Is it Santa only?

December 29, 2008

X-mas news from Bosnia were a bit confusing.  The directors of Sarajevo’s day-care centres, kindergartens and pre-schools banned Santa.  I personally detest Santa – especially its Coce version – but if someone likes him it’s up to them.  More serious however is if this event reflects something more about today’s society in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The reason to ban Santa was according officials that the capital is predominantly Muslim and Santa Claus is not part of the Muslim tradition.  Locally Santa is known as Father Frost who has given out presents to generations of Bosnian kids in kindergartens and other institutions and even during communist rule.  After ban some multi-religious group of parents demonstrated in Sarajevo saying that Santa/Father Frost should be seen as a Bosnian tradition.

During last months some small but alarming events – related to intolerance and rise of radical Islam – have took place in Bosnia-Herzegovina such as following examples:

While now December reading Santa story from Bosnia one aspect is that the actors are not radical Wahhabis, terrorists, hooligans and common criminals; in this case the officials – public authorities – were in key role.  Does this mean that the whole (Muslim) society is going towards intolerance, does these small isolated events mean that last nail has hammered to coffin of multi-ethnic ideals.  Let’s hope not, in year 2009 we are more wise.

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Serbia’s European Perspective developing – energy deal with Russia signed

December 25, 2008

On Spring 2008 Serbia signed two strategic agreement. The one was a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with European Union and the second one was a preliminary energy deal with Russia. The first is since then suspended but the second one got some flesh on the bones on Xmas-week. Both deals are implementing Serbia’s European perspective although from different angels.

Pipes are comingSAA paperwork

SAA could be described as a roadmap guiding Serbia’s way into EU. When implementation really starts it means starting long negotiations where some 80.000 pages of EU regulations are applied to Serbia’s legislation. During the process and especially afterwards with membership the carrots include e.g. access to EU’s structural funds and different (~500) development programmes. With these promises or visions EU is using its sc. “soft power” to integrate the key player of West Balkans under the influence of EU.

More about SAA & Serbia e.g. my articles “Montenegro and Serbia on the way to EU – maybe”  and “Two approaches from Balkans towards Europe”  and my Serbia’s NPI & SAA documents in my Document library

Serbia will come to an energy hub of West Balkans

Xmas eve Russian and Serbian Presidents and related companies from both sides signed an umbrella agreement including three parts:

  • Under the contract for the sale of NIS, Gazprom will purchase a 51 percent stake in the company for EUR 400mn, and invest a further EUR 547mn in restructuring. The contract, adopted during a government conference call, states that the buyer will secure a loan of EUR 500mn, repayable over 14 years, in order to implement the investment.
  • Second part includes construction the underground gas storage facility in Banatski Dvor that would be able to hold 300 to 800 million cubic metres of gas.
  • Thirdly the Presidents signed an umbrella agreement providing political guarantees that Serbia will receive a stretch of the €10 billion South Stream gas pipeline project is planned to distribute gas from Russia through Serbia and Bulgaria, branching out finally to Western European countries.

Sure NIS was sold under today’s market prices.  However if the two other parts of deal will be implemented the deal will be win-win both to Russia and Serbia.

NIS would also provide Gazprom’s first refineries outside of Serbia. With a network of about 500 gas stations allocated in Serbia (including Kosovo), as well as in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro, Serbia’s oil monopoly is strategically significant in the supply of neighbouring regions as well. Also when South Stream is completed and fully operational (est. 2015), the pipeline would make Serbia an energy hub in the region.

More over global energy game in my article “Powerplay behind the new Cold War”.

Conclusion

While EU has used its “soft power” and promises to Serbia Russia has used hard currency. In regards of Serbia’s European Perspective this does not necessary mean any swift from pro-Western to pro-Eastern side. From my point of view the situation and its prospected development will allow to Serbia a more balanced approach to its future. While energy will be on the top of EU’s priorities Serbia will have same time more leverage with its negotiations over SAA and other relations with the EU.


Squandering Kosovo’s Aid funds

December 22, 2008

A big part of EU Aid for reconstruction projects of Kosovo has been wasted due criminal activities, corruption, frauds and mismanagement reports German daily Die Welt on 18th Dec. 2008. As base of this claim are the investigations conducted by the EU Anti Fraud Office (OLAF), UN investigators and the Italian Financial Police. More than 50 cases of financial embezzlement was found – most of them in energy sector. In twelve of these cases there is proof of criminal liability.

According to EU data roughly 2.3 billion euro have been granted for Kosovo as aid since 1999, after the NATO bombing of Serbia. Some 400 million euros has been wasted for energy projects. According to the alleged reports, EU funds that had been destined for Kosovo’s energy sector, were misappropriated by UN officials in Kosovo, in conduit with local politicians. Whatever the reasons the results are humble at best – after eight years investments power cuts are still part of daily life in Kosovo.

Aid money for Kosovo

While most of the 2.3 billion Euros invested in the reconstruction of Kosovo has disappeared without a trace and when it is expected that by 2011 the EU will throw Kosovo another one billion euro it could be clever to spare a minute for quality-planning and future management.

Case Bulgaria

On July 2008 I wrote an article “Bulgaria wrestles for EU funds and credibility”  about different aspects of misuse of EU funds. In addition to normal crimes etc. I highlighted also the structure, conflicting regulations, misunderstandings, management priorities etc as reason for claims of misuse of funds.

My main message in case Bulgaria was that criminal activities such as fraud and corruption explained only a minor part sc. misused EU funds. I think that the same is true also with case Kosovo.

Case Kosovo

Criminal activities and mismanagement at operational or implementing level are some reasons for waste of foreign Aid money in Kosovo. However the province has also some characteristic aspects as follows:

  • The main power plant is old and during last decade before Nato bombings it needed creative improvisation by then Serb workers to operate. After bombings that staff escaped, unskilled Albanian workers came in and could not do the same. Also foreigner consultants could not teach improvisation, their experience was from different field.
  • Kosovo administration was and still is a chaos. EU throw Aid money through its own agency or different programmes, through UN system or UNMIK’s EU Pillar; donor money went through bilateral agreements through administrative structure or NGOs or even through Kfor; the implementation of development plans and projects in many cases was made by individual consultants/firms so coordination was nonexistent.
  • Local expertise, commitment and participation to project implementation was insignificant so the foreigners – who were distributing Aid – had their own sandbox and the local beneficiaries their own. The point of view was that of service provider not the one of client.

The bottom line

There seems to be a huge gap between fine ideas/plans/collected money in Brussels and their reasonable distribution at local level in Kosovo. The biggest mismanagement or misuse of Aid money is not according my opinion local criminal activities. The strategic error has made in international level by not knowing the demands on the ground, not adjusting ideas and plans according local needs or the moment of Aid delivery, using indefinite mixture of emergency relief and long term planning, lack of simple and unambiguous development strategy and strategic leadership.

The real crime will be if international community does not correct earlier errors and practices at strategic level – only after that one can demand smoothly flowing project at local level.




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Visa rank and the Western Balkans

December 19, 2008

Earlier I wrote about political rights, citizen liberties and press freedom in Balkans (“Freedom in Balkans“).  To travel from one country to other is a fundamental freedom restricted however more or less depending about which passport the traveler holds.  In practice traveling especially nowadays is restricted because lack of money but I limit this article only formal visa restrictions.

Visa restrictions play an important role in controlling the movement of foreign nationals across  borders.  They are also an expression of the relationships between individual nations, and generally reflect the relations and status of a country within the international community of nations. Visa restrictions also are reflecting the political situation of the time e.g. some 20 years ago citizens of Yugoslavia could travel relatively free, but the breakup wars changed situation completely.
The Henley Visa Restrictions Index

Henley & Partners is a firm specialized in international immigration, consular and citizenship law. Henley & Partners has analyzed the visa regulations of all the countries and territories in the world. It has created an index which ranks countries according to the visa-free access its citizens enjoy to other countries.  This Index is globally known as “The Henley Visa Restrictions Index”.  (Source and more about H&P please visit in their homepage http://www.henleyglobal.com )

Rank. Passport[s] of Country/Countries, Number of Countries Accessible Without Visa / Visa on Arrival (Balkans and Caucasus bold)

01. Denmark, Finland, United States, 130.
02. Germany, Ireland, Sweden, 129.
03. France, Great Britain (UK citizen passport), Italy, Japan, 128.

04. Belgium, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, 127.
05. Netherlands, 126.
06. Austria, Canada, Luxembourg, New Zealand, 125.
07. Portugal, 123.
08. Singapore, 122.
09. Australia, Greece, Iceland, Malaysia, 120.

10. Liechtenstein, 116.
11. Malta, South Korea, 115.
12. Cyprus, 113.
13. Hong Kong, 110.
14. Chile, San Marino, 109.
15. Monaco, 108.
16. Poland, 106.
17. Slovenia, 105.
18. Israel, 104.
19. Argentina, Brunei, Hungary, 101.

20. Andorra, Brazil, Uruguay, 99.
21. Czech Republic, Mexico, 98.
22. Slovakia, 97.
23. Costa Rica, 95.
24. Lithuania, 94.
25. Venezuela, 92.
26. Estonia, Latvia, 91.
27. Vatican City, 87.
28. Croatia, 84.
29. Bolivia, Bulgaria, 83.

30. Guatemala, Panama, Paraguay, 82.
31. El Salvador, 81.
32. Honduras, 80.
33. Nicaragua, 75.
34. Romania, 73
35. Bahamas, Barbados, Macau, 71.
36. Trinidad and Tobago, 66.
37. South Africa, 65.
38. St.Vincent and Grenadines, 64.
39. Antigua and Barbuda, St. Lucia, 63.

40. St. Kitts-Nevis, 62.
41. Grenada, 60.
42. Belize, 58.
43. Jamaica, 57.
44. Solomon Islands, 54.
45. Gambia, Guyana, 53.
46. Dominica, Mauritius, Seychelles, Turkey, 52.
47. Lesotho, 51.
48. Tuvalu, 50.
49. Kiribati, Western Samoa, 49.

50. Botswana, Malawi, 48.
51. Fiji, Sierra Leone, Vanuatu, 47.
52. Kenya, Maldives, Swaziland, Tonga, 46.
53. Ghana, Zambia, 45.
54. Nauru, 44.
55. Ecuador, Namibia, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, 41.
56. Suriname, 40.
57. Kuwait, Mauritania, Uganda, 39.
58. Bahrain, Mali, Tunisia, 38.
59. Guinea, Ivory Coast, Niger, Qatar, Senegal, 37.

60. Benin, Cape Verde, Marshall Islands, Oman, 36.
61. Burkina Faso, 35.
62. Nigeria, Russia, Togo, United Arab Emirates, 35.
63. Guinea-Bissau, Micronesia, Philippines, 33.
64. Belarus, Colombia, Palau Islands, Serbia-Montenegro, Ukraine, 32.
65. Liberia, Macedonia, Saudi Arabia, 31.
66. Morocco, 30.
67. Indonesia, Moldova, Thailand, 29.
68. Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Central African Republic, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, 28.
69. Armenia, Chad, Congo Brazzaville, Cuba, Tajikistan, 27.

70. Cameroon, 26.
71. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dominican Republic, India, Madagascar, 25.
72. Egypt, Gabon, Mongolia, Uzbekistan, 24.
73. Algeria, Rwanda, 23.
74. Haiti, Mozambique, São Tomé and Principe, Sri Lanka, 22.
75. East Timor, Jordan, 21.
76. Comores Islands, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Laos, Nepal, 20.
77. Angola, Bhutan, Djibouti, Libya, Turkmenistan, 19.
78. Burundi, China, Ethiopia, North Korea, Vietnam, Yemen, 18.
79. Albania, Cambodia, Lebanon, Pakistan, Sudan, 17.

80. Congo, Syria, 16.
81. Iraq, Myanmar, Somalia, 15.
82. Iran, 14.
83. Afghanistan, 12.

Schengen and West Balkans

Visa-free travel to EU has been in the top of wish-lists for citizens of the Western BalkansSchengen area covers the most of EU.  The visa facilitation agreements between EU and countries in West Balkans ease visa application procedures, but they do not abolish the requirement of a visa.

The core law of visa restrictions in EU is Council Regulation 539/2001.  This law lists all the countries whose nationals require a visa to enter the Schengen area (“black list”) as well as the countries whose nationals are exempt from this provision (“white list”). The Council will vote by majority, which means that opposing member states could be outvoted.

The European Commission has made visa roadmaps listing around 50 individual activities in each country in terms of existing legislation and practice. The conditions range from purely technical matters, such as the issuance of machine-readable passports with a gradual introduction of bio-metric data, to the adoption and implementation of a raft of laws and international conventions, to very broad matters such as progress in the fight against organized crime, corruption and illegal migration. Once a country meets the conditions, the Commission will make an official proposal to the Council to lift the visa restrictions for this country by amending Council Regulation 539/2001.

An assessment about progress with visa roadmaps has recently been made and a second round of assessment is tentatively scheduled for spring 2009 so there is hope that after one year citizens in Western Balkans have a bit more freedom to travel abroad.



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Montenegro and Serbia on the way to EU – maybe

December 17, 2008

Montenegro’s Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic has left Monday 15th Dec. 2008 for Paris to submit the country’s formal application for European Union membership to French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Same time Holland is still blocking implementation of suspended Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) agreement Serbia regardless of an   essentially positive report on Belgrade’s cooperation with ICTY as well almost fulfilled conditions for candidate status.

The government of Montenegro decided on previous Thursday 11th Dec. to officially submit the bid to France, current holder of the EU presidency. “By taking this step, Montenegro commits itself to the accession process and the building of a united Europe which is a strategic goal in which the founders of the European Community invested their vision and commitment,” the government press office said in a statement. (BalkanInsight.com 15.12.2008)

Serbia progressing

On 5 November 2008 the Commission adopted its annual strategy document explaining its policy on EU enlargement.  Same date EU released also the 2008 progress reports,  where the Commission services monitor and assess the achievements of each of the candidate and potential candidates over the last year.  As earlier Serbia’s administrative capacity can again match EU’s administrative challenges. (More https://arirusila.wordpress.com/2008/11/07/eu-squanders-aid-money-by-wrong-approach-in-western-balkans/, check also “Serbia’s National Programme for Integration of Serbia into EU from my Document library)

Few days ago a EU document   “Guaranteeing Security in a Changing World” says Serbia is close to fulfilling all conditions for establishing close relations with the EU. (Beta 12.12.2008)

…but blocked

Same time Holland will not change its position when it comes to Serbia’s EU integration. Holland sees Mladi?’s arrest and extradition as the best proof of cooperation.  Serbia and EU signed late April 2008 the temporary trade agreement which is part of the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA)  and suspended immediately, pending Belgrade’s full cooperation with the Hague Tribunal. (B92 13.12.2008)

Serbia’s Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic told Tanjug news agency in an interview published 14th Nov. 2008 that EU candidate status and liberalization of the visa regime remain Serbia’s absolute foreign policy priority for 2009.  He added that the issue of Kosovo and EU integrations are separate processes, but repeated that should the two overlap, Serbia would choose to preserve her territorial integrity. (B92 14.12.2008)

4500 questions

The EU discussion in Serbia has been concentrated to question when Mr.Mladic will be delivered to Hague.  This is only one side-path of EU integration.  The road to membership is much more complicated both Montenegro and Serbia.

For example when a country wants to gain membership status the European Commission will at that point respond by sending a questionnaire to potential candidate countries, which includes some 4,500 question dealing with all institutions and sectors. Based on the answers, the European Commission will report on the situation in the country which has applied.  And then are starting negotiations where some 80.000 pages of EU regulations are applied to candidate country’s legislation.

Conditions, criteria, politics

I have no doubt that both Montenegro and Serbia can and will give satisfactory answers to EC questionnaire and have good ability to fulfill (pre) conditions.  Both countries have so good administrative capacity that they can match all criteria needed for membership.

EC can be also freeze the process if there is some unfinished border dispute with candidate country.  Montenegro’s way with towards EU seems clear but it is hard to believe that Serbia and EC will soon agree which are the borders of Serbia – are they including Kosovo or not?

After all the refined negotiation process however the climax will be political one – EU can take new members with any criteria and lower standards like it was case with Bulgaria and Romania.

Any alternatives?

The membership in EU should not be overestimated – non membership does not mean to be outside Europe.  Norway, Russia, young Caucasian republics all have achieved pragmatic relationship with EU without membership.  The new Eastern Partnership (EaP) program has recently been distributed to European capitals.  The new “belt of EU friends” at Russia’s eastern and southern borders would include Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova and Belarus. The European Neighborhood Policy, which the EU has pursued since 2004, is going to be replaced with the Eastern Partnership (EaP).

Similar arrangements one may wait from EU with Turkey in near future, EU-Mediterranean dimension is on the way, new negotiations with Russia are starting about future programs.  EU can be very creative finding out different forms for cooperation when needed.

From my point of view also Serbia should think if joining to EU is worth of time, money and bureaucracy it demands.  Visa arrangements, free trade and some EU programs are possible also for non-members.   Of course Serbia can develop its administration and legislation according EU standards but not because of fulfilling EU needs.  The primus motor should be the needs of  the beneficiaries aka Serbs not EU elite in Brussels.

The will and ability

Totally outside of framework described above is the question if EU has the will and ability to absorb new members and if yes which members.  Lisbon Treaty is still uncertain; some EU countries want strong federation some are satisfied to loose Union.  The big wannabees – Ukraine and Turkey – EU hardly could absorb due the budget limitations and due the power shift the new members could make.

As said earlier Montenegro probably can go the whole way to EU without any bigger problems but Serbia will be fighting long with EU’s – public or hidden – political conditions.  So my modest hope is that Serbia rethinks its priorities, makes new SWOT analysis according today’s situation,   makes a vision where the country wants be after 5-10-25 years, creates strategy, alliances and action plans to realize the vision – be it outside or inside EU is only secondary question.


Ten things you maybe didn’t know about Pridnestrovie

December 16, 2008

Recently I was searching some information about Transnistria – aka Pridnestrovie – and found a probably official web-portal of this not recognized state.  Originally Transnistria called my attention first because its quite ready statehood elements without outside recognition, second because of changed circumstances in respect for international law after Kosovo unilateral declaration of independence and thirdly because I predicted  that Trandnistria could be the next tinderbox of separatism between Georgian conflict and coming troubles in Ukraine.

In any case my bet is that in western Europe here is lack of wider knowledge over Transdnistria and therefore I copy here Ten things you maybe didn’t know about the place.   Of course one can have some reservations due the reason that material is from “official” web-sites; however if you go to original source you can have more information about every point, compare it to other information available and make your own conclusions.

Here are some quick facts that will no doubt surprise you:

10: Double of Iceland’s population

9: Multi-party democracy

8: Signed UN human rights charters

7: Market based economy

6: A total of 35 nationalities live here

5: OSCE-ruled elections

4: “Clean” report from EU border monitors

3: Historically, never part of Moldova

2: Industrial powerhouse

1: Government success

And open the countdown to get full picture from here!


Strange BND affair in Kosovo

December 14, 2008

On 14th Nov. 2008  a bomb planted at the office of the European Union Special Representative was detonated in Pristina, Kosovo.  Three officers of Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) – Foreign Intelligence service of Germany – were arrested. The three agents – despite protestations from Berlin and the BND of their innocence – spent 10 days in detention.  The case created tensions between Germany and Kosovo’s local government and nobody seems to know how the case developed so far in public.

Today doubts concerning the culpability of the BND agents seemed to have  been cleared. The previously unheard of ‘Army of the Republic of Kosovo’ (ARK) had accepted responsibility for the bomb attack. Laboratory tests had shown no evidence of the BND agents’ involvement. In addition, a television report had aired quoting a police report that allegedly said that the Germans had in no way been involved.  (Source Welt-Online)

Now the agents are free and the Kosovo government has expressed its regret over detention. (Source: Deutsche Welle).

BND in Kosovo

For a number of years, Kosovo has been a major operational area for the BND. In addition to being politically unstable and located not far from Germany’s borders, it is a hotbed of organized crime with links to Germany and is a country where numerous German police officers and soldiers are stationed.

A German magazine Der Spiegel published a wide article about BND in Kosovo.  It claims that there are no less than three BND departments focusing on Kosovo, including Department Five, responsible for organized crime, the same department that certified in 2005 that Prime Minister Thaçi is a key figure in a Kosovar-Albanian mafia network. (Source Spiegel) .

Some backgrounds of Kosovo  “Independence”

Tom Burghard describes in “The Intelligence Daily” some backgrouds of Kosovo’s “independence”.

“When Kosovo proclaimed its “independence” in February, the Western media hailed the provocative dismemberment of Serbia, a move that completed the destruction of Yugoslavia by the United States, the European Union and NATO, as an exemplary means to bring “peace and stability” to the region. If by “peace” one means impunity for rampaging crime syndicates or by “stability,” the freedom of action with no questions asked by U.S. and NATO military and intelligence agencies, not to mention economic looting on a grand scale by freewheeling multinational corporations, then Kosovo has it all! (Source The Intelligance Daily)

Revence?

So how is it possible that this BND affair took place in circumstances described earlier?  Given the fact that after the U.S. Germany is the 2nd largest financial backer of Kosovo, why would the Thaci government risk alienating the German state –  why did Mr. Thaci choose to pick this fight with Germany in the first place?  Günther Lachmann said quite straight in his article on 30th Nov. 2008 in Die Welt, that “In security circles one hears various answers to this question. The most common one is that the action was taken as revenge”.  The cause of revenge are leaked BND reports linking Kosovo’s political leaders to international organized crime.

Leaked BND reports

At the time, the confidential report was quickly leaked to the media. Thaçi has never forgiven the Germans for that.( Der Spiegel).  The reports in question are a 67-page long, hard-hitting analysis by the BND about organized crime in Kosovo and a confidential 108-page report contracted by the German military, the Bundeswehr (sc. BND-IEP Report Kosovo 2007).

The BND-IEP report also repeats the accusations against Thaci claiming, that real power in Kosovo lays with 15 to 20 family clans who control “almost all substantial key social positions” and are “closely linked to prominent political decision makers,”.

In contrast to the CIA and MI6, both German intelligence reports accuse Thaci as well as former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj and Xhavit Haliti of the parliamentary leadership of far-reaching involvement in organized crime.

More about leaked BND reports as follows:

  • Leaked BND Report 2005 (Short 27-p leaked BND report can be found upside down)
  • BND-IEP Report Kosovo 2007 (Operatinalisierung von Security Sector Reform (SSR) auf dem Westlichen Balkan intelligente/kreativ Ansätze fier die langfristig positive Gestaltung dieser Region)

Facts on the ground are remaining

In reports mentioned above is nothing new for intelligence agencies.  As a former official of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Michael Levine has said that one of the wings of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) was “linked with every known narco-cartel in the Middle East and the Far East”, and that almost every European intelligence service and police has files on “connections between ethnic Albanian rebels and drug trafficking”.  (More inB92 article).

U.S. involvement?

There are also still further hypotheses made by Peter Schwartz in The Intelligence  Daily based to BND-IEP report about  substantial tensions between German and American bodies. “The German report is particular critical of the role of the US, which had obstructed European investigations and which had been opened up to political extortion by the existence of secret CIA detention centres in the grounds of Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo.” (Source The Intelligence Daily ).

The bottom line

Whatever is the true story about BND affair in Kosovo or its background the follow-up is an increasing  lack of confidence between German authorities and present Kosovo government as well doubts to skills of BND.

A high-ranking BND official spoke out with yet sharper words. “The German government had allowed itself to be dragged by the nose through global politics by a country in which organized crime is the form of government,” he told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung. (Welt-Online)

More my views over Kosovo onemay find from my Archives:Blog

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P.S. Some times ago there was rumors about BND report claiming that then UN envoy Ahtisaari took bribes from (Kosovo) Albanian mafia.  However I have not found any proof or reports about this case.  If someone has more info so please send a link to proof that the case includes something more that a propaganda article.


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