Updated: 19-Apr-2001 Week of 12 - 18 March 2001

14 Mar. 2001

Yugoslav troops enter Ground Safety Zone

"We have agreed in a deal allowing Yugoslav army troops to return to the most southern part of GSZ", COMKFOR Lt. Gen. Carlo Cabigiosu said after the deal was signed by him and Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic.

Yugoslav troops entered the Ground Safety Zone (GSZ), the five-kilometre strip of southern Serbia bordering Kosovo, for the first time since their withdrawal from Kosovo in June 1999, on 14 March.

This move, which illustrates the improvement in relations between NATO and Belgrade, came in the wake of a12th March agreement between NATO and the Yugoslav government allowing the Yugoslav Army to return to part of the GSZ. This agreement was made possible by the 8th March decision by the NAC to proceed with the phased and conditioned reduction of the GSZ.

The GSZ was established in the wake of NATO's air campaign in the Military-Technical Agreement of June 1999, the accord governing the Yugoslav Army's withdrawal from Kosovo. Since then, only lightly armed Yugoslav police have been allowed into the GSZ.

In the absence of any official military presence, extremist ethnic Albanian armed groups have abused the GSZ as a training ground, smuggling route and safe haven for offensive actions in southern Serbia and most recently in the neighbouring former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (1).

The return of a limited number of Yugoslav troops constitutes the first step of the reduction of the GSZ and reflects NATO´s confidence in the democratic credentials of the new Yugoslav leadership.

The GSZ, nevertheless, remains under the authority of the KFOR Commander, who has the authority to order the withdrawal of the Yugoslav Army, if necessary. Further changes to the status of the GSZ will depend on the security situation and how the Yugoslav Army undertakes it mission.

KFOR Commander General Carlo Cabigiosu, said: "The eyes of the world are on this region in southern Serbia. They will be watching to ensure that the democratic principles repeatedly stated by the new government in Belgrade will be really applied and demonstrated in the area."

  1. Turkey recognises the Republic of Macedonia with its constitutional name.