The Presevo Valley next to the Kosovo province in southern Serbia is the scene of increasingly violent clashes between ethnic Albanian extremists and Serb security forces.
(AIK – Presheva Jone)
The delegation from Belgrade came armed with a detailed plan — 63 pages and a PowerPoint demonstration complete with maps and graphics — they believe will end the spiral of violence in southern Serbia.
The Presevo Valley next to the Kosovo province in southern Serbia is the scene of increasingly violent clashes between ethnic Albanian extremists and Serb security forces. An estimated 1,600 armed guerillas from the self-styled Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac (UCPMB) are operating inside a five kilometre wide ground safety zone (GSZ) dividing Kosovo, which is patrolled by NATO-led forces, and Serbia’s Presevo Valley.
The buffer zone is off limits to both NATO and Serb security forces, but is being used by the UCPMB as cover to attack Serb military and police located on the Presevo side. The Serb plan calls for a reduction and eventual elimination of the GSZ, claiming its original purpose — to separate NATO and Serb security forces — is no longer necessary now there is a new reformist government in Belgrade.
NATO officials believe it is too early to shrink the zone, although NATO secretary general George Robertson said the alliance was prepared to consider changes. “NATO is prepared to consider such changes if it will not create a vacuum or lead to new fighting, and is part of a settlement to the problems in the region,” said Robertson, adding: “Premature changes, however, carry the risk of only making matters worse.”
One of the proposals put forward by the Serbs to demilitarise at least part of the conflict zone within 120 days is deemed over-optimistic by NATO. Robertson said: “The problems caused over 40 years cannot be solved in four months.” He described the proposals as “complex” and went on to say they would require a “great deal of study.”
But Robertson pledged that NATO “will continue with its efforts to cut off the supply of people and arms into the ground safety zone.”
The meeting at NATO headquarters on Thursday was restricted to the secretary general and NATO nation ambassadors. The Belgrade delegation was led by the peace plan’s architect, Serbia’s deputy prime minister Nebojsa Covic. A senior NATO official said the ambassadors were also encouraged by the presence of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia’s foreign minister Goran Svilanovic.
“It was reassuring to see there is no daylight between the presidencies of Serbia and the FRY,” commented the official