Belgrade has warned ethnic Albanians against involving Tirana in a dispute over a controversial memorial to guerrilla fighters that the Serbian authorities want removed.
Aleksandar Vucic during his visit to south Serbia
Photo by Beta
“South Serbia Albanians have sought to internationalise the problem; however, their rights here are not endangered,” Serbia's deputy prime minister Aleksandar Vucic said on Sunday after local ethnic Albanian leaders called for Tirana’s help.
Vucic added that “the government will take all necessary steps to resolve the issue of the monument” in Presevo, which the Serbian authorities have vowed to demolish.
The monument, dedicated to veterans of the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac, was erected last November in front of the town hall in Presevo, which is home to some 50,000 ethnic Albanians.
The emergence of the ethnic Albanian guerrilla force, which sought to unite this part of Serbia with Kosovo in the late 1990s, resulted in an armed conflict in 2000.
The fighters disarmed in 2001 following an internationally-brokered peace deal, after which the Yugoslav Army, with NATO’s approval, re-entered the demilitarised area near the border with Kosovo.
After the conflict ended, the authorities in Serbia signed an amnesty law that removed the threat of prosecution from all those who participated in the conflict.
On Saturday, ethnic Albanian leaders in south Serbia rejected a government request to remove the monument themselves and condemned official threats to remove it by force.
“If they violently remove the monument, I will resign as president of the municipality of Presevo. There is no sense in cooperating with a government that is destroying the identity of Albanians in the Presevo Valley,” said one of them, Ragmi Mustafa.
The US embassy in Serbia, which has been involved in meetings efforts aimed at resolving the issue, said the dispute should be resolved internally.
“The US believes the issue of the memorial should stay an internal matter of Serbia's, which needs to be resolved by their legal representatives,” the US embassy's spokesperson, Steven Stark, told Tanjug news agency.
Ethnic Albanian leaders have also asked the governments of Serbia and Kosovo to put the issue on the agenda of the upcoming EU-led Belgrade-Pristina talks in Brussels.
Kosovo’s Prime Minister Hashim Thaci and his Serbian counterpart, Ivica Dacic, are to meet again in Brussels on January 17 within the framework of the EU-mediated dialogue on normalisation of relations.