kuttab, a Palestinian commentator, said Arafat’s continued popularity made it difficult for investigators for some years to launch a probe against Rashid. But enough time has passed since Arafat’s death, Kuttab said, adding that “there is a strong public sentiment against corruption.”

Friday, January 20

MONTENEGRO & NATO: WHY TO DIE FOR THEM??

By Doug Bandow (Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.)

Don't Add Montenegro To 'Obsolete' NATO: Senate Shouldn't Sacrifice U.S. Security For Balkan Mouse. To the shock of European leaders, President-elect Donald Trump has reiterated his attack on NATO as "obsolete." He's right. The U.S. once created military alliances to advance its own security. These days, however, Washington treats them like social organizations, which every nation should be invited to join, irrespective of qualification.

So it was with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s vote last week to admit Montenegro, a quaint but geopolitically irrelevant Balkan state, into NATO. If the measure is approved by the full Senate, Americans will have yet another essentially useless defense dependent, this one a corrupt, long-time one-party gangster state. Quite a model for future alliance expansion.

NATO was established to shield war-ravaged Western Europe from the Soviet menace after the end of World War II. However, Dwight Eisenhower warned against turning the alliance into a welfare program, with the Europeans forever dependent on U.S. defense subsidies. Alas, his successors didn’t listen and today a continent with a larger population and economy than America skimps on its own military while expecting Americans to come to its aid whenever the slightest problem arises. Truly the U.S. dominated alliance is "obsolete."

It was bad enough that Washington felt the need to protect larger, wealthier European nations. But after the collapse of the Soviet Union NATO acted like a gentleman’s club which every civilized European state wanted to join. Thus entered former Warsaw Pact nations and Soviet republics, extending the alliance up to Russia’s borders. That included Poland and the Baltic States, all essentially irrelevant to the security of the rest of the continent and the latter almost indefensible, at least at reasonable cost, as the U.S. and other Europeans finally have come to recognize.

More recent proposals to bring in Georgia and Ukraine suggested that Washington had gone slightly mad. The two prospective members would offer nothing to America’s defense but would bring along potential conflicts with nuclear-armed Russia. Both would be security black holes, almost all obligation and no benefit. (Small military contingents offered for misguided U.S. interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq are no recompense for confronting a nuclear-armed power in its neighborhood over interests it considers to be vital.)

What now? While tossing out members mistakenly inducted, like the Baltics, would be difficult, Washington should at least stop adding members who add nothing to America’s security.

But the alliance, whose bureaucratic interest is to ever expand, even to the detriment of its members’ actual security, has invited Montenegro to join. It is a postage stamp country with about enough people for one U.S. congressional district. Montenegro deserves its own novel, like the fictional Duchy of Grand Fenwick in The Mouse that Roared. But Podgorica shouldn’t be part of NATO.

Montenegro’s advocates attempted to rush its inclusion through the lame duck session, but were blocked by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kty) and others. Now, like horror villain Freddy Krueger, NATO membership back. Again, the Senate’s usual hawks are attempting to wave the duchy lookalike through before Donald Trump is inaugurated. After all, there is a chance that he would put America’s security ahead of that of Montenegro and kill the move.

What is the case for adding Podgorica to America’s lengthy defense dole? Rather hilariously, the Heritage Foundation headlined a recent study “Support for Montenegro’s Accession to NATO Would Send a Message of Strength.” Yes, it would be tragic if the U.S. and entire European continent had to face the Russian hordes without Montenegro at their side.

The duchy, er, country has 2080 men under arms. To transport them are eight, count them, eight armored personnel carriers, and seven operational helicopters. But NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg discerned that “Montenegro has some military capabilities which are important also to NATO.” Apparently all those years of declining European defense spending finally had an effect, leaving the rest of Europe dependent on Podgorica!

Seriously, if the West’s survival depends on Montenegro’s inclusion in NATO, we should all be heading for the bunkers. And any capabilities which the country develops are likely to be paid for by American taxpayers with funds to upgrade the Montenegrin legions. If America and Montenegro step forth to conquer the world, it will be in a fantasy movie, not a reality show.

If rebuffed by NATO, it has been argued, Grand Fenwick, er, Montenegro might offer Russia a naval base on the Adriatic. Such an inconstant partner would be a dubious treaty ally. Exactly what the inferior Russian navy would do with such a base is not evident. And such a facility, surrounded by NATO members and on waters dominated by NATO members, would be even less defensible than the Baltics.

If not useful for military purposes, is there any other reason to bring Podgorica into NATO? Last year Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael R. Carpenter testified that Montenegro shared the alliance’s “values of democracy, individual liberty, and the rule of law.” It was a unintentionally comedic performance. Whatever Podgorica’s virtues, reflecting the best of the West is not one.

For instance, last year the group Freedom House rated Montenegro as only “partly free” in political rights and civil liberties. And the trend was down. Civil liberties took a particular hit “due to restrictions on the freedom of peaceful assembly.” There also were concerns “about the independence of the judiciary and the public broadcaster, as well as numerous failures to effectively prosecute past attacks against media workers.” Moreover, Freedom House cited “indirect censorship.” Corruption is a major problem, yet “NGOs that investigate corruption or criticize the government face pressure.”

In its 2015/2016 report, Amnesty International stated: “Threats and attacks against independent media and journalists continued: few perpetrators were brought to justice. Police used excessive force during mass protests organized by opposition parties.” There was unlawful surveillance of critical NGOs.

NOTE: Newspaper VIJESTI Podgorica 
The montenegrin newspaper Vijesti is not uncommon to copy articles from international newspapers. This time even writes in an article published today by Milos Rudovic, false and wile things faked the whole exposure made by DOUG BANDOW in his gorgeous original version published on Forbes.

Tuesday, December 13

RUSSIAN AND SERBIAN RELATIONSHIP

Serijoza Lavrova i Ivica Dacica
Balkan Insight:"The foreign ministers of Serbia and Russia, Ivica Dacic and Sergey Lavrov, on Monday said an arms deal should be finalized on December 21 when Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic is in Moscow".

“Serbia has asked Russia to donate arms, including MiG 29 planes. Since we have asked for them as donations, Serbia will pay only for the adaptation of those arms for Serbia's needs,” Dacic said, adding that adverse reactions from the European Union concerning the deal with Russia did not worry him.

When Croatia get donations [of weapons] from NATO there is no reaction. Who do they [the EU] think Croatia would use those launchers against? Rome, Budapest or Vienna? No, they are for Serbia,” 

Dacic repeated that Serbia had a firm, steady relationship with Russia and that Serbia’s first address in case of a crisis was Moscow, not America.

“I would love to address to US Secretary of State John Kerry. But how could I when Victoria Nuland said the US has been investing in Kosovo's independence for the last 20 years,” Dacic said, referring to the Assistance Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs.

Serbia never was nor will be an anti-Russian country like some countries have become. We will not join to sanctions or any measures against Russia,” Dacic continued.

Asked about deteriorating relations with Croatia, and whether Zagreb could block the EU from opening Chapter 26, the next chapter in Serbia's membership negotiations, Dacic said it was absurd for Croatia to be in such a position.

“If Croatia is the one to decide about Serbia’s EU accession, then I must say, my interest in the EU suddenly dropped down,” the minister said.

Lavrov will continue his visit to Serbia on Tuesday and will take part in a session of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization that will be held in Belgrade.


The visit comes after late in October Russian Security Council chief Nikolai Patrushev came to Serbia and called for closer cooperation between the countries' respective intelligence agencies.

That visit took place claims that a number of Russians had been were expelled from Serbia for involvement in illegal actions in neighbouring Montenegro, where the authorities claimed they forestalled an anti-Western coup on October 16, election day.

LIES:According to the Serbian daily newspaper Danas, Serbia recently expelled several Russians for alleged involvement in illegal activities in neighbouring Montenegro. Two Russian citizens have been accused of involvement in the alleged coup attempt aimed at overthrowing the country’s government. 

Serbia has denied any involvement in this affair but some experts in Belgrade claim Russian intelligence still has a strong influence on Serbia’s intelligence agencies.

Belgrade maintains close political and military relations with Russia and notably refused to join EU sanctions imposed on Moscow over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its perceived role in the separatist armed conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Wednesday, July 27

FROM BALKAN WITH BOMBS AND FIRE

FOUR BILLIONS USD OF WEAPONS FLOWING FROM BALKAN TO SYRIA. Jabhat al-Nusra fighters carry assault rifles as they move towards their positions during those last years' offensive. AK47s, machine guns, explosives and more travel along new arms pipeline from Balkans to countries known to supply Syria

Since the escalation of the Syrian conflict in 2012, weapons have been pouring into four countries who supply arms to ongoing conflicts in Syria and Yemen: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Turkey.

Reporters for the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) found that since 2012 exports of weapons and ammunition worth at least 1.2 billion euros have been agreed by Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Serbia, and Romania [link to regional story].

The bulk of the deals, totalling 829 million euros, were made with Saudi Arabia.

The source countries have granted the arms export licences despite ample evidence that many weapons are ending up in Syria, with armed opposition as well as Islamist groups accused of widespread abuses.

Arms trade and human rights experts said the diversion of these weapons and their use by groups suspected of committing war crimes raised questions about the legality of the trade.

Patrick Wilcken, an arms trade researcher for Amnesty International, believes the evidence uncovered by BIRN and the OCCRP points to the “systematic diversion of weapons to armed groups accused of committing serious human rights violations”.


A flawed system

The global arms trade is regulated by three layers of interconnected legislation -- national, European Union (EU) and international – but there are no formal mechanisms to punish those who break the law.

Beyond the blanket ban on exports to embargoed countries, each licence request is dealt with individually. As a result, the lawfulness of the approval hinges on whether countries have carried out due diligence on a range of issues, including the likelihood of the arms being diverted and the impact the export will have on peace and stability.

Roy Isbister, an expert on arms trade laws with the London-based NGO Saferworld, stresses due diligence entails more than simply ticking off a document checklist.

"Due diligence obliges states to not only collect paperwork, but to assess that paperwork. And, in turn, assessing paperwork is itself only part of a proper export risk assessment,” he said.

“States that rely on end-use certificates and the like as sufficient justification for issuing licences are not meeting their legal obligations.”


Member states of the EU are also governed by the legally-binding 2008 Common Position on arms exports, requiring each country to take into account eight criteria when accessing arms exports licence applications, including whether the country respects international human rights, the preservation of “regional peace, security and stability” and the risk of diversion.

As part of their efforts to join the EU, BiH, Serbia and Montenegro have already accepted the measures and amending their national law.

In May 2013, an EU arms embargo on exports to Syria was lifted, under pressure from the governments of France and the UK, to allow supplies to reach the Syrian opposition. However, all three layers of law remained in force, requiring countries to go beyond just checking the paperwork.

Weapons exports are initially assessed based on an end-user certificate, a key document issued by the government of the importing country which guarantees who will use the weapons and that the arms are not intended for re-export.

Authorities in Central and Eastern Europe told BIRN and the OCCRP that they also inserted a clause which requires the buyer to seek approval if they later want to export the goods.

Beyond these initial checks, countries are required to carry out a range of other risk assessments, although conversations with, and statements from, authorities revealed little evidence of that.

Diversions to Syria

A large number of arms exports to the Middle Easter are being diverted to Syria, according to evidence collected by BIRN and the OCCRP from contracts, UN reports, and social media postings showing Eastern-European-made weapons in heavy use in the conflict [link to regional story].

Reporters for BIRN and the OCCRP obtained Saudi contracts and end-user certificates with Serbian and Slovakian arms brokers detailing requests for vast amounts of old Soviet, Warsaw-Pact and Yugoslav era weaponry.


Article 11 of the ATT covers diversion of weapons from their intended recipient, and requires countries to take a series of measures to prevent this.

Although the Treaty suggests that countries may stop the export based on the risk of diversion, it does not clearly state that they must do so. States that discover their exports have been diverted must take “appropriate measures” according to national and international law, although this is not explained further.

The EU Common Position is clearer, however, and dictates that exporters must assess the “existence of a risk that the military technology or equipment will be diverted within the buyer country or re-exported under undesirable conditions”.

Bodil Valero, a Swedish Green Party Member of the European Parliament who was rapporteur for the last EU arms export report, believes this risk assessment is not being carried our properly. “Countries selling arms to Saudi Arabia or the MENA[Middle East-North Africa] region are not carrying out good risk assessments and, as a result, are in breach of EU and national law,” she explained.

Licensing authorities for Croatia, Slovakia and Montenegro all indicated to BIRN and OCCRP that they rely largely on verifying documents such as end-user certificates when approving an exports.

Only the Czech Foreign Ministry directly addressed the issues of human rights violations and diversion of weapons, pointing out that some licences had been turned down on that basis.
In November 2013, Serbia blocked the export of weapons and ammunition worth 20 million euros to Saudi Arabia amid widespread concerns that it would not be used by that country’s expensively-equipped security forces but would, instead, end up in Syria, according to a confidential report from Serbia's Ministry of Defence obtained by BIRN and the OCCRP.

The documents also reveal fears were raised that Belgrade's path to EU membership could be stymied and its relationship with long-time ally Russia damaged if the deal went ahead.

Yet just over a year later, and after the adoption of the ATT, Serbia approved exports of arms and ammunition worth 135 million euros to Saudi Arabia.

Asked about Serbia’s volte-face on the exports, Stevan Nikcevic, the state secretary at the Ministry of Trade responsible for approving arms export licences, said that the ministries that had blocked the earlier sale “didn’t have the same concerns” now.

The arms export licences to Saudi Arabia were approved because they would have a “positive impact” on the “operation of Serbia’s defence industry”, said the Serbian Ministry of Defence, one of the ministries consulted as part of the licensing process, in a written response to BIRN and the OCCRP.

While economic factors cannot be taken in consideration, Swedish MEP Valero believes they weigh heavily on the decisions made by countries in Central and Eastern Europe.

“They want to have people working in the arms industry with jobs, of course,” she said.

A UN Human Rights report, published in March 2015, also noted that Croatia, despite its international obligations, was showing “a disturbing lack of concern about the re-transfer and end use of weapons to countries including Syria and Iraq.”

Darko Kihalic, the head of the arms licensing department at the Croatian Ministry of the Economy, told BIRN and the OCCRP that there is little more that Croatia can do apart from checking the paperwork.

Saudi Arabia is not a “blacklisted” country, he said, adding: “Are there misuses? There probably are.”

Valero, however, underlined: “In the end it is always the [exporting] government that has responsibility. They take the decision and they have to be accountable for these decisions.”

Trail of atrocities

Under Article 6 of the ATT, the sale of weapons or ammunition is prohibited if the exporter has prior “knowledge” these will be used in war crimes or attacks directed against civilians.

A legal opinion on the sale of UK weapons to Saudi Arabia, prepared by London’s Matrix Chambers in December 2015, looked at what “knowledge” meant in this circumstance. It found that the ATT’s Article 6 would be breached if the exporter “was aware, or should normally have been aware” that they would be used in attacks directed against “civilians/civilian objects or in the commission of war crimes”.

Article 7 requires governments to assess the risk of the arms being used to commit or facilitate a serious breach of international humanitarian law or terrorist act and whether they “would undermine peace and security”.

If, despite mitigating measures, there is an “overriding risk of any of the negative consequences” the sale must be blocked.

While forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and the Islamic State are acknowledged by groups such as a Human Rights Watch to have committed by far the most widespread atrocities, other moderate and Islamist opposition groups supported by the US and Gulf states have also been the subject of serious allegations, including claims of perpetrating war crimes.

Saudi Arabia-backed Jaysh Al-Islam, a powerful Islamist group, is alleged to have carried out executions, chemical weapon attacks and to have used caged prisoners as human shields, according to credible press reports and cases documented by Human Rights Watch

In May 2016, Amnesty International accused Fatah Halab, an alliance of fighters in Aleppo including western-backed moderates and Saudi-supported Islamists that recently received Serbian heavy machine guns, of "repeated indiscriminate attacks that may amount to war crimes” against a Kurdish neighbourhood.

Magdalena Mughrabi, of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa programme, called on Turkey, the Gulf states and “other backers” to halt weapons transfers to rebels.

Moderate forces under the Free Syrian Army (FSA) umbrella, which have received military equipment from the US, have been implicated in human rights abuses, including shelling civilian areas and targeting civilian offices with a Yugoslav M79 rocket-launcher, according to Human Rights Watch.The targeting civilian areas and property are both reasons to block an arms export deal under Article 6 of the ATT.

This type of weapon was part of a batch of arms transported to Jordan in 2012 and 2013 and later transferred to Syria.

“I don't think anyone is fighting clean in Syria at the moment,” said Hadeel Al-Shalchi, a researcher and expert on the Syrian conflict at Human Rights Watch.

“On the government side [there are] airstrikes on hospitals, on marketplaces, on large civilian infrastructure areas. And from the armed opposition groups, what they do is fire mortars, locally made rockets, artillery ... into environments like Aleppo city.”

Amnesty’s Mughrabi added: “The international community must not turn a blind eye to the mounting evidence of war crimes by armed opposition groups in Syria. The fact that the scale of war crimes by government forces is far greater is no excuse for tolerating serious violations by the opposition.”

Way forward

While no formal sanctions mechanism exists to punish countries that flout their international obligations, Valero argues that non-governmental organisations and individuals can take legal action against governments if they believe that arms export laws are being broken.

In England, the Campaign Against Arms Trade has launched a judicial review against the British government for its continued exports to Saudi Arabia.

It alleges that the UK’s Department of Business, Innovation and Skills broke national, EU and ATT arms export laws as there is a clear risk these arms could be used by Saudi forces in Yemen in breach of international humanitarian law.

The British government argues that its weapons exports system is among the most robust in the world. The case is ongoing.

MEP Valero said that if action in national courts fails, other options exist.

“I think these [Central and Eastern European] countries could be taken to the European Court of Justice,” she said.

In March of this year, the Netherlands became the first EU country to stop arms exports to Saudi Arabia, citing mass executions and civilian deaths in Yemen.