Serb militia formed to defend Kosovo
Hundreds of ex-Serb militia members from the Balkan wars gathered in a central town Saturday and pledged to fight for Kosovo if the breakaway province is granted independence as proposed in a Western-backed plan. Police detained more than two dozen people.
The former Serb fighters gathered in the town of Krusevac, about 150 kilometers (90 miles) southeast of Belgrade, to form a paramilitary unit similar to the ones that roamed the Balkans during the wars of the 1990s.
Police in Krusevac said they detained 27 people dressed in T-shirts with symbols of the disbanded Unit for Special Operations, whose former commander and several members are on trial for the 2003 assassination of Serbia’s reformist Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic.
The event is an illustration of the mounting nationalism here over prospects that Kosovo will split from Serbia as demanded by its ethnic Albanian majority.
Talks on the formation of a new pro-Western government in Serbia, meanwhile, remain deadlocked, triggering a political crisis that could pave the way for the return to power of the nationalists loyal to ex-leader Slobodan Milosevic.
Such a scenario would undermine Western efforts to find a lasting solution for Kosovo and the troubled region.
Many of the ex-volunteers in Krusevac wore military uniforms with nationalist symbols typical of the notorious units accused of committing atrocities during the wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s.
“We will never give up Kosovo, we are ready to fight,” one of the organizers, Andrej Milic, said at the gathering held in front of a Serb Orthodox Church in the town.
Milic added their unit will be available to the state authorities in case Serbia decides to wage a war for Kosovo, and called for a “new Serb uprising and a new battle for Kosovo.”
Kosovo is formally part of Serbia, but is dominated by ethnic Albanians who are seeking independence for the region. Kosovo has been run by the United Nations since 1998-99 during which time Muslim Kosovo Albanians expelled over 200,000 Serbs from the province, destroyed over 150 churches and are besieging and intimidating the remaining Christians.
The United States and its allies favor internationally supervised independence for the province, as proposed in the U.N. plan, but Russia opposes it, signaling a possible showdown at the U.N. Security Council, which will have the final say on the matter.
Most Serbs consider Kosovo the heartland of their history and culture. Belgrade has strongly rejected the plan drafted by U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari, saying it would never agree to let go of the province.
There was no immediate reaction from the Serbian government to the veterans’ gathering in Krusevac, although creation of paramilitary units in Serbia is illegal.
The volunteer units were first founded in the early 1990s, during the rule of late Milosevic, who took Serbia to four wars during his decade-long rule. Those units later became notorious for their brutality against civilians and enemy troops, but were disbanded after the wars and Milosevic’s ouster from power in 2000.
Dragoljub Vasiljevic, one of the volunteers who came to Krusevac on Saturday denied the brutality allegations, telling the Beta news agency that they were “honorable and brave” fighters.
The organizers said that their unit will be named after a medieval Serb leader, Czar Lazar, who led the Serb army in a crucial battle against the Ottoman Turks in Kosovo in 1389. The Serbs lost the battle but cherish the event as one of the most important in their history.