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Boundaries Still Unresolved in ex Yugoslav Countries

April 11, 2012

After decades of living as one country, the successor states of former Yugoslavia are taking time to adjust to their new boundaries.

Marija Ristic

Several regional NGOs, under the umbrella of the British organisation Safeworld, presented a report on Tuesday which examines what effect the new borders have on the lives of people living along the demarcation lines of Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Croatia.

“There is a slow progress in resolving this outstanding issue. There are diverse challenges, but one common feature across the western Balkan is that the new international borders have created obstacles to the movement of people,” said Ferdinand Nikola from Safeworld.

The report says that one common complaint across the region is the inadequate number of border crossings. People living in border areas also find the new borders inconvenient because of the additional costs of moving their goods.

Sava Stankovic, in charge of border issues in the Serbian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, says that the insufficient number of checkpoints is due to the difficult economic situation.

“All the states are facing economic problems and a lot of money is needed if you want to build a border crossing. And people try to find the easier way, so that is why there are a lot of illegal crossings,” said Stankovic.

Illegal crossing is rife between Kosovo and Serbia. According to the report, the movement of people is particularly restricted in this region, since the July 2011 agreement on freedom of movement between Serbia and Kosovo is yet to benefit ordinary people.

“Problems with the movements between Kosovo and Serbia are not border issues, those are political matters. According to Resolution 1244 Serbia and Kosovo are divided with administrative lines and not a border. These days, every crossing becomes a political dispute,” said Oliver Ivanovic, the State Secretary in the Serbian Ministry for Kosovo and Metohija.

Two weeks ago the Serbian authorities arrested several Albanians as retaliation for the arrest of four Serbs in Kosovo. Two Kosovo policemen were arrested after they have allegedly crossed the Serbian border illegally and the president of Kosovo’s Metalworker’s Union was detained at a border crossing.

Researchers also noted that national authorities and international actors lack transparency when it comes to dealing with border disputes, border management and security provision in border areas.

Kosovo – Montenegro

Montenegrins are making slow progress with the demarcation of their border with Kosovo because Serbia sees it as a threat to its sovereignty, says the report.

Both sides are worried because of an increased smuggling of tobacco, coffee, cattle, narcotics and petrol. The creation of a buffer zone by the security services led to complaints by the locals who find it difficult to access and use their property.

Kosovo – Serbia

According to the report, the citizens of Kosovo are worried because they cannot travel freely to Serbia.  Local people are concerned by obstacles to the free movement of goods, the difficulty of accessing their private property and a lack of convenient border crossings.

The Albanian community in South Serbia also perceives the presence of Serbian security services as a threat and Albanian and Roma minorities mistrust Serbian authorities.

Serbia formed a Multi-Ethnic Police in order to address these issues of mistrust, but the new police force failed in its purpose, researchers say.

Political tensions are discouraging investments and economic growth in the region, causing a large number of people of all nationalities to leave the area.  Cooperation between Albanian and Kosovar businesses is impossible due to Serbia’s restrictions.

Montenegro – Serbia

The key problem for people living on the border between Serbia and Montenegro is that there are no convenient crossings for local farmers.

Some farmlands lie across the non-demarcated line and the local people need to travel long distances in order to cross the border and reach it. Local bus and train services have been cut as they do not meet international standards, making short journeys very time consuming.

Bosnia and Herzegovina – Croatia

There has been controversy over whether the islets of Mali and Veliki Skolj belong to Croatia or Bosnia. Croatians are concerned that if Bosnia is awarded the islands and builds a port, the authorities might not take care of the environment, which would harm the local tourism industry.

Young people in Croatia hold particularly strong views regarding this dispute, believing that the islands are Croatian.  According to the report, this issue tends to be raised only at election time, demonstrating how such unresolved border disputes can be used for political purposes.

Macedonia – Kosovo

The report highlights the agreement signed between Kosovo and Macedonia in 2008 as a regional success story. Two governments formed a commission which negotiated the demarcation within one year.  Despite Russian and Serbian opposition, the commission successfully finished the process, including solving the issue of 2,500 hectares of contested land that were claimed by both sides.

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