Southern Serbia's Fragile Peace
9 Dec 2003
Recent violence in the Albanian-majority Presevo Valley in southern Serbia suggests the delicate peace there could still unravel at any time.
The International Crisis Group’s latest report, “Southern Serbia’s Fragile Peace”,* assesses the security and political situation in the Presevo Valley, including continuing destabilising factors, and concludes that serious tensions linger, requiring the attention of the local authorities, Belgrade and Pristina, as well as the international community.
“There is a general sense among local Albanians that peace has not delivered what it promised: prosperity and an end to tensions with Serb security forces”, says Nicholas Whyte, ICG’s Europe Program Director. “Recurring violent incidents, though small and without popular support, make clear that peace is far from being deep-rooted”.
The Presevo Valley is generally thought of as one of the few conflict resolution success stories in the former Yugoslavia. In 2001 the international community – NATO, the U.S. and the OSCE in particular – working in close cooperation with Belgrade authorities, successfully negotiated an end to an armed Albanian uprising there.
Sporadic incidents, however, continued. In August 2003, there were eight separate attacks, many against the army and moderate Albanians. The following month, Albanian guerrillas a short distance away in neighbouring northern Macedonia – some of whom may have crossed over from Presevo – fought two separate actions against Macedonian security forces, while yet another attack was launched against the army inside southern Serbia.
On the one hand, the significance of these attacks should not be exaggerated, as they too often are in Belgrade. They seem to have been carried out by very few people, not all necessarily even Albanians, with very little if any popular support among southern Serbia’s Albanian population.
On the other hand, they do serve as a signal of underlying discontent. Albanians in the area are deeply unhappy at extremely high levels of unemployment and lack of economic prospects. Serbia’s stalled reform process is preventing much-needed political and economic change, and reforms aimed at increasing Albanian participation in state institutions have had mixed success.
Furthermore, the start of talks between Belgrade and Pristina naturally affects the Presevo Valley, with extremists on both sides making maximum demands: Serbs for a partition of Kosovo, and Albanians for “compensation” in the Presevo Valley. Local politics have subsequently become more nationalistic, with less room for manoeuvre by moderates.
“The incomplete peace in southern Serbia is further weakened by the continuing uncertainty over Kosovo’s final status”, says James Lyon, Serbia Project Director at ICG. “The international community will need to remain engaged, pressing both Belgrade and Albanian politicians to fulfil their agreements, while focusing more attention on economic development”.