The removal of the memorial for fighters of the Liberation Army for Presevo, Medvedjo and Bujanovac has prompted calls to the international community to prevent discrimination.
By Muhamet Brajshori and Biljana Pekusic for Southeast European Times in Pristina and Belgrade -- 22/01/13
Ethnic Albanians protest in Presevo on Monday (January 21st), a day after Serbian authorities removed a monument erected in the ethnic Albanian stronghold town of Presevo. [AFP]
Kosovo has increased police presence in the country's north and around cultural sites after a protest took place Monday (January 21st) against the removal of a monument in Presevo honouring Albanian rebels.
The monument, which was erected by local Albanians to honour Liberation Army for Presevo, Medvedjo and Bujanovac fighters, has been a growing source of tension in the area.
Citizens gathered in Presevo -- which serves as the cultural centre for Albanians in south Serbia -- and protested the removal of the tribute. Rallies were also reported in several Kosovo towns.
Several incidents, including the looting of graveyards in Klokot and the demolishing of a memorial in Vitia to heroes of National Liberation Movement of World War II, were reported in Kosovo.
Albania Prime Minister Sali Berisha said Monday that Albania will review its relations with Serbia and will take all necessary steps to protect its citizens through international instruments.
"I urge the international community not to use the double standard, one for Serbs in northern Mitrovica and one for Presevo Albanians; not to divide while one party tries to implement laws and other side to turn the territory into an island of regional smuggling support by Belgrade," Berisha said.
Serbia Prime Minister Ivica Dacic said that the removal of the monument in Presevo did not violate the human rights of the citizens in Presevo.
"We are firmly determined that no one would be hurt … but the law must be respected, and the monument was built illegally," Dacic said.
Presevo Mayor Ragmi Mustafa called upon the international community to be more proactive in preventing further discrimination of the Albanians in Presevo Valley.
"I appeal to the Albanians in the Presevo Valley, Kosovo and the region, for the preservation of peace, moderation and unity to overcome this grave situation created by the interference of Belgrade," Mustafa said.
Ramadan Ilazi, executive director of Kosovo Peace Institute, told SETimes that the situation in Presevo could seriously affect ethnic relations in Kosovo.
"Equating the Albanian resistance with terrorist groups is inappropriate and seriously harms the confidence of Albanians in the Serbian government," Ilazi said. Ilazi said it is crucial that all actors respect the local leadership in Presevo and engage with them in a constructive dialogue to address the situation.
"The international community should not consider the disputes in Presevo Valley as [just] Serbia's internal matter, because in this way they are ignoring legitimate grievances of people living there and consequently narrowing their choices for peaceful confrontation with the current situation," Ilazi said.
"Albanians from that part of Serbia should talk to representatives of the Serbian state, because the escalation of issues [is not in anyone's favour]," Oliver Ivanovic, former state secretary of the Serbian Ministry for Kosovo and Metohija, told SETimes.