Simmering tensions in the South

A grenade attack on the Gendarmerie near Bujanovac, in southern Serbia, has exposed the fragility of the region and the need for tangible steps to improve relations between the security infrastructure and the various local communities.

By Ian Bancroft

A grenade attack on Thursday morning in the village of Lucane, near Bujanovac, which left two members of the Gendarmerie suffering from minor shrapnel injuries has once again exposed the fragility of a region that previously endured an armed-insurgency by ethnic Albanians from 2000 until 2001. In response, Serbia’s Interior Minister, Ivica Dacic, insisted that ‘the state of Serbia and the Interior Ministry are ready and able to secure peace and safety for all citizens and to protect them from terrorism’, whilst calling for the full disarmament of groups in Kosovo, as foreseen by UN Security Council resolution 1244, and improved control of the administrative line between Serbia and Kosovo, in order to prevent the smuggling of weapons. Dacic also vowed to take further steps to prevent possible future attacks on the security forces.

Speculation that the attack was in response to the increased presence of the Gendarmerie throughout the region, however, also demonstrates the need for tangible steps to improve relations between the security infrastructure and local communities, particularly in the municipalities of Bujanovac, Medvedja and Preševo. TransConflict Serbia’s recently-launched initiative, the Community for Mutual Trust – comprised of four non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from southern Serbia, representing a broad spectrum of constituencies, including Roma and women’s groups – is intended to play such a role by improving both the level of communication about, and understanding of, the role and mandates of the respective elements of the security infrastructure.

By acting as a focal point for both local communities and the security infrastructure, the Community for Mutual Trust will give an opportunity for the former to voice their concerns and perspectives, whilst simultaneously facilitating the public outreach activities of the latter. Through monitoring, advocacy, awareness raising, public debates and security policy recommendations, it is TransConflict Serbia’s assertion that the Community for Mutual Trust will contribute to a greater level of confidence and satisfaction in the work of the security services throughout southern Serbia’.

Long in Kosovo’s shadow, the Preševo Valley and the surrounding areas – predominantly Albanian-populated, and often referred to as ‘East Kosovo’ by the local population – remain vulnerable to political developments elsewhere. In order to prevent further destabilization of the region, particularly as its economic prospects continue to deteriorate due to the global financial crisis, urgent steps must be taken to incorporate the perspectives of civil society on security-related issues as a key element of sustained democratic governance of the security sector throughout southern Serbia.

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