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Peace in Presevo: Quick Fix or Long Term Solution?

 PDF version of Peace in Presevo: Quick Fix or Long Term Solution? Click here to view the full report as a PDF file in A4 format.
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The past decade in the Western Balkans has seen very few peacefully negotiated transfers of territorial control. The most recent example � albeit one not involving any change of sovereignty - was also the only one achieved by NATO�s direct mediation. In May 2001, the Presevo Valley was brought back under Serbian government control, ending an ethnic Albanian insurgency that had lasted some seventeen months.

This report traces the political process that achieved this transfer of authority over 1,200 square kilometres of territory, focusing on two issues. First, it considers the reforms that are still needed to achieve lasting peace in the Presevo area. Second, it considers the hopeful claim from some quarters that this transfer of authority, based on unprecedented cooperation between NATO and the new regime in Belgrade, may offer a model for tackling other disputes in the wider neighbourhood.

Ethnic Albanian rebels calling themselves the �Liberation Army of Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja� (UCPMB in Albanian) exploited a five kilometre-wide demilitarised strip along the Kosovo border inside Serbia � the Ground Safety Zone (GSZ), established in June 1999 to prevent accidental clashes between NATO forces and the Yugoslav Army. Operating from the GSZ, the UCPMB attacked police and other state targets with virtual impunity.

After the fall of Slobodan Milosevic in October 2000, the new government in Belgrade prepared a plan to reintegrate ethnic Albanians into state structures, along with guarantees to demilitarise the region, create a multiethnic police force, and fully respect minority rights.

Persuaded the reintegration plan was viable and keen to break links between ethnic Albanian forces in southern Serbia and northern Macedonia, where violence was building up dangerously, NATO dashed rebel hopes by taking Belgrade�s side. The alliance negotiated a phased reoccupation of the GSZ by FRY forces that occurred between 14 March and 31 May 2001. Contrary to many expectations, the reoccupation went smoothly. However, an estimated 2,000 former fighters remain in the area, along with substantial arms caches.

On the evening of August 3, the most destabilising event since the FRY reoccupation of the GSZ occurred when an unidentified gunmen shot and killed two Serbian policemen and wounded two others. The killings were part of a wider upsurge of incidents that appear to be coordinated and intended to derail the nascent peace process.

The circumstances of peacemaking in Presevo were unique and cannot be emulated elsewhere. Recent events, moreover, illustrate that declarations of victory by Western observers remain premature. The insurgency in southern Serbia reflected real and deeply rooted problems, both local and regional. Conditions for reconciliation are in place, but the process itself has hardly begun. The longer term prospects for peaceful reintegration now depend on effective follow through by the Serbian authorities assisted by ethnic Albanian leaders and the international community.



1. All parties involved � the governments of Serbia and the FRY, local ethnic Albanians and the international community � should realise that the impressive achievements in southern Serbia are merely the beginning of a long process of reconciliation and integration which will not succeed without sustained commitment.

2. International organizations � the EUMM, OSCE, UN � and individual embassies should maintain their current level of personnel stationed in and visiting southern Serbia.

3. Recognising that this process is fraught with political risks for its champions, the international community should adapt policies to local conditions to ensure that they reinforce the positions of moderates in both ethnic communities in southern Serbia.

POLICE 4. The Serbian government should, in cooperation with the OSCE, complete the training and deployment of the newly created multiethnic police force by August 2002.

5. As the multiethnic force is deployed, MUP [Ministerstvo Unutrasnjih Poslova or Interior Ministry] police should be progressively withdrawn from Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja, leaving no MUP stationed in the region after August 2002.

6. The MUP should introduce to the new multiethnic police force the blue and white uniform that is already standard for civilian police elsewhere in Serbia and forbid officers from wearing the purple camouflage uniforms hitherto standard in the Presevo Valley.


7. The United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) should quickly create a system of certification of diplomas from the unofficial ethnic Albanian educational system that operated in Kosovo from 1991 to 1999 so that ethnic Albanians will be qualified to work in the state sector and on state-facilitated infrastructure projects in southern Serbia.

8. The international community should continue to target school construction and other education support as a top development priority in southern Serbia.


9. A substantial portion of international development aid for the FRY should be earmarked for southern Serbia.

10. Disbursement of funds for essential infrastructure projects � electricity, water, roads � should be accelerated to provide concrete examples of progress.

11. International donors should insist that on infrastructure projects they fund at least half the labour force is composed of ethnic Albanians.


12. The international community should support legislation currently being drafted in the Serbian parliament regarding minority protection and decentralization.

13. The Serbian government should carry out a census in southern Serbia, with international assistance, as quickly as possible, ideally as part of the republic-wide census that is intended by the end of the year, but if necessary separately for southern Serbia.

14. A commission of officials from the Coordinating Body for Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja plus local representatives should draw new electoral districts to redress Milosevic�s gerrymandering.

15. After the census and redistricting, the government should hold new elections for municipal assemblies, and these results should supersede the results of the municipal elections of December 2000.

16. To advance the Serbian government�s stated goal of integrating ethnic Albanians into all aspects of the state, the three municipalities should be unified into a special electoral district to enable election of ethnic Albanians to parliament.

Pristina/Belgrade/Brussels, 10 August 2001

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