Status of Kosovo
After the NATO bombing campaign in 1999, the UN Mission (UNMIK) took control over the region of Kosovo. Today Kosovo remains an autonomous province within greater Serbia and Montenegro.
UNMIK established many governmental departments and built infrastructure, such as a police agency, courts, a parliament and local councils. However, in 2004, an annual report released on human rights in Kosovo by a branch of the UN Mission stated that the UN has failed to protect the rights of its citizens, primarily those of the Serbian minority in Kosovo. Furthermore, many human rights organizations and international agencies such as the World Health Organization (WHO) have found the conditions in refugee camps to be severe.
In December 2004, Ibrahim Rugova, who has long advocated independence but was a past opponent of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), was re-elected as president of Kosovo by the parliament. Ramush Haradinaj, a former KLA commander whom Albanians consider a war hero but whom Serbs insist is a war criminal, was elected as the prime minister of Kosovo. Both the political leadership and virtually the entire Albanian population favor independence.
In February 2005, Serbian President Boris Tadic repeated his long-standing declaration of Serbia's right to retain the Kosovo province. Tadic also declared that he would not consent to its independence on any account, and would in fact protect the rights of the Serbs in the region.
In March 2005, Kosovo Prime Minister Haradinaj was indicted by a UN tribunal for war crimes and resigned from his position to face trial in The Hague. He was charged with acts committed against Serbian civilians as a senior commander fighting against Serbian forces during the war. The indictment infuriated Kosovo Albanians, and the region remained tense after his resignation. Though he has since pleaded not guilty to 37 counts of war crimes, he could face life in prison if found guilty of any of the charges.
The day after Prime Minister Haradinaj's plea, President Rugova narrowly escaped an assassination attempt when a bomb exploded beside his convoy as he made his way to a meeting with European Union (EU) representatives in Pristina, Kosovo's capital. This was the second attack on Rugova in two years.
The EU plans to keep up its humanitarian and economic aid program, but only if a final status for Kosovo can be reached among political leaders. Discussions on Kosovo's final status will occur later this summer.
In January 2005, the US denied $10 million in aid to Serbia because of its lack of cooperation in the arrest of Serbian war criminals. But since then, Serbia has helped in the capture and extradition of a number of suspects, and in June 2005, the US lifted the ban on aid.
US foreign policy experts believe that Kosovo's precarious standing could potentially lead to more political and economic problems. Its status as a Serbian province under UN supervision impedes its participation in the international banking system and prohibits it from creating independent banks.
Furthermore, experts are wary of ongoing tensions between the Serbs and ethnic Albanians within Kosovo and the potential for another full-fledged conflict, especially due to the delay in finalizing its status. Some experts believe that independence may be the only way to quell violence and establish peace.
U.S. Gun Laws
In the aftermath of September 11, gun legislation continues to be contested and remains an intensely debated topic.
In September 2004, ten years after the assault weapons ban was signed into law by President Bill Clinton, it expired when Congress failed to renew. The ban had been placed on 19 military-style semiautomatic weapons.
That same month, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a new law banning the .50 caliber BMG rifle. California is the first state to ban this class of long-range rifles, and it is now illegal to produce, sell, deal or import these guns within the state. Those who already own BMG rifles will have to register their firearms by April 30, 2006 if they wish to avoid facing misdemeanor charges.
On May 25, 2005, the Illinois House of Representatives passed a Firearms Act (SB 1333) which addresses the gun show loophole. The legislation mandates that background checks must be conducted on all gun buyers before the purchase of a weapon at private gun shows. Governor Rod Blagojevich has announced his intention to sign SB 1333 into law.
The issue of how long to preserve records of gun purchases has fueled a debate at the federal level. FBI officials and some lawmakers claim that restricting gun purchase records may hinder police efforts to track down and capture terrorists. Former Attorney General John Ashcroft argued that using records for these purposes would violate the federal law regarding the instant background check system and could lead to privacy and Second Amendment violations. In March of 2005, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) proposed a bill called the "Terrorist Apprehension and Record Retention Act" that would keeping all records of any firearms purchased by a suspected terrorist for at least ten years. It has since been submitted to the Committee on the Judiciary.