PRESEVO: Serbian police on Sunday removed a monument to Albanian rebels in a mainly ethnic Albanian southern city of Serbia, a step that risked raising tensions in the area.
The government said in a statement that “the illegally erected monument to former fighters of the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac (LAPMB) was removed” early Sunday in Presevo.
Some 200 police officers carried out the operation in Presevo, some 400km south of Belgrade, according to a photographer.
Members of the LAPMB fought Serbian government forces in 2001 as they sought to have the region, which has an Albanian majority population, break free from Serbia and join adjacent Kosovo, which was under UN administration at the time.
The head of the local umbrella Albanian organisation condemned the monument’s removal.
Galip Beqiri, chief of Albanian National Council in Presevo, said that it was “an unacceptable act of vandalism.”
“We will meet today to review the situation and the first idea is to launch protests.”
Belgrade had condemned the erection of the monument two months ago in front of the city hall building in downtown Presevo, saying it was unacceptable that a monument to an organisation considered as terrorist by Serbian authorities be put in a public place.
The two-metre rectangular monument made of stone has the LAMPB insignia and the names of guerillas who died in the conflict inscribed on it.
A government’s deadline to local authorities to remove the monument expired on Thursday at 2300 GMT.
“We showed enough patience. Our clear and strong message is that the law should be respected and that no one is stronger than the state,” Prime Minister Ivica Dacic said, quoted by national RTS television. In January, several rounds of talks between the government and Presevo authorities were held over the issue, but they failed due to the rejection of city hall.
Belgrade was notably proposing that the monument be relocated to a suburb.
Ethnic Albanian insurgents were disarmed after the conflict in accordance with an internationally-brokered peace agreement.
Kosovo declared independence in 2008 with the support of the United States and a majority of European Union members.
Serbia rejected the move and still considers the territory its southern province.