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Yugoslavia: Kostunica Reveals Details Of Covic Presevo Peace Plan

  • Jolyon Naegele

Differing versions of Serbia's peace plan for the Presevo Valley have been circulating in recent days. The author of the plan, Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic, travels to Brussels today to present the plan to NATO. But because of the different versions, NATO leaders are confused as to what is on offer. RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele takes a look at what Covic is likely to bring with him.

Prague, 15 February 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Details are now emerging of the peace plan for the Presevo Valley that Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic will present to NATO officials today in Brussels.

Several versions of the plan, which is hoped to end a year of ethnic violence in Serbia's southernmost region, have appeared in print recently, leading to confusion over details.

Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica helped to clear up some of the confusion in a press conference in Belgrade on Tuesday and a letter to the editors of Politika, which published what they said was a version of the plan.

Kostunica said the final version calls on the international community not to mediate in peace talks between Serbs and ethnic Albanians, but only to support the overall peace process.

Kostunica told reporters in Belgrade yesterday the international community should help the ethnic Albanian side choose a negotiating team that will represent, what he said were, the best interests of Albanians and Serbs.

"The international community is here to help, especially the Albanian national community in southern Serbia, to help prepare the negotiators who represent in the best way the interests -- in fact -- the future coexistence of Serbs and Albanians and not the interests of terrorists or the spread of terrorism and violence in the south of Serbia."

He says the international community would also be allowed to verify progress in establishing peace in the five-kilometer-wide safety zone in the Presevo Valley along Serbia's boundary with Kosovo.

The zone is now off limits to the Yugoslav army and to heavy weapons. Ethnic Albanian insurgents control most of the villages in the zone and use it as a haven from which to attack targets beyond the zone. Belgrade would like to reduce the size of the zone.

Kostunica, in his letter to the editors of Politika, said he expects the international community to be actively involved in the economic development of the Presevo Valley, which he describes as "extremely poor".

United Nations Security Council members on Tuesday expressed support for the Covic plan, saying it deserves serious consideration. And they praised the restraint shown by Yugoslav leaders in dealing with the tensions in the Presevo Valley.

U.S. envoy to the UN Howard Stoffer said:

"We applaud the Yugoslav government's restraint and its assurances that it will continue to respect the military-technical agreement. The council has expressed itself very clearly in this regard. There is no acceptable military solution to the problems in the Presevo Valley."

But Yugoslavia representative Vladislav Mladenovic warned the Security Council time is running out for a peaceful solution.

"The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Republic of Serbia cannot exercise indefinite patience since keeping the situation as it is or the status quo is totally unacceptable."

Covic's "Plan for Resolving the Crisis in Southern Serbia" emphasizes integrating the region's 70,000 Albanians into Serbia's state and social system, and respecting their human rights in keeping with European standards.

Some of the specifics of the plan include:

Harmonizing the ethnic make-up of those employed in state services, business, and social activities with the ethnic make-up of the population. In other words, the plan calls for integrating Serbs and ethnic Albanians instead of separating them.

Albanians would be guaranteed an "appropriate level of representation" in municipal councils and assemblies, as well as Serbia's government and parliament.

Police operations would be ethnically mixed. Patrols would have "one Serb and one Albanian."

The plan also says the insurgents, whom it refers to as "Albanian terrorists," must be told their acts will not receive international support.

But insurgents told RFE/RL's Kosovo unit this week there can be no discussion as long as the Serb side refers to them as "terrorists." The insurgents are far from united over how to respond to the plan. However, some ethnic Albanian leaders, in consultation with insurgents, are preparing their own plan, which they expect to have ready next Monday.

The mayor of the town of Presevo, Riza Halimi, said yesterday that ethnic Albanians in the region want "a certain level" of autonomy to protect their rights. He told reporters the nine-member Albanian negotiating team will insist on the full demilitarization of the area and will demand a halt to all hostilities in the municipalities of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac.

But Halimi says the Albanian negotiators will not demand a change to any borders -- an apparent concession as some insurgents have called for annexing the area with Kosovo.

The Covic plan stipulates that Serbia and Yugoslavia reject as "unacceptable" any kind of autonomy, special status, or change in the borders of Serbia and Yugoslavia.

Serbian minister Covic's plan calls for a peaceful and diplomatic solution through direct negotiations between Serbia and Yugoslavia on the one side, including a representative each of Presevo Valley Serbs, Kosovo Serbs, and the Serbian Orthodox Church, and a negotiating team of "the Albanian national community" on the other side, with the inclusion of a representative of the Islamic community.

The plan warns that if efforts at a peaceful settlement fail and all other means are exhausted, provided there is international support for such operations, Serbia and Yugoslavia will be forced to protect their constitutional order by counter-terrorist operations, as the only means left for settling the crisis.

The Covic plan says for police to able to protect citizens, the five-kilometer-wide ground safety zone must be narrowed or phased out and that KFOR should allow what the plan calls "appropriate police and army units" into the zone.

The plan also calls for the demilitarization of two large villages outside of the zone currently in the hands of the insurgents: Lucane and Veliki Trnovac, both near Bujanovac. Under this plan, the insurgents and the special police units now in the area would have to leave and local police patrols would enter the two villages. The army would withdraw its tanks and heavy artillery from the Veliki Trnovac-Lucane line and from the area around Bujanovac and Presevo. This would then serve as a model for demilitarizing the rest of the region.

The Covic plan also calls for economic development, particularly in agriculture and timber processing, as well as the repair of 527 Serb homes to accommodate 2,300 displaced Serbs from Kosovo. In addition it provides for the repair of all Albanian houses to accommodate displaced Albanians who wish to return to the area.

The plan envisions peace unfolding in three phases. A precondition for phase two would be KFOR's reduction or abolition of the five-kilometer buffer zone. The second phase calls for a complete and permanent halt to terrorist acts, the disarming of the insurgents, and the destruction of fortified installations.

It also foresees the withdrawal of military and police forces, with a regular, mixed local police and regular military formations to remain. Insurgents would be amnestied and "reintegrated" into civilian life.

A third phase is intended to promote the prosperous development of a multi-ethnic and multi-faith community on democratic principles. This includes the complete integration of Albanians into the socio-political system and the withdrawal of special military and police forces from the region. Displaced persons would be returned to their restored homes.

The plan envisages demilitarization to begin immediately after the agreement is signed, with complete implementation achieved in four months.