Around 1,000 ethnic Albanians demonstrated in the southern town of Bujanovac, demanding Belgrade remove the memorial which they see as provocative.Protesters at Friday’s rally carried Albanian flags and placards accusing Serbia of discrimination.
They called on Belgrade to take down the monument to Serbian police killed during the Kosovo conflict in the 1990s.
South Serbian Albanians have strong links to Kosovo and see the monument erected last year in Bujanovac as a symbol of Belgrade’s repression of their ethnic kin.
“Thirteen years after the conflict, Albanians are still second-class citizens. We don’t have our rights and Serbia only knows how to use force against us,” one local ethnic Albanian leader, Jonez Musliu, told the rally.
The protest came after around 200 Serbian police moved in to the nearby town of Presevo on January 20 to take down a memorial to ethnic Albanian guerrillas which Belgrade repeatedly warned promoted ethnic separatism.
The memorial commemorated fighters from the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac, which staged an armed struggle to unite southern Serbia with Kosovo in the late 1990s but disarmed in 2001 following an internationally-brokered peace deal.
The region around Presevo has long been seen as troubled by the Belgrade authorities because of its large Albanian community and close ties with Kosovo.
In a local referendum in 1992, most local Albanians voted for territorial autonomy and the right to join Kosovo but the vote wasn’t recognised as valid by Belgrade or the international community.