Troubles in the South of Serbia



THU, 24 FEB 2000

PODGORICA, February 11, 2000 -  Sporadic incidents which are becoming increasingly frequent taking a toll in human lives, scared people thirsty for a peaceful life, tension which threatens with escalation of violence, all these are daily occurrence in the southernmost communes of Serbia - Bujanovac and Presevo.

Both communes are located along the administrative border of Serbia and Kosovo and are mostly populated by Albanians. Over 100 thousand Albanians make 70 percent of the population. Bujanovac is truly a mixed environment in which Albanians account for 95 of the population of the town and surrounding 59 villages.

Fear of Kosovo and of the possibility of "Kosovo happening here" in Bujanovac and Presevo came to the surface late last fall when the first armed incident occurred. Just like once in Kosovo, when the victims were

Albanians "loyal to the state of Serbia", the target was Vice-President of the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) in Bujanovac and Director of Elementary School in the village of Djurdjevac, Mustafa Dzamilj, whose house was bombed and fired at. And this Socialist was the first victim to lose his life in these communes. Several months later, on Orthodox Christmas this year, Dzamilj was killed on the road between his and the neighbouring village of Muhovac. According to investigation authorities,

he had about 60 shotgun wounds.

>From the time when this first bomb was thrown at Dzamilj's house till the beginning of February there were some ten incidents in which, apart from explosive devices thrown at state buildings, several policemen were

wounded. Among the latest is the murder of two Albanians on January 26, in the village of Dobrosin. The family accuses the police for this murder, while the Serbs in the south of the Republic say that a police patrol was attacked in the region of this village and that one policeman

was killed on that occasion. Serbs say that the Albanians used large calibre automatic weapons and that they came from the direction of Kosovo. According to witnesses, apart from several thousands of civilians, some ten uniformed men with insignia of the former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), also attended the funeral of these two Albanians in the village of Dobrosin, which is located in the demilitarised zone along the administrative border between Serbia and Kosovo. These witnesses also claim that some Albanians from Drenica also attended the funeral.

That someone "only" wanted to cause the "Kosovo" psychosis in the south of Serbia, perhaps sounds even more convincing taking into account the fact that there were no casualties in these incidents when the explosive

was planted near houses, schools, police stations or barracks and that they occurred during the night, in the small hours. "These incidents were only intended to intimidate" claim sources close to the investigation authorities.

And while the Serbs in Bujanovac and Presevo have no doubts that the perpetrators in these incidents "are Albanian terrorists and gangs from Kosovo which want to transfer the conflict to the south of Serbia", the Albanian representatives are unable to pinpoint the culprits.

"Either 'Albanian terrorists' or 'groups of Serbs' could be responsible for these attacks. I think that both alternatives are possible, but on the other hand, maybe the state needed these incidents as an excuse to send strong police forces to this region after several years", said Riza

Halimi, the Albanian leader in the south of Serbia and President of the Party of Democratic Action (PDD), as well as the only Albanian president

of a commune.

For this incident, the Albanian leader also blames some seven to eight thousand Albanians who have left Bujanovac and Presevo have gone to Kosovo and who are revolted because they had to leave their houses. "These people are embittered because they have been living outside their

homes for months. They had to flee because of police and army harassment and have thus lost every security a man feels in his home and

state. The perpetrators most probably belong to this group as they can be very easily abused", speculates Halimi.

On the other hand, Stojanca Arsic, President of the neighbouring commune of Bujanovac thinks: "The Albanian terrorists cross over to the territory of our commune and try to provoke conflicts". The Communal Board of the Yugoslav Left (JUL) in Bujanovac agrees with him and states

that "by incursions into the Serbian territory and terrorist acts the Albanian terrorists try to provoke conflicts among the local population".

"We call upon the Albanian population of the commune of Bujanovac not to give in to manipulations of separatists from outside and their NATO sponsors. Our state will take every possible measure to guarantee safety

and peaceful life to the Albanian population in this multi-ethnic community" reads the message of JUL Bujanovac.

While representatives of the authorities in these communes appeal to Albanians not to allow their fellow-countrymen to manipulate them, one of the Serbian leaders in Kosovo and Metohija, Momcilo Trajkovic, asks the representatives of the Belgrade ruling parties to urgently resolve "the growing problems" in these three mixed communes in the southernmost

part of Serbia as the escalation of conflicts in these parts would directly reflect on the Kosovo Serbs.

"Unless the authorities urgently find a solution for the growing problems in the communes of Bujanovac, Presevo and Medvedja populated by

both Serbs and Albanians, that will have direct consequences on the Kosovo Serbs as well" warns Trajkovic and sent a message to the authorities that if "Serbia's jurisdiction in Kosmet has been suspended,

that is no excuse for the impotence it has shown in the southernmost parts of Serbia".

Like Trajkovic, the Serbs in Presevo and Bujanovac also think that the "Albanian extremists" cross over from Kosovo to the territory of Serbia proper on purpose, with the aim of provoking incidents in villages along

the administrative border between the Republic and Province, and creating an impression that "their fellow nationals are endangered in these three southern communes of Serbia" and so that they could thus "justify their participation in the expulsion of Serbs from the Serbian enclaves round Kosovo Polje and the Morava river valley in Kosovo".

"They are the taking advantage of the closeness of the international presence so as to expand the territory under its control and transfer its jurisdiction outside Kosovo. It is therefore, up to the Serbian authorities to prevent that process on time, and thus avoid having to face a fait accompli in future and then accuse others of treason", says President of the Serbian Resistance Movement of Kosovo and Metohija.

The PDD leaders also express a wish to see UN forces or an OSCE Monitoring Mission in the territory of their communes. They warn that the situation in the south of Serbia could easily escalate and demand the presence of these factors in these three communes in the south of Serbia, with prior approval of the Government of Yugoslavia and Serbia and withdrawal of all special police forces from that area.

The largest Albanian party in the South of Serbia thinks that the Kumanovo Agreement "ignores a sensitive problem of Albanians in Presevo,

Bujanovac and Medvedja, by imprecise definition of the demilitarised zone. In practice this allowed large scale militarisation of this region

because of which the Albanian population left for Kosovo in great numbers" claims PDD. President of this party points out that increased police forces can be observed in this area, which the Albanians interpret as state's intention to accuse them for these incidents.

"Large police forces will have the effect of psychological pressure on local Albanians. During the war, the presence of the Army and police was

justified, but the war has ended more than eight months ago", said Halimi.

While, the Albanians on the one hand, see internalisation as the way to ease this tense atmosphere in Bujanovac and Presevo, the Serbs on the other, are again silent and once again avoiding to resolve the problem by ignoring and maintaining tense situation. The problem of Kosovo best shows how disastrous this method is for the Serbian side.

Original article