news 15 Jan 13

Kosovo and Serbia Militias Threaten Violence

Shadowy armed groups from Kosovo and Serbia have warned they are ready to fight over a controversial monument to Albanian guerrilla fighters.

Bojana Barlovac, Marija Ristic,Edona Peci
Belgrade, Pristina

Tensions have escalated further over the memorial to ethnic Albanian fighters in the southern Serbian town of Presevo which the Belgrade authorities want to demolish but whose supporters have vowed to defend.

Two separate groups – one from Kosovo, one from Serbia – have threatened to take up arms over the dispute.

The Albanian National Army, ANA, which is blacklisted as a terrorist organisation in the US, said it had started mobilising members against what it sees as Serb threats to take part of Kosovo’s territory and forcibly remove the memorial.

"We will most definitely enter a war with Serbia. It still refuses to see that Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac are Albanian land and that no one should touch them," Colonel Kacak, an ANA commander, said in a video communique issued on Monday after the shadowy group met in the Kosovo town of Vushtrri on January 9.

The ANA seeks the unification of Kosovo, Albania and the southernmost tip of Serbia.
Its statement came after Serbian deputy prime minister Aleksandar Vucic repeated on Sunday that the Belgrade authorities will remove the memorial.

Dedicated to veterans of the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac, the monument was erected last November in the town, which is home to some 50,000 ethnic Albanians.

The ANA's statement was also a reaction to Serbia’s parliament adopting a resolution on Kosovo that demands a high-level of territorial and political autonomy for Serb municipalities there. 

Uniformed ANA members have been seen periodically in Kosovo since the conflict ended in 1999, and have been filmed patrolling with weapons. The group claimed responsibility for several bombing incidents in Kosovo since 1999.

Kosovo politicians have in the past dismissed the ANA as a “phantom” organisation, and one lawmaker said the new video was not credible.

“Making public threats in the media - this is not [a genuine representation of] Albanians,” Rexhep Selimi, an MP from the Self Determination Movement, told journalists.

Meanwhile, people claiming to be former members of Serbia’s much-feared former Special Operations Unit have said that they will take down the monument and are ready to fight against ethnic Albanians.

“We are calling on patriotic organisations, political parties and individuals to join us in any form of fight, including an armed one, against Albanians,” said a statement published on the unit’s website.

The unit, part of the state security service, was formed in the 1990s on the order of former leader Slobodan Milosevic.

It was run by state security chief Jovica Stanisic and headed by Franko Simatovic, who have both been indicted by the Hague Tribunal for murders, persecution on political, racial and religious grounds and inhumane acts during the conflicts in Bosnia and Croatia from 1991 to 1995.

The unit carried out secret operations for the state during the conflicts and was allegedly responsible for mass killings in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo.

It was dissolved in 2003 when a number of its members were either arrested or killed in mysterious circumstances, although some of them are still working for the state, either in the Special Police Unit or in the foreign and interior ministries.

Responding to the unit's statement, Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic said that the threats were "rubbish" and could not be taken seriously.

“How can it happen that a dissolved unit issues a statement?” asked Dacic.

“This a reaction to Albanian threats received via YouTube. It is better for [the unit's former members] to remain in retirement," Dacic added.

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