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INFO   :::  Reports - PAGE 4 > Report on Current Situation in Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja Municipalities


Report on Current Situation in Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja Municipalities

December 2000



Current developments in Southern Serbia are a logical upshot of a long-standing policy of repression and discrimination against the local Albanian population. Reaction of the new authorities, almost identical to the one of the previous regime, clearly indicated its intention to consolidate its democratic image, notably in the international scene.

But if one analyzes in depth the new authorities approach to the current crisis, one can conclude that their positions are quite similar to the positions of the former regime. The same hate speech aimed at Albanians is used, a difficult situation of the Albanian ethnic community is ignored, the international community is often portrayed or treated as an accomplice or a passive observer, redefinition of the agreement regulating the NATO forces presence in Kosovo and presence of the Yugoslav Army and police in demilitarised zone along Serbia's border with Kosovo is being urged. The lack of a major counter-offensive against the LAPBM members is in fact the new regime' ploy aimed at 'appeasing' the international public. The blame for the current crisis in the area is laid squarely on Hasim Tachi's shoulders and on the extremists groups in Kosovo. It is in fact implied that the Albanian militants through such crisis-provoking incidents are trying to regain their positions badly shattered after recent Kosovo elections and to discredit the new regime in the eyes of the West.1

Many indicators point to the fact that the former regime is still pulling a few strings in the Presevo valley area. Political representatives of the local Albanian population voice their concern over a possible collusion of the new regime with the old one2, while representatives of the new authorities accuse the former regime of orchestrating protests of Serb nationals against the Albanian "terrorists" and the new local administration of its powerlessness to efficiently solve the newly-emerged crisis. However all the aforementioned does not minimize the responsibility of the current authorities for the crisis in the area.


Status of Albanian ethnic community

Albanians are discriminated in all social and political spheres. According to the PDD sources in recent years Albanians have been massively sacked from the state bodies. Currently only every 50th Albanian in Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja is employed as a civil servant. For example in Bujanovac municipality, only 29.27% of Albanians (who make up 60.6% of local population) work in the local administration, which means that they can win maximum 12 of 41 local assembly seats.3 Such a disproportion drastically violates the equitable suffrage guaranteed by the topmost legal acts of Yugoslavia and Serbia.

The media picture is catastrophic. There isn't a single Albanian language media, distribution of the Kosovo dailies and weeklies is banned, the Federal Telecommunications Ministry rejected the local application for TV frequency. But during her visit to Presevo on 17 December 2000, Biserka Matic Spasojevic, the Information Minister in the Serbian interim government, promised the launching of the local radio station in Presevo. She also said she would urge that the local TV frequencies be granted and the Kosovo press be distributed in Presevo.

But the biggest problem are minimum investments which caused such an economic decline of the area (Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja top the list of most underdeveloped municipalities in Serbia.)4



Military and police reinforcements in the area have caused the loss of faith of the Albanian population in the past year. In view of the fact that the majority of the military and police forces stationed in the Presevo valley are in fact the ones which had been pulled out from Kosovo, then a continuing emigration trend of local Albanians since spring 1999 is understandable. According to the PDA estimates over 20,000 Albanians left the area in the post-NATO intervention-November 2000 period.

According to Albanian sources since the flare-up of the first conflicts about 3,500 Albanians left the area. Some villages located in the first front-line5, in the buffer zone, have been voluntarily emptied out. Some Albanians are troubled over the presence of the YA, police and members of the LAPBM or they are afraid of forcible mobilization. Fearing a massive exodus of the Albanian population many Albanians moved out secretly.


Inter-ethnic relations

Despite tensions in the area, inter-ethnic relations are good. This has been confirmed both by political representatives of local Albanians and the local authorities (the Associated Yugoslav Left) in Bujanovac. The only reported incidents were those between Serb refugees from Kosovo6 and Albanians.


Liberation Army for Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja

LAPBM emerged in early 2000. Then the presence of several hundred armed Albanians, mostly Kosovo locals, was mentioned in the territory of central Serbia, that is in village Dobrosin. Sporadic skirmishes between the police members and the LAPBM ended in late March when the LAPBM set up a political council tasked with the political resolution of the existing problems.7

As an armed formation LAPBM re-emerged in early September 2000. Then it was termed "the Albanian terrorist gang from Kosovo and Metohija"8 numbering several hundred fighters who had occupied a large number of villages in the buffer zone next to the border with Kosovo. According to the Serb press, "the buffer zone is used as a kind of a launching pad for the LAPBM incursions into territory of Bujanovac municipality, where they organise terrorist actions, abductions, killings, plant bombs and sow mines."9 LAPBM also launches raids from the Kosovo territory. The police check-points at the administrative border with Kosovo as well as houses of Serb civilians were targets of artillery attacks launched from the territory of Kosovo, mainly from Podujevo municipality. According to the Albanian sources the LAPBM members are operating exclusively within the boundaries of the buffer zone.10

According to the police officials: "since June 2000 terrorists launched 90 armed attacks on the Bujanovac and Presevo police and staged over 50 bomb-and other explosive devices-related incidents."11 According to the same source 5 policemen were killed while 22 were wounded in those skirmishes.

According to allegations made by local Albanians the LAPBM members are mainly Kosovo Albanians. Only a small number of local Albanians joined the LAPBM ranks.12 Political representatives of Albanians in Southern Serbia cautioned long time ago that discrimination of local Albanians and the total neglect of the area, notably in the economic sphere, would motivate the young people to massively join the militant groups trying to solve the current situation by armed means.

Serbian sources in the Southern Serbia maintain that the LAPBM controls the entire Albanian community in this area. For example Stojanca Arsic, President of the Assembly of Bujanovac municipality, maintained that the LAPBM banned Albanians from voting at recent federal and presidential elections, and that it was largely to be blamed for non-participation of Albanians in local self-rule bodies in Bujanovac municipality.13


The Kumanovo Agreement and the UN SC Resolution 1244

One of the most indicative reactions of the new regime to the current developments in Presevo valley is the insistence on the revision of the Kumanovo Agreement.

Hence the following statements of the current (and future) high officials of the federal and republican government call into question the official position of the new authorities that the SC UN Resolution 1244 and the Kumanovo Agreement had to be observed and respected: Zoran Zivkovic "either the international community would fully implement the UN Agreement on Kosovo or it would modify the agreement"14; Zoran DJindjic: "If we are faced with a dilemma to honor the UN Resolution on Kosovo or to protect our territories and population, we would do the second, deeming it a lesser evil".15 Having in mind the statement made by the FRY President, Vojislav Kostunica, that he considered that the signing of the Kumanovo agreement was tantamount to capitulation16, the attempts to use the current situation as a pretext for revision of the agreement, to whose full implementation and respect the new regime has committed itself, clearly indicate the prevailing position of the leading protagonists of the Serbian political scene on the resolution of Kosovo and Albanian issue in general.


The Yugoslav Army and police

The fact that the majority of military and police commanders, including the high police, military and security services officials who had been discharging command functions during the NATO intervention, have retained their positions after the installation of the new authorities indicates that an essentially different approach to the settlement of the current crisis in Southern Serbia cannot be expected. Vladimir Lazarevic, Commander of the Third Army, thus commented the 22 November incident, that is the attack by the LAPBM on the Konculj police check-point in which 4 policemen died and 13 were wounded: "the same criminals are trying to stage a repeat of the 1999 situation in Southern Serbia... the state shall take all the necessary measures to prevent the re-enactment of the Kosovo crisis."17 Nebojsa Pavkovic, Chief of the YA Staff, told "Palma Plus TV" that "the FRY,unless the international community demonstrates the goodwill to solve the problem in a peaceful way, shall take a decision to flush out Shiptari terrorist from the entire buffer zone."18

Military and police forces reinforcements were sent to the area. The police check-points were placed, and according to local Albanians the army is also exerting control at them. Albanians think that such a presence of the armed forces further undermines their confidence in the Serbian authorities intentions and think that a full de-militarization of the entire area is a main prerequisite for normalization of situation.19 Not a single police or army official contacted political representatives of local Albanians. Only a recent statement of Nebojsa Covic that "the Kosovo police forces re-stationed in Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja area shall be pulled out" indicates a possible turnaround.


The international community

The federal and republican officials think that the international community representatives in Kosovo and notably the US troops within KFOR, who control the border between Kosovo and Southern Serbia, are responsible for the LAPMB incursions into Serbia. According to them KFOR is not ready to control the border from the Kosovo side and prevent the entry of armed Albanians, and procurement of weapons and ammunition to them. KFOR was repeatedly accused of directly helping the LAPMB members, by training them and rendering them logistical support. Vecernje Novosti of 13 November thus commented one of the most serious clashes between the LAPMB and the police: "the US choppers flew all the time over the buffer zone probably in order to protect the retreating terrorist gang and provide them with logistical support." In his letter to George Robertson, the NATO Secretary General, Vojislav Kostunica warned that "the international community was not meeting its commitments in the FRY." Zoran DJindjic directly accused the international community for stirring up the current crisis in his following statement " I have relevant information about developments in Southern Serbia and in the border area, unless the international community takes the right measures of control and end the crisis, it shall be considered responsible for the current situation."20

International community is not denying the fact that there are armed formations within the buffer zone. On the contrary the NATO and KFOR high officials maintain they would do their utmost to prevent Kosovo from being used as a base from which armed actions against Serbia are launched.21 In his response to Kostunica's letter George Robertson says: "KFOR is strictly abiding by all terms of its mandate" and "General Cabigiosa immediately ordered its soldiers to step up surveillance of the administrative border and prevent any illegal activity across the administrative boundaries."22 The UN Security Council session convened on the initiative of Goran Svilanovic, the Yugoslav Foreign Secretary, called on KFOR and UNMIK to continue efforts to prevent new incursions into the territory of Southern Serbia and appealed to all the involved parties to show restraint and do not resort to any violent actions, notably those against ethnic minorities. KFOR troops repeatedly stopped trucks transporting ammunition and weapons to the LAPBM members. Michael Whittey, the KFOR spokesman, stated: "KFOR shall not tolerate that Kosovo be used as an insurgents' base."23

KFOR responded to announcements of some republican and federal officials that the police and the YA would resort to actions banned by the Kumanovo Agreement provisions unless the international community put under control the Albanian militants, by issuing a warning that "it shall not tolerate any breach of the Military-Technical Agreement, caused by activities within the buffer zone."24



Although many expected that the ouster of the former regime the situation in Serbia , and notably in potential flash-points area, that is the Presevo valley, would lead to an overall stabilization, the situation in fact got worse. Although the new authorities were welcomed with excessive euphoria and were unconditionally accepted by the international community, now it has become manifest that the new federal and republican government would have to make a host of essentially positive gestures to win the confidence of a part of its citizenry, mostly members of national minorities, notably Albanians. Albanians think that the new regime should take the following steps providing for permanent normalization and stabilization of situation in the region: demilitarization under the auspices of the international community, re-staging of local elections in Bujanovac and Medvedja to enable an adequate representation of Albanians in the local self-rule, participation of Albanians in the state bodies proportionate to share of Albanians in the total population of Serbia.

An agreement on participation of Albanians in the local police forces proportionate to their share in the total population would greatly help stabilize the situation in the three municipalities of Southern Serbia. The international community should pursue its consistent policy and mediate in resumed political dialogue between the Belgrade authorities and relevant representatives of the Albanian population in the area. But the Presevo valley should not be included in any plans on the division of Kosovo, which some influential circles in Belgrade openly covet.

Although tensions in Southern Serbia are gradually easing, one cannot help but wonder about genuine contents of Declaration on Principles of Protection of National and State Interests of the FRY, which was adopted by the Federal and Republican government in view of "escalation of the Albanian terrorism in Kosovo and Metohija in the land buffer zone."25

December 2000


1 Vladan Batic, President of the Christian Democratic Party of Serbia and Marko Jaksic, Vice president of the Democratic Party of Serbia, in their interviews to Danas, of 28-30 November 2000, Bozo Prelevic, the Interior Co-Minister in the Serbian interim government, in his statement to Glas of 26 November 2000, Zoran Zivkovic, the Federal Interior Minister in Danas of 23 November 2000.

2 Talks between representatives of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia with representatives of the PDA, Bujanovac, 30 November 2000.

3 This was due to the decision on the formation of constituencies. Constituencies from which one assemblyman was elected were 'tailored' in such a way that those in which Albanians voted had many voters, while those in which Serbs voted, had a relatively small number of voters. For example, in the Veliki Trnovac constituency no.1, one assemblyman is elected by 2.200 voters, while in constituency no. 14, Srpska Kuca, one assemblyman was elected by 300 voters.

4 Status of Albanians in Southern Serbia, see the report Status of Albanians in Serbia during and after the NATO intervention and Albanians in Serbia, published by Helsinki Committee for the Human Rights in Serbia.

5 Villages Lucane, Konculj and Veliki Trnovac.

6 There are 5,040 refugees from Kosovo, of whom 1,700 are Roma.

7 The LAPBM political council was set up on 23 March 2000. See the report Albanians in Serbia, published by the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights.

8 Politika, 14 October 2000.

9 Ekspres, 14 October 2000.

10 Talks between the HC representatives and the PDA representatives, Bujanovac, 30 November 2000.

11 Blic, 23 November 2000.

12 According to the PDA representatives only a minor number of local Albanians were members of the KLA during the Kosovo crisis.

13 Talks between the HC representatives and Stojance Arsic, Bujanovac, 30 November 2000.

14 Blic, 23 November 2000.

15 Blic, 23 November 2000.

16 Danas, 5 September 2000.

17 Novosti, 23 November 2000.

18 Politka, 28-30 November 2000.

19 Talks between the HC and PDA representatives in Bujanovac, 30 November 2000.

20 Ekspres, 23 November 2000.

21 The NATO spokesman, Mark Leighty, Danas, 23 November 2000.

22 Blic, 24 November 2000

23 Danas, 23 November 2000.

24 Borba, 24 November 2000.

25 Novosti, 17. December 2000.


December, 2000.




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