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NEW SERBIAN ARMY BASE SPARKS CRITICISM


By Igor Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade

The opening of a new army base in the country sparked some criticism from local Albanians.
Serbia's largest army base, called Jug [South], opened on Monday (November 23rd), and will, for the time being, house one army battalion.
President Boris Tadic and Defence Minister Dragan Sutanovac attended the opening ceremony.


The base, popularly called the "Serbian Bondsteel", a reference to the US Army camp near Urosevac, Kosovo - was built in the Bujanovac Municipality, near the Macedonian and Kosovo borders. Bujanovac's population is predominantly ethnic Albanian, and local politicians object to the base, claiming it will militarise the area.

"We were against the idea of the special police and military forces in this region from the start, so I think this base will not boost regional stability," Bujanovac Mayor Shaip Kamberi told Belgrade based Radio..

But at ceremony, Tadic took a different view.
"All Serbian citizens who want peace and stability in the region and the best possible interethnic relations should be satisfied with the opening of the base. All those who do not want peace and who are involved in organised crime have no reason to be happy today," he said.

Tadic also said the base would boost economic development in southern Serbia, employing an estimated 1,000 professional soldiers, who would also train for participation in international peacekeeping missions. The soldiers will assist the local population with building infrastructure, and medical services at the base will be available to civilians.

Experts say the base is built in an area where Serbia faces the most security challenges and where terrorist attacks on the army and police occurred last summer.

"The location of the base is excellent. This base is one of the key moves in the process of reforming Serbia's defence system," said Professor Zoran Dragisic of the Faculty of Security in Belgrade.

Serbia invested about 18mio euros in the construction of the base, which took six years. The idea of building an army base emerged in 2001, after clashes between Serbian security forces and armed Albanians. The clashes ended when Belgrade guaranteed it would not prosecute Albanians who laid down their weapons and were not involved in the killing of Serbian soldiers and policemen.



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