AIM: start

FRI, 26 OCT 2001 00:30:29 GMT

Southern Serbia's Ethnic Albanians Want Peace Deal Implemented

Incidents or Terrorism

Although ethnic Albanian politicians say all problems should be resolved through political means, Riza Halimi, the head of Presevo municipality, does not rule out a deterioration of the situation. And while ethnic Albanians are cautiously radicalizing their demands, the Serbian side is profiting from the global campaign against terrorism.

AIM Belgrade, October 10, 2001

Although military operations have ceased in recent months, together with a reduction in inter-ethnic tensions and intolerance in the crisis area in southern Serbia, the political activities of ethnic Albanians in the entire region are still reflected in the municipalities of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac. The nearing of the Kosovo elections and the relative calm in Macedonia have brought little relief to southern Serbia. On the contrary -- tensions are dying hard.

These tensions recently culminated in a resumption of attacks. Several shots were fired from people using anti-aircraft guns and other automatic weapons in Kosovo at Serbian and Yugoslav forces, fortunately without serious consequences. The Serbian side described the incident as another in a series of provocations. According to the Yugoslav Army's information, in the wake of the recent withdrawal of KFOR from the administrative border separating Kosovo from the rest of Serbia, members of the Kosovo Protection Corps, whose units have taken up positions vacated by Multinational Brigade East, are touring border villages in Gnjilane municipality and distributing leaflets calling for mobilization, said Col. Milosav Simovic, commander of the 78th Motorized Brigade of the Yugoslav Army Pristina Corps. Simovic explained that the leaflets call on local Albanians to take up arms for the purpose of liberating "eastern Kosovo" which, in their view, should include the municipalities of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac.

As yet another liberation army emerges in Kosovo, ethnic Albanian politicians from southern Serbia warn the government in Belgrade that tensions in the region are not subsiding as planned by in agreement signed last May, following several months of fighting. "If the government in Belgrade fails to take steps aimed at ensuring the implementation of the agreement signed in May by representatives of Albanians from the Presevo Valley and Serbian Vice Premier Nebojsa Covic, we will consider forming an underground Albanian government in the region", said Riza Halimi, head of Presevo municipality and leader of the Party for Democratic Action.

Obviously prompted by a desire to avoid clashes, ethnic Albanians from southern Serbia decided to form a Presevo Valley National Assembly, which is supposed to be their highest political body.

"What is important is that we have thoroughly analyzed the current political and security situation in the region, which is considered very delicate and in some places very grave. All participants of the session were very dissatisfied with the existing conditions", said Halimi in response to allegations of disputes between his party and the Party for Democratic Unification of Albanians, led by Zeqiri Fazliu.

Although ethnic Albanian politicians say the problems in southern Serbia should be resolved through political means, Halimi does not rule out the possibility that the situation could take a turn for the worse. "At this point it is hard to say whether the problems in the region of Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja will be resolved politically. I sincerely believe that a political process will have a better chance, because the international community is present and vitally interested in preserving the stability of the region; this, however, does not mean there will be no incidents", said Halimi.

Their main objection is that nothing is actually being done to resolve the crisis. Except for the multi-ethnic police project, there are no other plans for the inclusion of Albanians into other segments of life, Halimi claims.

And while Albanians are cautiously radicalizing their demands, the Serbian side is profiting from the global campaign against terrorism. Serbian officials have begun speaking of terrorists with whom they have been having clashes over the past years, initially without the support of the West, and now with the West on their side. "It is obvious that over the past decade there were factors in southern Serbia engaging in terrorist operations. Southern Serbia is now safe, but this does not mean that the population should not be very cautious, because some people here still do not want the problems to be resolved peacefully", says Nebojsa Covic, chairman of the government coordinating body for southern Serbia and a Serbian vice premier.

The highest Serbian official in charge of southern Serbia stresses that recent developments have debunked Albanian claims of a massive police and military presence in the region. "Everything that happens in the future in southern Serbia will be perceived as terrorism", says Covic.

His colleague from the coordinating body, police special forces Commander Gen. Goran Radosavljevic, says there has been enough bloodshed and war. "I think that no more liberation armies should be formed here, or elsewhere in the Balkans. I particularly have in mind Serbia, Macedonia and Kosovo. All of us here are fed up with war, bloodshed, casualties", says Radosavljevic.

The fact that there are no more clashes in southern Serbia and that political solutions are being sought to existing problems indicate that the situation has improved. While ethnic Albanians are trying to regain the attention of the media by focusing on problems that have not been resolved, the Serbian side is attempting to present the situation as part of the global terrorism problem. The Serbian side, however, has an additional problem: the exhaustion of the people in charge of resolving the crises.

Zoran Kosanovic