Ten years of peace in southern Serbia

BELGRADE -- On this day in 2001, peace was reestablished in southern Serbia after 200 days of war.

A scene from Preševo (Beta, file)
A scene from Preševo (Beta, file)

This was marked by the entrance of the then Joint Security Forces of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SRJ) in the central, most sensitive part of the Ground Safety Zone along the administrative line with Kosovo.

The area, informally known as the Preševo valley, is home to Serbia's largest ethnic Albanian population outside of Kosovo.

On June 1, 2001, respecting a statement on demilitarization, weapons were laid down in the presence of head of NATO office in Belgrade Shawn Sullivan by ethnic Albanian extremists who called themselves the Liberation Army of Preševo, Medveđa and Bujanovac (UCPMB).

The terrorist group was an offshoot of the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA, UCK).

The territory of the Ground Safety Zone Sector B, 92 kilometers long and three kilometers wide, covering a total of 460 square kilometers of space, was in the control of the armed Albanian extremists from Bujanovac and Preševo from November 21, 2000.

Then deputy PM in the Serbian transitional government Nebojša Čović was for three years the president of the coordination body for the three municipalities, a body which had the task to stop the conflict and, with the help of the international community, establish communication between the Serbs and ethnic Albanians.

“We should not forget that we had a real war in southern Serbia at that time. However, by a superhuman effort we managed to preserve the peace and the lives of these people. I think the then democratic government in Bujanovac produced a good result,” Nebojsa Čović has said.

During the conflict on the territory of the Ground Safety Zone, there were over a hundred dead and missing civilians, policemen and soldiers on both sides, over 250 persons suffered serious and minor injuries, while the damage to facilities and assets was estimated to several hundred million dollars.