Preševo peace agreement on the horizon?
Sporadic violence continued in the Preševo valley throughout the week. Three Serbian policemen were killed on Sunday when their car ran over two anti-tank mines near the village of Lucane in Southern Serbia on their way to deliver supplies to Bujanovac. Regional TV showed footage of the car that was completely destroyed and scattered over an area some 200 metres in diameter.
Later that day, police examining the vehicle came under attack from mortar and anti-infantry fire. Police fired in response, and Bujanovac press centre reported that Albanians might have sustained casualties. Attacks on Serbian police at St Ilija, six kilometres from the Southern Serbian city of Vranje, also continued on Sunday.
Preparations for negotiations have also continued. In response to the Albanian suggestion, the Macedonian government agreed (both sides consenting) to allow peace talks to be staged in Skopje. On Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister Nebojša Čović (co-ordinator of the body for resolving the crisis) spoke at a press conference in Bujanovac, inviting the Albanian national community to attend immediate dialogue on the issue.
He went on to confirm that security forces would remain in position until the completion of talks to guarantee their withdrawal on the disbanding and disarmament of UÇPMB. Čović proposed either the Bujanovac or Preševo municipal assembly as venues. The immediate reaction of Preševo Mayor Riza Halimi to the Serbian call for dialogue was that agreement could not be realised without the participation of UÇPMB representatives.
Discussions have also continued over international intervention and, in particular, the Ground Safety Zone (GSZ). On Sunday, Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanović wrote to NATO Secretary General George Robertson reminding him of KFOR's responsibilities in accordance with Security Council Resolution 1244. He has reiterated that unless KFOR and NATO undertake measures to counter the crisis in Southern Serbia, the Federal government would be forced to assume responsibility and solve the problem.
He stressed the origin of the weapons and equipment used by the Albanians was Kosovo demanding a total closure of the border between the region and Kosovo. He also proposed the abolition of the GSZ as a deterrent to the rebels.
On Monday, Vojislav Koštunica criticised KFOR and UNMIK for failing to carry out their duties in accordance with Resolution 1244. He also condemned the recent upsurge in violence as an attempt to derail the nascent peace process.
Secretary General George Robertson responded to Svilanović's letter on Tuesday, expressing a willingness to consider changes to the GSZ (nb not its removal). His letter repeated strong condemnation of the recent violence in the region. At talks later in the week, Čović announced that Serbia and NATO had agreed on a joint approach to the GSZ but would not clarify further what this entailed.
However, there have also been several less positive indicators noted this week. British Major David Wilson announced the existence of an Albanian Military training camp in the village of Shefa, several hundred metres from the Serbian border. The Yugoslav Army confirmed a further two training camps were located in the Podujevo region, near the border of the GSZ.
Several interesting stories have unfolded this week relating to the investigation by the new administration of financial crimes. Firstly, the prosecution of individuals and public companies who gave "favours" in the form of free work to Marko Milošević, the former president's son. Charges were also filed against Požarevac municipal assembly for giving Marko the land on which to build his notorious theme park "Bambi Park."
Moving on to his father, a commission was created last Friday dedicated to investigating economic and financial abuses committed under his leadership. It will also investigate all contracts for lease or purchase of state-held business and residential premises and privatisations between 25 December 1989 and 14 February 2001, Tanjug news agency said. The commission will pay special attention to financial crimes committed between 1992 and 1993, when Yugoslavia was crippled by hyper-inflation that reached 60 per cent per day.
Finally, a renowned white-collar criminal was arrested on his return to Serbia this week after he fled in 1993. Jezdimir Vasiljević was the owner of "Jugoskandik," a bankrupt pyramid savings scheme, and was sought by those who had lost savings in the collapse. A court has already recommended that he remain in custody for one month, but this has yet to be confirmed.
Industrial action in several sectors
Postal and telecommunications workers announced an indefinite strike from Monday in towns across Serbia. The unions demand the payment of unpaid salaries and that appointment to the executive board is made a matter of urgency. Despite the strike, many post offices will continue to work as normal as the Nezavisnost union is refusing to go on strike.
The unions are on strike over agreements signed that should have increased wages by 73 per cent. The former general director of Telekom Srbije, who, it appears, was not authorized to negotiate with the unions, signed these agreements.
On Monday, workers left three Serbian mines they had holed themselves up in for four days in disputes over pay. The sit-in was abandoned after talks with Čačak mayor Velimir Ilić. Some 700 miners were demanding their wages from the second half of December onwards. Ilić promised them a one-off payment totalling YUN (Yugoslav dinar) 1,150,000 (about USD 99,000).
Where is Ratko Mladić?
Serbian police minister Dušan Mihajlovć revealed former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladić may have fled Serbia to escape possible extradition to the Hague Tribunal this week, after Hague Tribunal chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte called for the extradition of indicted foreign citizens living in Yugoslavia as a sign of good faith. Mihajlović said that reports indicate Mladić is no longer at his Belgrade address, nor even in Serbia.
Despite this, there was a reported sighting of Mladić at the Topčider cemetery in Belgrade last Saturday.
And in other news...
- Sunday 18 February was declared a day of mourning by the federal government in the wake of the deaths of civilians on the road to Podujevo on Friday.
- An earthquake measuring 4.6 on the Richter scale shook parts of Serbia, including Belgrade on Wednesday.
- 1000 Kosovo Serb refugees in Kraljevo rallied on Sunday, calling for the general mobilization of all able Serbs from Kosovo. One speaker called for the Yugoslav army and police to be sent into Kosovo immediately to restore territorial integrity.
- The motorcade of Serbian Interior Minister Dušan Mihajlović was fired on in central Belgrade. It appears that a gunman who had intended to attack the car in front of the motorcade, although several DOS parties have cited it as an assassination attempt, fired upon the car in error. All involved in the incident have been identified and no one was injured.
- Federal Interior Minister Zoran Živković pledged to confirm within the next 15 days the fate of the 1027 persons kidnapped and missing within Kosovo since KFORs arrival.
- Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Đinđić travelled to Moscow this week for a two-day official visit. Đinđić met his Russian counterpart, Mihail Kasyanov, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Duma President Gennadiy Seleznyov. They were scheduled to discuss Russian energy deliveries, bilateral economic co-operation and the current situation in Southern Serbia.
- Otpor, the resistance movement so instrumental in the downfall of Slobodan Milošević, is undergoing a crisis of direction. A meeting was held in Belgrade on Saturday to voice this concern and to distance those who were present from the conclusions of the movement's second congress earlier this month.
- The 115th derby between the eternal rivals Red Star and Partizan will take place on 7 March, following discussions between club representatives and Prime Minister Đinđić. The talks are in the wake of the 114th derby in October 2000, which descended into violence after two minutes.
Eleanor Pritchard, 24 February 2001
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