The situation in Preševo has remained serious this week, although the government has declared that it is prepared to negotiate with representatives of the Albanian community in the region. Prime Minister Zoran Đinđić said that the government has developed a strategy to deal with the situation and that representatives of the Belgrade authorities would talk with whoever the Albanian ethnic community in southern Serbia wanted.
The government's strategy was developed by Deputy Prime Minister Nebojša Čović, and is said to be aimed at moderate Albanians, offering them the opportunity to participate in government and administration while isolating extremists. The full text of the plan was printed in Politika and comprises three basic steps: integration of Albanians into the state's legal and social system, demilitarisation of the region and economic and social development.
Local Albanians seem to want their negotiating team made up of Liberation Army of Preševo, Medveđe and Bujanovac (UÇPMB) representatives and Albanian political parties in south Serbia. They also called for international mediation in the negotiations.
The Belgrade strategy has secured support from the US, according to Federal Minorities Minister Rasim Ljajić. James Pardew (special Balkans envoy) and William Montgomery (head of the US diplomatic mission to Belgrade) offered unqualified support for the programme primarily due to the restraint of force shown by Belgrade thus far. The praise came with a promise of USD five million for the economic development of the country.
Despite this apparent progress, attacks continued throughout the week, the participants each blaming the other for starting the violence. On Tuesday, JNA forces and US diplomats came under fire from Albanians in the village of Lucane while visiting a police checkpoint. The fire came from the Bujanovac hills and continued for much of the day.
On the same day, CRNA reported Kosovo Liberation Army (UÇK) mobilisation, saying that several hundred volunteers from east Kosovo and "armed Albanian groups" from Podujevo were transported to the demilitarised zone (GSZ). They also reported a UN police source as saying that around 1000 former UÇK members were on stand-by in the Mitrovica municipality waiting to join forces already in the GSZ to ensure the joining of the PMB region to Kosovo proper.
Javier Solana receives emotional welcome
Former NATO head, Javier Solana (now EU high representative for foreign policy) visited Belgrade this week as part of a delegation to meet Yugoslav President Vojislav Koštunica. Over 1000 angry protesters chanted slogans such as "child killer" and burnt an effigy of him dressed in black and white prison clothes in front of the Foreign Ministry.
On Thursday, Solana said that his trip to Belgrade was a "moving one" to a country he loved. He was speaking to a press conference after the EU delegation met President Koštunica. Topics discussed at the talks ranged from the south Serbian situation and relations with Montenegro to the need to strengthen ties with the EU.
Sokolović found dead
Zoran Sokolović, former federal interior minister was found dead in his car near the town of Knjazevac. Sokolović, the last interior minister in the Milošević regime was noted for his close relationship with the former premier. He became Serbian interior minister in 1991 and federal interior minister in 1997. Anonymous police sources said the post-mortem indicated he had committed suicide in the car with a firearm. No foul play is suspected.
A memorial service was held for him, led by Milošević and attended by other notable Socialists, including Serbian President Milan Milutinović, Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) General Secretary Zoran Anđelković and former prime minister Mirko Marjanović.
Visits, memberships and bilateral relations
- Yugoslavia began the process of gaining entry to the World Trade Organisation on Thursday by being granted observer status at its general council session today. A senior government official said that Yugoslavia was aiming to join by the end of 2002 or the beginning of 2003 at the latest.
- Bodo Hombach, the Stability Pact co-ordinator met the Serbian interior minister this week to discuss the regional fight against organised crime. Bodo Hombach told Dusan Mihajlović that Serbia could play a crucial role in tackling gangs and cutting off illegal immigration routes.
- Foreign Minister Svilanović met German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer on Wednesday and stressed that Germany must play a crucial role in supplying the aid needed to get the Serbian economy back on its feet. The German foreign minister stressed Germany's interest in smoothing Yugoslavia's integration into Europe and his optimism that ongoing disputes would finally be resolved by the new Belgrade administration.
- Serbian leader Oliver Ivanović from Mitrovica, described by KFOR chief Carlo Cabigiosu as "not representing anybody," visited Belgrade on Tuesday to muster support. He told Radio B92 that he "already has support from the office of Federal President Vojislav Koštunica, whose senior aides believe that only Serbs, not KFOR, had the right to appoint Serbian leaders in Kosovo."
- The Federal government announced on Thursday that it will open a permanent Yugoslav mission to the OSCE in Vienna.
And in other news...
- A car bomb destroyed a jeep belonging to DOS official Čedomir Jovanović on Tuesday morning. Zoran Đinđić told media that the attack was a response to the government's high profile anti-corruption and anti-crime agenda, and followed a number of telephone and personal threats to government officials. However, on Wednesday, Blic quoted unofficial sources as saying that preliminary investigation results indicate that the explosion was due to a malfunction in the car's electrical system.
- During the visit of Foreign Minister Goran Svilanović to Tokyo, the Japanese government announced that it will send a mission to monitor the need for economic assistance to Yugoslavia within the next six months. The aid will be conditional upon Yugoslavia's continued progress towards democracy, respect for human rights and co-operation with international organisations.
- The Federal Chamber of Commerce announced this week that import taxes in Yugoslavia are up to three times lower than those for the same products in the European Union. They went on to call for the Yugoslav government to better protect its economy by raising import taxes.
Eleanor Pritchard, 9 February 2001
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