Controversial Preševo memorial "Serbia's internal issue"

BELGRADE -- French Ambassador to Serbia Francois Xavier Deniau says a memorial to the members of the OVPMB (UCPMB) is "entirely an internal issue of Serbia".

Francois Xavier Deniau (Tanjug, file)
Francois Xavier Deniau (Tanjug, file)

The group, an offshoot of the KLA in Kosovo, launched terrorist attacks against security forces and civilians in 2000 and 2001 in the area along the administrative line with Kosovo.

Serbian PM Ivica Dačić stated on several occasions that the state would not tolerate the presence of the memorial in the town of Preševo, and set January 17 as the deadline for it to be removed by ethnic Albanians themselves. Failing this, he announced that the Serbian authorities would dismantle the structure.

Now the French envoy told Belgrade-based daily Politika that "in addition to the question whether the monument is legal, its presence is unnecessary and inappropriate and brings back old tensions which now belong to the past."

"What is important today is to turn to the future and better integration of the people of the Preševo valley into their country, Serbia. We welcome the renewed activities of mutual coordination and cooperation between the state government and local actors through the Coordination Body formed with this in mind," said Deniau.

Asked whether he had any contact with representatives of Albanians in southern Serbia or with Belgrade officials, and what he thought of Belgrade's plan to take down the monument if the local authorities do not remove it themselves, Deniau said he had not been in touch with either side in connection with this issue.

"This is an entirely internal issue of Serbia, which should be resolved through dialogue, in accordance with Serbian law and inside its institutions," said Deniau.

Deniau added the institutions which needed to contribute to this already existed - the Albanian National Minority Council and the Coordination Body for Southern Serbia.

The ambassador said it was "unfortunate" the Kosovo authorities did not allow Serbian President Tomislav Nikolić to visit the Gračanica monastery on Orthodox Christmas Day, January 7, "despite advice from the international community".

"A visit like this is completely normal and I recall that former president Boris Tadić spend last Christmas at the Visoki Dečani monastery. A gesture of openness, on one of the biggest Orthodox holidays, would show willingness to cooperate and calm the situation," said Deniau.

"Internal matter"

The issue with the monument in Presevo is Serbia's internal matter and should not be linked to the dialogue between Belgrade and Priština, Maja Kocijancic, spokesperson for EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton, has told Tanjug.

It is an internal issue and the EU expects the local authorities to settle it according to the law and in a way that will avoid unnecessary tension, she stated.

Kocijancic refused to deny the media claims that Serbia's Prime Minister Ivica Dačić had asked Ashton to mediate concerning the issue of the removal of the memorial in Preševo.

The Belgrade-based daily Danas reported that Dačić had asked Ashton to mediate in finding a solution and that she ordered Head of the EU Delegation to Serbia Vincent Degert to get involved in the diplomatic activities related to the ethnic problems in Preševo.

A new round of the technical talks between Belgrade and Priština started in Brussels on Thursday and a meeting between Dačić and Hashim Thaci in Ashton's office is announced for January 17.

Dačić, however, warned that he would not meet with Thaci if the monument is not removed by January 17.

Speaking in Belgrade on Thursday, Dačić said that a solution may be "to relocate the monument from downtown Preševo to some other place".

Meanwhile, the U.S. embassy in Belgrade also reacted on Thursday to announce that the U.S. believes that an issue concerning a controversial monument is “an internal Serbian matter” and it supports efforts aimed at working out a solution that would satisfy all parties.

Belgrade media have reported over the past few days about the possibility of “mediation” by foreign ambassadors in solving the problems regarding the disputed monument.

The media said representatives of the United States, Britain, the EU and the OSCE might be involved.

Asked if there were plans to hold a meeting between U.S. Ambassador Michael Kirby and ethnic Albanians leaders in southern Serbia, the embassy spokesman spokesman Stephen Stark said that "the ambassador and embassy officials regularly meet with government officials and contacts from throughout Serbian society. However, we do not comment on the substance or scheduling of those meetings.”

“We believe the issue of the memorial in Presevo is an internal Serbian matter. We support all efforts to reach a solution to the issues surrounding the memorial that is satisfactory to all parties,” said Stark.