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Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic says if local authorities in south Serbia don't remove a memorial dedicated to ethnic Albanian fighters, the state will do so "by force".
Dacic ordered the authorities in the mainly Albanian towns of Bujanovac and Presevo in South Serbia to remove a monument dedicated to ethnic Albanian fighters.
"If this does not take place, the state will do it by force," Dacic said in Banja Luka on Wednesday.
The monument, dedicated to veterans of the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac, was erected in November in front of the town hall in Presevo, south Serbia, which is home to 50,000 or so ethnic Albanians.
The ethnic Albanian guerrilla force launched a brief armed struggle with Serbian security forces in 2000. The conflict ended with the help of international mediation.
They agreed to disarm in 2001 following an internationally brokered peace deal, after which the Serbian military re-entered the demilitarized area near the border with Kosovo with the approval of NATO.
When the monument was erected, Ragimi Mustafa, president of the municipality of Presevo, said the history of every nation deserved respected, including the history of the ethnic Albanians in that area.
In response, the Serbian government filed criminal charges against representatives of the Presevo municipality, saying the monument was not erected in accordance with due procedures.
According to Dacic, the international community had been informed about the memorial and about how its construction was "an open provocation, designed to show that Serbia does not control part of its territory".
On December 26, on the website Preseva jone, some former ethnic Albanian fighters threatened armed rebellion if the monument in Presevo is removed.
They would "put on their boots and uniforms once again and take up arms," they said.
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.