Belgrade, Dec. 18, 2000
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My very good friends Samuel and his girlfriend Nada. This is Belgrade as seen from the Kalemegdan park. You see the river Sava that will merge into the Donau river a couple of hundred meters downstream. Across the Sava, you see New Belgrade, a completely new city built by Yugoslavia's former dictator Josip Broz Tito for 400,000 people.
Today I was talked to the Norwegian prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg and the Yugoslav president Vojislav Kostunica. For those of you who read Norwegian, you can read the article here. Stoltenberg came to Belgrade to have a meeting with Kostunica. Now the international community wants Yugoslavia to extradite former president Slobodan Milosevic to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in the Hague.
However, Kostunica thinks Yugoslavia has many other problems. One of the problems he think is more important than the sending Milosevic to the ICTY is the violence in the Presevo Valley. This is an area close to Kosovo where the Yugoslav army are not allowed to have heavy weapons closer than five kilometers close to the provincial border of Kosovo. Recently, Albanian extremists have taken advantage of this moving heavy weapons like howitzers, mortars and anti-tank rockets into the demilitarized Ground Safety Zone (GSZ). You can read more about the GSZ here.
The self-proclaimed Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac or UCPMB by its Albanian acronym, fights for independence from Serbia, and they want the region to be a part of Kosovo. Since the Serbs are not allowed to have any heavy weapons in the GSZ, they are victims of attacks from the UCPMB. However, I think Kostunica have played it very brilliantly. If the UCPMB had challenged a man like Milosevic, they would experience the wrath of the entire Yugoslav army. What happened in Kosovo was that the Serbs used a canon to kill a mosquito. I think the same would happen in the Presevo Valley if Milosevic had been in power.
But what Kostunica does today is very smart. He does not move heavy weapons into the GSZ, and now he's winning public opinion for the Serbs. I have read reports that the UCPMB plans a major offensive agains the Serb police forces, and today I asked Kostunica if he was able to do anything about this challenge. What he did was to give the responsibility to KFOR for not being able to stop the rebels from entering Serbia proper from Kosovo.
"According to the Military Technical Agreement (MTA), we are only allowed to have local police and light weapons. That is a very serious problem. The agreement should be supplemented. We are thinking about that, but of course this doesn't depend on us; it depends on the representatives of KFOR and the International Community," Kostunica told me.
Tomorrow, I'm heading into the Presevo Valley myself. I find it quite exiting, and I have to be careful. I hope to talk to Serb police officers and guerilla fighters from the UCPMB. Should be pretty interesting. I have also read reports of a Dutch mercenary working for the UCPMB, and I hope to meet him and find out why he fights for the UCPMB.
If you like to know how my visit to the Presevo Valley went, you can drop me a note, and I'll give you a reply. Or you can drop me a note, just to say hi, and I'll get back to you. And as ever before, if you do not like to receive periodic updates from me, please drop me a line, and I'll take you off my list.
Hope to see you all again soon.
Kristian Kahrs, freelance journalist, Kosovo
Phone: +381 63 81 98 939 (Bad network)
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