UN evacuates Kosovo Serbs; Albanians await return to homes

Krishna Lalbiharie umlalbi0 at SPAMcc.UManitoba.CA
Thu Aug 19 12:59:48 MDT 1999

Headline: UN evacuates Kosovo Serbs; Albanians await return to homes
Byline: Krishna Lalbiharie

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, reports that it has been
evacuating vulnerable Serb residents from Kosovo in view of increased
threats to their safety.
        UNHCR spokesperson, Dennis Macnamara, stated Monday, August 16 to
the BBC  that the agency has relocated several hundred Kosovar Serbs.
        "We don't choose to do that,... but do we allow them to remain and
be attacked, in some cases killed?" he asked.
        "Some people we haven't evacuated ... have lost their lives in the
last weeks."
        Macnamara reports that only 50,000 Serbs remain in Kosovo - a
quarter of the pre-war population.
        However, a spokesperson for the NATO-led peacekeeping force, K-FOR,
insists that the egression of Serbs is "premature" and that NATO "would not
assist or encourage the evacuations."
        K-FOR on Monday reported that a marked decrease in the number of
violent incidents has been occurring.
        Despite mounting fears, some 200 Serb railway workers arrived,
August 16, in Kosovo Polje - believed to be the largest known group of
Serbs to return to Kosovo since June.
        Many Serbs had fled the province to elude anger from ethnic
Albanians infuriated by atrocities allegedly committed by Serb forces who
quitted Kosovo in June.
        UN official Terry Stewart said the returning Serbs would being
working after being registered.
        "This is the biggest return of Serbs in the last six weeks. I hope
that they will stay here."
        Kosovo Albanian leaders, meanwhile, had halted demonstrations at a
bridge dividing the northern mining town of Mitrovica, which last week had
been the scene of confrontations between French peacekeeping forces and
Albanian residents.
        The demonstrations were canceled after an agreement was developed
enabling Albanian families to return to their homes in the Serb-dominated
area of Mitrovica across the Ibar river.
        Angry demonstrations in support of sanctioning the return of
Albanians to their homes across the bridge have engaged French peacekeepers
in often violent clashes over four consecutive days last week.
        Mitrovica's Albanian mayor, Bajram Rexhepi, told a crowd on the
south side of the bridge that approximately 25 Albanian families per day
would be escorted back to their homes on the north side.
        A total of 1,200 families are scheduled to return to the
Serb-dominated sector, he said.
        The Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) - imputed for much of the
anti-Serb violence in the province subsequent to the withdrawal of Yugoslav
forces - reportedly supports the resettlement agreement.
        Mary Pat Silveira, the deputy UN chief in Mitrovica, said she hoped
that some Albanian families could begin returning to the city later this
        "The problem with the resettlement plan thus far is that some of
the apartments are now occupied by other displaced people, some of them
Serbs.... Officials have had to find alternative shelters for them before
the Albanians return home," Silveira said.
        "We will not put people out on the street," she added.
        French soldiers are scheduled to escort families back to their
homes, although it remains unclear how much protection the French will
confer afterwards, she surmised.

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