More than 200 heavily armed and masked Serbian police took down a memorial to ethnic Albanian guerrillas in Serbia’s south overnight yesterday, trying to end a row that has highlighted still-simmering tension in the region.
Security forces deployed armoured personnel carriers to cordon off the main square in the southern, mainly Albanian, town of Presevo, and hauled away the memorial bearing the names of 27 guerrillas who died during an insurgency in the region in 2001.
The scale of the operation, which followed weeks of threats and counter-threats between Serbian government officials and local ethnic Albanians, highlighted how fragile the situation remains in the south, which borders Serbia’s former Kosovo province.
The government of Kosovo condemned the removal of the memorial, saying it “undermines the dialogue process to normalise relations between Kosovo and Serbia”.
Majority Albanian Kosovo declared independence in 2008 almost a decade after Nato air strikes wrested control of the territory from Belgrade to end a brutal Serbian counter-insurgency war.
The 2000-01 insurgency in the southern Serbian regions of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac was widely seen as a spillover of the Kosovo conflict, as ethnic Albanians in Serbia’s south pressed to join the newly free Kosovo.
“Serbia has shown enough patience, but it has also sent a clear and strong message that the law must be respected and that no- one is stronger than the state,” the Serbian prime minister Ivica Dacic said in comments that were carried by the state news agency Tanjug.