News 15 Aug 16

Biden to Push Serbia-Kosovo Dialogue on Farewell Tour

Joe Biden’s visit to Serbia and Kosovo on his last Balkan tour as US Vice President is expected to focus on re-booting the stalled dialogue between the two countries.

Sasa Dragojlo
BIRN
Belgrade
US Vice President Joe Biden. Photo: Facebook

US Vice President Joe Biden will be visiting Belgrade and Pristina for his final visit as Vice President from August 15 to 17 as a part of a Balkan tour aimed at boosting the two countries' frayed relations.

Biden will meet both Serbian President Tomislav Nikolić and Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and it is expected that the unresolved wartime murders by Serbian officials of Ylli, Agron and Mehmet Bytyqi, three US citizens and brothers, will be on the agenda.

The three were killed by the Serbian police shortly after the end of the war in Kosovo, while in custody in Petrovo Selo, Serbia. Their bodies were discovered in July 2001.

Bosko Jaksic, a political analyst and journalist for Politika daily, told BIRN that the Brussels agreement between Serbia and Kosovo had become slow and inefficient, and Biden was coming to push things forward.

“In Serbia, discussion about Bytyqi case ... will be one of the topics. In Pristina, it is expected that Biden will pressure the authorities to push things further in creating the Association of Serbian Municipalities in Kosovo,” Jaksic said.

Under the Brussels agreement of August 25, 2015, Belgrade and Pristina agreed to set up an autonomous Association of Serbian Municipalities in Kosovo, but it has not been implemented.

The killing of the Bytyqi brothers

US citizens Ylli, Agron and Mehmet Bytyqi joined a volunteer branch of the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, called the Atlantic Brigade, which was active during the conflict with Serbian forces in 1999.

Alongside other members of the Atlantic Brigade, who mainly came from the US, the brothers travelled to Kosovo to fight against Serbia. After the June 1999 peace agreement that ended the war, they then agreed to escort several Roma neighbours to Serbia.

But when they strayed over an unmarked boundary line between Serbia and Kosovo near Merdare, they were arrested by Serbian police for illegally entering what was then Yugoslavia.

After serving their sentences, as they were leaving the district prison in the town of Prokuplje in southern Serbia, they were re-arrested, taken to the police training centre in Petrovo Selo, and detained in a warehouse there.

During the evening of July 9, 1999, they were tied up with wire by unknown persons and driven to a garbage disposal pit, where they were executed with shots to the back of the neck.

 

Regarding the Bytyqi case, Prime Minister Vucic has failed to meet several self-imposed deadlines to resolve the case, including a promise made directly to Biden in Washington in September 2015.

Fatose Bytyqi, a surviving member of the family, issued a statement criticizing Serbian political leaders, claiming they are just making empty promises in order to score political points.

"Whenever there is some political opportunity, Prime Minister Vucic and other Serbian leaders make empty promises to resolve my brothers' murders … We can’t move on from our grief.  We can’t move on with our lives.  Our pain isn’t being respected. It is being used," he said.

Praveen Madhiraju, a pro-bono representative for the Bytyqi family, urged Biden to pressure both Serbia’s Prime Minister and President to solve the case, noting their close ties with the main suspect, Goran "Guri" Radosavljevic. Radosavljevic denied any links with the case.

 "We urge Vice President Biden to accept nothing less than meaningful next steps in the Bytyqi case and an explanation of why the main suspect, Goran 'Guri' Radosaljevic, remains Prime Minister Vucic and President Nikolic's close adviser,” Madhiraju said. 

“There should be no more empty promises. Under these circumstances, Serbia's leaders shouldn't be treated as credible partners on rule of law issues," he added.

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