News 11 Jan 13

Controversial Albanian Monument Dispute Hits Deadlock

Serbian and ethnic Albanian representatives have failed to cut a deal to remove a memorial to ethnic Albanian fighters in south Serbia.

Marija Ristic
BIRN
Belgrade

Internationally-mediated talks on Thursday ended without a deal on the future of the monument in the town of Presevo which Belgrade wants to be demolished, seeing it as a tribute to armed separatism.

The head of Belgrade's coordination body for Bujanovac, Presevo and Medvedja, Zoran Stankovic, and leaders of ethnic Albanians from south Serbia took part in the three-hour closed-door meeting alongside representatives of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the European Union and the United States and British embassies.

Riza Halimi, an ethnic Albanian member of the Serbian parliament, was the only who briefly spoke with the media after the meeting, saying that talks would continue without specifying when.

Asked whether an agreement had been reached, Halimi simply responded: “No. ”

The monument, dedicated to veterans of the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac, was erected in November last year in front of the municipal building in Presevo, which is home to 50,000 ethnic Albanians.

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

The fighters were 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 signed an amnesty law which removed the threat of prosecution from everyone who participated in the conflict.

Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic has called the monument an “open provocation” and warned several times that if the local authorities don't remove it by January 17, the state will demolish it.

“It is suggested that the monument be removed from Presevo as it doesn’t belong there, ” said Dacic.

He said that Serbian officials would talk to Albanian representatives “to seek an alternative place where the monument can be placed”.

Local ethnic Albanian leaders have said that they will meet on Saturday to make a decision about the monument’s destiny.

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