Home » Balkan Fighters Risk Criminal Charges for Joining Ukraine’s Defence

Balkan Fighters Risk Criminal Charges for Joining Ukraine’s Defence

Laws passed to penalize people for joining ISIS and other radical Islamist groups in the Middle East could be used against volunteers from the Balkans who want to join the Ukrainian resistance.

As reports emerge of Balkan citizens joining Ukraine’s armed resistance to Russia, local laws put into effect years ago to prevent people from joining ISIS in Syria mean they risk criminal charges if they return home.

In North Macedonia, where the Ukrainian Embassy on Tuesday posted an appeal on social media for volunteers to join the new Ukrainian foreign brigades, authorities say the law outlaws joining foreign armies.

“Any attempt at illegal departure by our citizens to the crisis area will be treated by articles of the criminal law that prohibit participation in foreign military, paramilitary or para-police formations,” said the head of North Macedonia’s National Committee for Prevention of Violent Extremism and Terrorism, Zlatko Apostolovski.

“The penalties for those who would go there would be the same, as criminal law cannot be selectively applied,” he added.

North Macedonia outlawed participation in foreign armed formations in 2014, amid reports that more than 100 of its citizens were fighting in the Syrian conflict. It made the crime punishable by up to five years in jail.

So far, there have been no reported cases of North Macedonian citizens going to Ukraine.

Neighbouring Kosovo also outlawed participation in foreign armed groups back in 2015 after more than 400 of its citizens joined the conflict in Syria, fighting alongside the Islamist terrorist organisations Al-Nusra and ISIS. Tens of those who returned from the Middle East have faced trial and been imprisoned.

On Tuesday, Pristina-based TV channel Kanal10 interviewed two Kosovars at the Poland-Ukraine border who were on their way to join Ukraine’s forces. That was the first case of Kosovo nationals, at least publicly, joining the fight in Ukraine.

Maliq Behluli, from the southern town of Suharekë/Suva Reka, told journalists that he was joining the fight out of “humane reasons”.

“We are affected by images we have seen and Russia is our common enemy [to Ukraine and Kosovo],” Behluli said.

His friend, Ismet Shala, who has been living in Western Europe said that “all EU members have supported the Ukrainian war” and that “images of refugees remind us what we experienced during the Kosovo war… everyone has the right to fight for peace”.

Behluli and Shala said they were not part of Kosovo’s armed resistance against Serbia in 1998-99.

Several weeks ago, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused Kosovo of sending “mercenaries” to the Ukraine conflict, which Kosovo sharply denied.

Thousands of Turkish citizens joined past wars in Bosnia, Chechnya, Afghanistan and in Syria and Iraq, fighting on the side of Islamic State, ISIS.

Turkey has not adopted a separate law against foreign fighters and returnees, but has a practice of prosecuting fighters detected by police and intelligence services to be fighting abroad, citing existing criminal and anti-terror laws.

Reports have said some Turks are already in Ukraine. Turkish TV channels revealed this week that some Turkish citizens and members of the large diaspora in Western Europe had joined the fight.

They reportedly wear distinctive uniforms and other clothes with the Turkish flag and symbol of the grey wolf, which represents Turkish nationalist groups, Ismail Kupeli, a Turkish-origin political scientist with the German Left Party wrote on Twitter.

.However, reportedly not all were able to join the Ukrainian Army’s Foreign Legion proper.

A Turkish citizen from Kocaeli, speaking to Independent Turkish news site, said he had signed up for the foreign legion but was later rejected.

“Turkey does not want any Turkish fighters in the Ukrainian Army,” Arif Simsek said, claiming that the Turkish authorities had asked Ukraine not to accept any Turkish citizens into its Foreign Legion.

The Turkish authorities have not commented on Turkish citizens joining the war in Ukraine.

source: balkaninsight