Current Situation in Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja Municipalities
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
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.
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
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
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
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 "...as 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
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
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
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
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
22 Blic, 24 November 2000
23 Danas, 23 November 2000.
24 Borba, 24 November 2000.
25 Novosti, 17. December 2000.