I. ADNKRONOS - Nine ethnic Albanians sentenced to jail for war crimes
A special Belgrade court for war crimes on Friday sentenced nine ethnic Albanians to a total of 101 years in jail for crimes against Serb and non-loyal Albanian civilians during Kosovo's 1998-99 war. Nine members of the so-called Gnjilane group were arrested in southern Serbia in 2008, but eight other members of the group are still at large and being tried in absentia. The presiding judge Snezana Nikolic-Garotic said it has been proven “beyond doubt” that they took part in the killing of at least 80 civilians in the central Kosovo town of Gnjilane. In addition, 153 civilians were illegally detained and 34 are still listed as missing, she said. All members of the group came from Serbia’s predominantly Albanian populated Presevo Valley, neighboring Kosovo. They joined the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which started a rebellion against Serbian rule in 1998. Nikolic-Garotic quoted a commander of the group as saying: “Our time for revenge has come. Kill, hide traces and expel Serbs from Kosovo.” Kosovo majority Albanians declared independence with the help of western powers in February 2006, but Belgrade is fighting a diplomatic battle to retain the control over its former province. Nikolic-Garotic said it has been proven, based on testimonies, medical evidence and documents, that the members of the group cruelly tortured the detainees, cutting of their genitals, breaking bones and raping women. Women were often raped with police sticks and humiliated in different ways, the judge said. When some detainees were released in June 1999, they were told to leave Kosovo and tell other Serbs what would happen to them if they returned. Serb forces were accused of excessive use of force and expulsion of several hundred thousand Albanians in an attempt to suppress the rebellion. NATO bombed Serbia from March to June 1999 to stop what was called a “humanitarian catastrophe”, pushing Serbian troops and police out of Kosovo and triggering a mass exodus of Serbs. Serbian courts have sentenced scores of former policemen and paramilitaries in recent years for crimes against Albanian civilians during the war.
The International Court of Justice in The Hague will begin discussions on the lawsuit, which Macedonia initiated against Greece for breaking the Temporary agreement from 1995, Deutsce Welle Radio reports. The discussions are expected to last about two weeks. With that the last stage of proceedings begins, but a decision could be reached in no less than 6 months or probably not until the end of the year. Macedonia initiated legal proceedings against Greece in the International Court of the UN on November 17 2008, explaining that Greece had violated the Temporary agreement by blocking Macedonia’s accession to NATO. Athens on the other hand insists that the decision was actually taken collectively by all member-states.
III. UPI - Early Sudan returns heavily for secession
Preliminary figures indicate that 99 percent of the residents of southern Sudan want the African nation split into two separate regions, officials said. The BBC reported Friday that voting commission official George Benjamin said, "The trend clearly shows that secession is the willing option of the two options of the referendum. The Voice of America reported a senior official of the southern Sudan referendum commission said that, barring any court challenges, it would announce the final outcome of the vote on February 7. President Omar al-Bashir said he would accept the result of the vote, which was conducted after years of war. International observers said the referendum was conducted freely and fairly.
IV. ILOUBNAN - Lebanese should be allowed to handle their own crisis
The Cypriot Foreign Affairs Minister said that "the Lebanese should be given the opportunity to handle their country's internal crisis on their own." Minister Markos Kyprianous currently on a visit to Lebanon met on Friday with care-taker Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Minister Ali Shami and relayed his government's respect to the Lebanese constitution and democracy. "We would like to express our full support and hope that Lebanon will eventually witness a state of stability... but we should allow the Lebanese people to handle their national problems on their own," he said. In response to a question on whether Cyprus is currently involved in any mediation (provided that it is a member of the European Union) the Cypriot Minister said that he's not sure about his country's involvement thus far. "One of the main reasons I'm currently here [in Lebanon] is that the Lebanese issue is going to be brought up during Brussels conference. Stemming from the special relations that tie Lebanon to Cyprus, I would like to be able to present a primary point of view on the situation in Lebanon to my colleagues in the EU," the Cypriot Minister explained. Moreover, Kyprianous said that the water demarcation issue was brought up with Minister Shami, beside other bilateral issues.
South Korean special forces stormed a hijacked freighter in the Arabian Sea, rescuing the 21-member crew and killing eight Somali pirates in the nation's first such raid since sending warships to the area in 2009. The captain of the 11,500-ton Samho Jewelry suffered a gunshot wound in the operation that isn’t life-threatening, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said today in a statement. South Korea’s navy captured eight other Somali pirates during the assault, which was ordered by President Lee Myung Bak yesterday, the military said. At least five nations have sent naval vessels to patrol waters off the Somali coast as the piracy threat has grown. Pirates hijacked a record 53 ships and 1,181 crew members in 2010, most of them off Somalia, according to the London-based International Maritime Bureau. “We will not tolerate any behavior that threatens the lives and safety of our people,” Lee said today in a statement. Special forces raided the seized vessel in the Gulf of Aden in a pre-dawn operation against 13 armed hijackers, the military said in the statement on the defense ministry’s website. South Korea received help from other countries, including the U.S., Joint Chiefs of Staff official Lee Seong Ho told reporters today in Seoul.
VI. RIANOVOSTI - Bin Laden demands France leave Afghanistan, warns of "high price"
A man believed to be Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden has demanded France pull its troops out of Afghanistan, warning the country of a "high price" for its policies, in an audio message broadcast by Al-Jazeera on Friday. "We repeat our message," bin Laden said. "The release of your prisoners from the hands of our brothers is linked to the withdrawal of your soldiers from our country." At least seven French hostages - five in the Sahara Desert and two in Afghanistan - are being held by extremist groups associated with Al Qaeda. Addressing the French people, bin Laden said that the refusal of President Nicolas Sarkozy to withdraw from Afghanistan "is the result of his obedience to America" and that it "is a green light to kill your prisoners." Sarkozy's position will "cost him and you a high price on different fronts, inside and outside France," he said.
On the morning of January 18, 2011 -- the Eve of the Great Feast of Theophany on the Julian Calendar -- a two-engine Navajo bush plane carried His Grace, Bishop Benjamin from Anchorage through Lake Clark Pass to the Tanaina Athabaskan (Indian) village of Nondalton... "Situated on the eastern boundary of a square mile area three times the size of Manhatten Island, Nondalton has been targeted by the Northern Dynasty/Anglo-American corporations to become the world’s largest open pit copper and gold mine, threatening the world’s largest salmon fishery," explained Father Michael, Acting Chancellor of the Diocese. "The Orthodox villages of Newhalen, Igiugig, Levelock, Koliganek, New Stuyahok, Ekwok, Portage Creek, Naknek, and South Naknek and the city of Dillingham are all threatened by the opening of the Pebble Mine, which would become the world’s largest consumer of deadly cyanide as it processes and separates the ores. Father Michael added that a 740 foot high earthen dam five times larger than one that recently collapsed in Hungary, poisoning the Danube River in Eastern Europe, would contain tons of pollutants and poisons -- in an earthquake zone! "Hundreds of Orthodox Alaska Natives have banded together to oppose the State of Alaska’s authorizing the development of the Pebble Project," Father Michael said. "In an effort to express support for them in their struggle to save their culture, their way of life, their commitment to the land that has sustained them and their ancestors for the last 12,000 years, the Diocese of Alaska passed a unanimous resolution in 2009, invoking God’s blessing on any development that would improve the economy and enhance the quality of life in rural Alaska and withholding such approval for any that threatened to pollute or poison the ecosystem. "The Alaska Native people are ‘the voice of the earth and must now speak up to defend and preserve the land that has sustained them for millenia," Father Michael stated. "Since Northern Dynasty and Anglo-American are Canadian and British corporations, the profits from the Pebble Mine would largely flow outside the United States, while leaving tons of debris, equal to 3000 pounds for every person, man, woman and child on earth, at the end of the mining operation."