PAGE 4/4



PAGE 4 ::: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

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


Report on Current Situation in Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja Municipalities

April 2000


In recent months situation in the three municipalities has deteriorated. Recurring conflicts between the police and armed Albanians indicate the lack of willingness to solve the pressing problems in a political manner. The regime has to date ignored repeated appeals of local Albanians to stop the escalating repression and discrimination and to pull out military and police reinforcements stationed in the buffer zone on the border with Kosovo. Formal complaints were also lodged to the federal and republican prime ministers, Momir Bulatovic and Mirko Marjanovic. The former responded by promising "a probe into the matter"1 but so far he has not make good that promise. Representatives of the republican authorities visited on several occasions the three municipalities to study possibilities for additional investments aimed at alleviating the current economic straits.

The opposition showed no interest in making concerted efforts to solve the essential problems bedevilling the area of Southern Serbia. For example, one of the Serbian Renewal Movement's communiqués reads: ..."there are no inter-ethnic problems in the south of Serbia...which obviously vexes the Albanian hard-liners and their leaders..."2 To date only representatives of the Social-Democratic Union had contacts with the Party for Democratic Action of Albanians.3

Presence of armed Albanian groups contributes to mounting of additional tensions. The regime exploits this fact to further discriminate local Albanians and the international community.4 According to the Serbian press reports those armed groups made incursions into Serbia from internationally-controlled territory of Kosovo. On the basis of such reports the regime lays most of the blame on the international community and Kosovar Albanians.5

Despite repeated statements of the international community and KFOR that they are against a violent resolution of the crisis in the south of Serbia, most Serbian media insist on an alleged Western backing of the anti-police actions and qualify them as an introduction to a new war leading to NATO's entry into Serbia. Milovan Drecun, political-military commentator, writes: "One learns from the informed sources of existence of a joint KLA and their bosses plan to destabilise the south of Serbia. The plan embraces into several phases: military preparations-recruitment and training of terrorists, arming of locals in the southern Serbia, stage-managing of humanitarian catastrophe; the media-campaign; military implementation: anti-civilian, anti-military and anti-police actions in the area, uprising in the villages, fortifying of villages, blockade of communications, formation of bigger units and incitement of armed rebellion; deployment of NATO forces..."6 Commander of Bujanovac garrison, Zarko Lazarevic, characterised the current incidents as an integral part of the scenario which had been play out in the past. "First there are attacks on the local population, loyal citizens are threatened, people are abducted, and explosives are planted in their homes...Then security forces-the police, are attacked, and then the army comes..."7

In such a highly tense and precarious situation both the Albanian and Serbian civilians are moving out. Almost all local Serb inhabitants have abandoned village Trmka in the vicinity of Kursumlija. Locals of Merdare, Preratica and Matarovo villages in the Kursumlija area have threatened to move out unless police reinforcements are sent in to the administrative border with Kosovo."8


Emigration of Albanian locals

After the signing of the Kumanovo Agreement the local Albanians continued to leave the three municipalities.9 A large number of them have deserted their villages in recent months. According to estimates of the Party for Democratic Action nearly 15,000 Albanians have left that area.10 The majority of the displaced have found refuge in Kosovo, while a smaller number of them have been accommodated in several collective centres in Macedonia. Population-wise the worst situation is in municipality of Medvedja, for only 5% of total Albanian population remained there (before the NATO intervention).11 Albanian sources maintain that poor safety, escalating repression and poor economic status of the local Albanians were primary motives for emigration.12

The regime on the other hand argues that the massive exodus was motivated by economic gains: seizure of the Serbian houses, higher salaries and better financial situation in Kosovo. Conversely, the Medvedja municipal authorities claim that such emigration is instigated by certain structures in Kosovo. The aforementioned source says that what is under way is in fact an organised process enabling Albanians to take over property owned by the Kosovo Serbs and consequently depriving the latter of possibility to return to Kosovo. Fear of police is also quoted, but only as a minor motive for emigration. According to the regime and its local officials the police took no action against the Albanian civilians, but only intervened during clashes with the Liberation Army for Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja.13


Security situation and presence of army and police

The police reinforcements which arrived in the area in mid-December 1999 were allegedly sent in to safeguard security of local population and prevent raids of terrorists from Kosovo. But from that period onward the gravest incidents and murders had happened. In recent months 8 Albanian civilians were killed.14 As the motives for those murders (some of them happened in villages with the Serbian majority) were never discovered and the perpetrators were not caught, the local Albanian population grew even more fearful. On 26 January 2000 brothers Sacipi were killed in village Dobrosin. Locals and their families claim that they were killed by the police. On 14 March 2000 a body of a murdered Albanian was found at the parking lot next to the highway Presevo-Bujanovac. The man made a telephone call from Kosovska Kamenica and then went missing. Three days later his body was found in his car.15

In the course of February additional troops of the Yugoslav army and the police units from Serbia were deployed in that area. "NATO Sources confirmed on 22 February 2000 that in the region of Presevo, at the very administrative border with Kosovo, additional 300 members of special Serbian police units were deployed...."16 George Robertson, Secretary General of NATO, stated that NATO was monitoring the Yugoslav Army build-up in the vicinity of administrative border with Kosovo and "... it shall not tolerate new conflicts."17 The Yugoslav Army denied those claims and stated that it was engaged only in regular and planned activities in the region."18

Situation varies from municipality to municipality. Region of municipality of Presevo is relatively calm, while situation is much more serious in municipalities of Bujanovac and Medvedja, where quite a number of incidents have been reported.



There have been no serious incidents in that municipality. Army and police units stationed in demilitarised zone restrict the freedom of movement. Albanians who have arable land and pastures in that area, cannot work their land or graze their cattle there. Hence their economic situation is rather precarious.



On several occasions groups of armed policemen (6-10 of them) physically harassed (mainly slapped) local Albanians and raided calm villages (forcibly entered restaurants and shops and held the people in them at gunpoint). They obviously intended to intimidate the local Albanians. After a police raid on village Ravnobuce (municipality of Bujanovac) and seizure of money of Albanians on 14 March 2000, the remaining 6 Albanian families left the village. Local Albanians also began to move out of village Biljace in which large police units are stationed. In recent weeks 30-40% pupils of Albanian nationality stopped going to school in Bujanovac.19



Albanians are summoned to informative talks in police stations and are thereafter verbally and physically harassed.20 Representatives of local authorities deny such allegations. The Yugoslav Army units are mainly stationed in villages with the Albanian majority and their presence heightens the feelings of fear and insecurity among the Albanian locals.


Inter-ethnic relations

Albanians from municipalities of Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja say that they are on good terms with local Serbs. No incidents between the two groups were reported either during or after the NATO intervention. However local Albanians maintain that the army and police units, as well as the Serbian refugees from Kosovo were involved in all incidents. Refugees and the military and police units stationed in the area of the three municipalities alike contribute to a continuing climate of the war psychosis.21

The PDA organised several rallies in mid March in the area of Presevo in order to inform the local Albanians about the current situation. "At such rallies we insisted that normal contacts and ties between us and Serbs be re-established..."22


Liberation Army for Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja

According to the Serbian media the largest number of incidents in the three municipalities were related to the anti-police actions taken by the Liberation Army for Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja. The international community and members of KFOR in Kosovo23 admit the existence of armed formations, which according to their claims, are not permanently stationed in the territory of central Serbia. According to Albanian sources those smaller groups of armed people are composed mainly of Kosovar Albanians.24 The same sources also maintain that "such groups exist and operate" only in village Dobrosin, at the very administrative border. Not a single member of any police unit, after the murder of brothers Sacipi on 26 January 2000, entered that village.

Brothers Sacipi were killed after attack on the police patrol. "Serbian sources told BETA News Agency that a large group of Albanians opened fire on the police patrol in that village. The police returned fire. A policeman, Zarko Guberinic, was wounded in the crossfire. The same sources say that a large group of Albanians came from Kosovo. According to Dobrosin locals and members of family, brothers Sacipi were killed while cutting wood. In addition to civilians, there were 10 uniformed men with the former Kosovo Liberation Army insignia a their funeral..."25

Philip Henning, KFOR spokesman, said in Pristina that "counterintelligence services of international peace-keeping forces in Kosmet have information indicating involvement of Albanians extremists from Kosovo and Metohija in terrorist actions in Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja..."26 KFOR considered a possibility of controlling in a stricter way the border "due to reports on mounting tension and clashes between the Yugoslav police and the Albanian guerrillas in the South of Serbia."27

Rumours abound that Albanians from the southern Serbia, former KLA fighters, were responsible for formation of the Liberation Army for Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja. Neither the Albanian nor the Serbian sources denied those rumours. Added to that the Party for Democratic Action put their number at 200, while sources close to the Yugoslav Army mention over one thousand young fighters.28 The author of the text "There will be no war, unless otherwise ordered" cites that "the KLA was not disbanded despite the UNMIK and KFOR assertions to the contrary... If two and two make four that the 'establishment' of OVPBM is just a strategic re-organisation of the KLA."29 In mid-March the US soldiers operating within KFOR arrested nine persons and seized a larger amount of weapons, ammo, and uniforms during searches at the administrative border between the South-western Serbia and Eastern Kosovo...It is furthermore stated that "the searched locations were utilised by extremist elements operating in Kosovo, in Macedonia and in the area of Presevo valley (in southern Serbia) as ammunition, weapons and supplies hide-outs....Results of the operation clearly indicate that the US forces shall take all the necessary measures to make sure that the territory of Kosovo is not used as a base for exporting violence to the South of Serbia...."30

Judging by the media coverage, the formation of the Liberation Army for Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja, was strongly condemned by the international community. During his Kosovo visit, James Rubin, State Department spokesman, sent a clear message to the political leaders of Kosovar Albanians not to abuse the trust of the US and the West. He furthermore said that the Western countries last year made commitments to provide military assistance to Kosovar Albanians, but added that such a promise has not be made to Albanians living outside Kosovo..."31 During his visit to the base Montate, only 20 km distant from the administrative border with Serbia, James Rubin said: ..." We admit that actions of Albanians in the Presevo valley are a major problem and that the Serbian authorities must do more to enable them to live their lives peacefully..." and added that nobody should expect that the United States "shall back those who provoke Serbs by killing their policemen and wait for the Serbian response."32

On 23 March 2000 at a meeting behind closed doors, Hashim Tachi, Ambassador Christopher Dell, Head of the US office in Pristina, delegation of representatives of the PDA for Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja and representatives of the Albanian community in the south of Serbia it was decided to set up a "Political council" of Albanians in the south of Serbia. Spokesman of the Liberation Army for Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja said after the meeting that the only solution for Albanians in the Presevo valley was a political option.33

Party for Democratic Action, which according to its president Riza Halimi, did not take part in the aforementioned meeting, welcomed the decision of the Liberation Army for Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja to solve all the problems in a political manner.34

To Helsinki Committee knowledge situation in the area of Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja has been gradually calming downs since March. But a genuine and lasting normalization of situation in the south of Serbia requires full engagement of representatives of Albanians in Serbia, the Serbian opposition and the international community. The fact that the status of Kosovo still has not been explicitly defined is exploited both by the regime in Serbia and the Albanian extremists. By instigating provocations in Kosovo and in the south of Serbia the regime wants to escalate violence and discredit both the international and Albanian community, in a bid to convince at least its own people that the international community is to be blamed for the current Serbian predicament. On the other hand the undefined status of Kosovo can be interpreted by the Albanian extremists as the Western tacit consent to further 'tailoring' of borders in the Balkans.


1 NIN, 10 February 2000

2 Politika, 6 March 2000

3 Social-Democratic Union is headed by Žarko Korac. The first meeting between the SDU and Party for Democratic Action (PDA, President Riza Halimi) was held in Niš on 16 March 2000. They discussed the current situation in the Southern Serbia. After the meeting a joint press conference was held. The Niš City Committee of the SDU has regular contacts with the PDA representatives.

4 Borba, 29 February 2000 "It has once again been made clear that the terrorist actions of Shiptari extremists are backed by Bernard Couchner..." read the communiqué of the Bujanovac Municipal Committee of the Associated Yugoslav Left. Borba, 3 March 2000 "Zoran Andelkovic, President of the Interim Executive Committee of Kosovo and Metohija, assessed last night that "that the foreign power-centres which have masterminded all the past and current Kosovo and Metohija developments, are now bent on spreading the chaos and terrorism from Kosmet into the Serbian interior..." Danas, 3 March 2000 "The Socialist Party of Serbia considers that NATO and the Western countries are guilty of destabilisation of situation in the border belt of Serbia," stated Nikola Šainovic, member of the Executive Committee of the Socialist Party of Serbia..."

5 Glas javnosti, 6 march 2000..."Terrorists circulate stories about the formation of 100-150 strong Liberation Army for Preševo, Bujanovac and Medveda," and further mobilisation of 2,500-3,000 people...who shall be brought from Kosovo, for they pass through the US contingent-controlled zone like through the Swiss cheese"-says Arsic" (Stojance Arsic, President of the Bujanovac Municipal Committee of the Associated Yugoslav Left.)

6 Nedeljni Telegraf, 29 March 2000

7 NIN, 10 February 2000

8 Danas, 18 January 2000

9 According to the 1981 census, the total population in those municipalities was 97,856 inhabitants. Albanians 61,6% Albanians, 30,4% Serbs, 7,3% Romany, and 0,7% Preševo - 28,967 Albanians or 85,3% Bujanovac - 25,848 Albanians or 55,3% Medveda - 5,514 Albanians or 32 %. However Albanians from this area did not take part in the 1991 census. But, according to the Albanian Party of Democratic Action, an estimated 100,000 Albanians lived there in early 1999. The Albanians made up an absolute majority before the bombardments in Preševo (95%) and Bujanovac (65%), while in Medveda they accounted for 35% of the total population. According to the same source, approximately 24,000 Albanians fled the region during the NATO campaign, while after the signing of the Kumanovo Agreement some 3,200 Albanians fled from Preševo, 3,000 from Bujanovac, and 4,200 from Medveda.

10 Interview given by the PDA representative to Helsinki Committee on 16 March 2000, Niš.

11 According to the Party for Democratic Action, some 250 Albanians remain in Medveda today, out of 5,500 in 1999.

12 Interview given by an Albanian from Medveda to Helsinki Committee on 7 April 2000, Medveda

13 Interview given by Živojin Pavlovic, President of the Medveda Municipal Assembly and member of the Main Committee of the Socialist Party of Serbia to Helsinki Committee, 16 March 2000, Medveda.

14 Representatives of PDA interviewed by Helsinki Committee on 16 March 2000 in Niš.

15 Idem.

16 Danas 1 March 2000

17 Novosti 22 February 2000

18 Novosti 22 February 2000

19 Representatives of PDA interviewed by Helsinki Committee on 16 March 2000 in Niš.

20 Helsinki Committee interview with Albanians from Medveda, 7 April 2000, Medveda.

21 Helsinki Committee interview with Albanians from Preševo, Bujanovac and Medveda, 16 March, 7 April and 22 April 2000.

22 Riza Halimi, President of the Party for Democratic Action, Blic, 15 March 2000.

23 Nedeljni Telegraf, 1 March 2000 "Western sources maintain that strike-groups of the KLA known as UCPBM, make cross-border incursions ..." Danas, 3 March 2000 The New York Times correspondent "...quotes the UNMIK and KFOR higher officials statement that the new Albanian groups 'want to liberate what they call 'Eastern Kosovo' inhabited by at least 70,000 Albanians." Danas, 3 March 2000 "US Administration expressed its disappointment with the conduct of the Albanian guerrillas in the Southern Serbia..."

24 Helsinki Committee interview with the PDA representatives, 16 March 2000, Niš.

25 Danas, 1 February 2000.

26 Novosti, 3 March 2000

27 Glas, 7 March 2000

28 Blic, 12 March 2000

29 Blic, 12 March 2000

30 Danas, 17 March 2000

31 Glas, 15 March 2000

32 Blic, 15 March 2000

33 Glas, 25 March 2000

34 Blic, 28 March 2000


April, 2000.




PAGE 4 ::: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4










Copyright * Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia - 2008

Web Design * Eksperiment