News 26 Jan 13

Thousands Rally in Kosovo Over Serbia Monument Removal

Demonstrators staged a mass rally in Pristina after Belgrade took down a memorial to ethnic Albanian guerrillas in the south Serbian town of Presevo.

Edona Peci
Photo by Edona Peci

The protesters marched through the streets of Kosovo’s capital on Saturday chanting “Justice for Presevo, no negotiations with Serbia” and other slogans in support of ethnic Albanians in the south Serbian town where the monument was forcibly removed last Sunday.

Pristina’s main streets were blocked for around two hours as the marchers made their way to the Kosovo government headquarters at Mother Theresa Square.

Police had stepped up security measures for the rally which was organised by the opposition Self-Determination Movement.

The movement’s leader Albin Kurti said that “Kosovo’s government has to stop negotiations with Serbia”.

He accused Kosovo’s Prime Minister Hashim Thaci of “shameless behaviour” over the Presevo dispute and not properly backing ethnic Albanians in south Serbia.

Photo by Edona Peci

Despite tensions sparked by the monument dispute, the authorities in Pristina have said they will continue EU-mediated dialogue with Belgrade.

“This protest is against the coalition between Thaci and [Serbian Prime Minister Ivica] Dacic. This protest is in support of the Albanians in Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovc, because we are one,” Kurti said.

Kurti was referring to a statement Thaci made to local media on Thursday in which he criticised Presevo Albanians for not defending the monument when Belgrade sent around 200 masked police clad in riot gear into Presevo last Sunday morning and removed it with a bulldozer.

"The memorial should have been protected peacefully 24 hours per day by organised citizens until an acceptable agreement was been in place," Thaci had suggested.

The memorial to fighters from the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac was initially installed outside Presevo town hall in November.

Photo by Edona Peci

The emergence of the ethnic Albanian guerrilla force, which was seeking to unite this southern part of Serbia with Kosovo in the late 1990s, resulted in armed conflict between Serbs and ethnic Albanians in 2000.

Its fighters were disarmed in 2001 following an internationally-brokered peace deal.

The Belgrade authorities said the monument promoted ethnic separatism and had to go, but the Kosovo government condemned the move as “further proof that hatred towards Albanians in the Presevo valley is still alive”.

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