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Prime Minister says economic development of the south is a priority if the country does not want it to become 'an empty territory'.
Serbia's Prime Minister says that the relatively poor, ethnically divided southern border region can only develop and overcome its tensions with the help of large strategic projects.
“If we do not change our ways, we will have an empty territory, which would be disastrous for Serbia,” Ivica Dacic told a meeting between government and local officials and businessmen on Saturday.
Dacic said that there could be no strong Serbia if “its most patriotic part, the south”, remained under-developed.
“While we are here talking... other parts of Serbia have provinces, regions, offices in Brussels, and are using money from European funds... the rich are becoming even richer while the poor are getting even poorer,” Dacic complained.
The meeting came a week after members of a local body representing the area's ethnic Albanians adopted a declaration demanding an association of majority Albanian municipalities. Serbia has slapped down the idea.
The South Serbia area is home to 50,000 or so ethnic Albanians who live in areas contiguous to mainly Albanian Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008.
In 2001, the region saw an armed conflict between the security forces and Albanian rebels, which ended with the help of the international community and NATO.
There has been no return to armed conflict since, but discontent remains high, especially since the authorities in January removed a monument erected last November to the rebels in the Albanian stronghold of Presevo.
After Belgrade removed a memorial to ethnic Albanian fighters in Presevo, some locals called for political dialogue but others rejected cooperation with the government.
The South Serbia region, predominantly populated by ethnic Albanians, lies some 350 kilometres south of Serbia`s capital, Belgrade. In contemporary political language, the term “South Serbia” is understood to refer to the territory of three municipalities - Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja.
A snapshot of South Serbia's business and industry
Resources and institutions of South Serbia
Facts and figures on the population, ethnic composition and geography of South Serbia
Profiles of main political leaders in South Serbia
Profiles of main political parties in South Serbia
Snapshots of ordinary life in South Serbia show the people of Bujanovac and Presevo, and give a brief look at the symbols of the region.
If you meet someone who has a computer, a good car, a new house but no job, he just might be living in Presevo.