Mar 31 2018

Kosovan leaders torn over Gülen movement extraditions

The capture and extradition of six members of the Gülen movement in Kosovo by Turkish intelligence appears to have opened up a rift between the country’s president and prime minister.

Kosovo’s president, Hashim Thaçi, has publicly endorsed the move, saying that the six were a danger to the fledgling country’s national security.

Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj and foreign minister Behgjet Pacolli, however, condemned the operation on his country’s soil, and the former fired the interior minister and head of intelligence as a result.

The six men – five educators and a cardiologist – are followers of the exiled cleric Fethullah Gülen, who stands accused by Turkey of having been behind a failed July 2016 coup attempt.

Since the attempt, Turkey has launched a global campaign against the movement, including putting pressure on countries worldwide to turn over schools owned by Gülenist businessmen to a Turkish government-run foundation.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan entered the fray himself on Saturday, saying that Haradinaj was seeking to protect those trying to carry out a coup in Turkey.

“Our National Intelligence Organisation has packed up the highest-ranking managers of (the Gülen movement) in the Balkans in an operation carried out in Kosovo,” he said.

“But I have a regret. Kosovo’s prime minister has fired his head of intelligence and interior minister. Now I am asking – o, Kosovo’s prime minister, on whose orders did you make such a move? For how long have you been protecting those trying to carry out a coup on the Turkish Republic?”

But there was pressure on Kosovo from the other side as well. Late Friday, Gülen movement sympathisers organised a demonstration outside the Kosovan consulate in New York.

Haradinaj said on Saturday that authorities were still investigating the circumstances by which the kidnappings and extradition of the six men were allowed to take place.

Relatives of the six had stayed at Pristina airport until the early hours of Saturday after rumours spread that they might still be in Kosovo.

They left after the police said the six had been sent to Turkey on Thursday.

“My father was kidnapped,” said one relative, Mustafa Gunakan, outside the airport. “We thought we were safe in Kosovo. We never thought it would end this way.”

Florian Bieber, a Balkans expert at the University of Graz, said the incident could be damaging for Kosovo, which is seeking to build closer ties with the European Union.

“It certainly will hurt Kosovo, both for throwing doubt on the rule of law and political authority and for cooperation with a regime that is authoritarian and increasingly antagonistic with the EU,” Bieber told Reuters.