CEOL - Kosovo Peacekeepers move to calm kidnapping 'hysteria'

PRISTINA, Serbia, Dec 22, 1999 -- (Reuters) The Kosovo peacekeeping force (KFOR) moved Tuesday to calm kidnapping fears that have reigned in the province in recent weeks and led to a spate of false reports of abductions.

"There have been 52 reported abductions in Multinational Brigade Center (central Kosovo) since August, said Captain Emma Sale of the British army. "Ninety percent were proved to be false."

The Kosovo population has been feeding on "near hysteria" and there was "clearly paranoia among the young female population," added Major Gordon Fothringham.

KFOR said panic had been partly sparked by a large movement of rural inhabitants into cities seeking heated apartments abandoned by departing Serbs and had arisen from a clash of rural and city cultures.

They said reported abductions were sometimes a way of saving face among rural families if a female member had taken up prostitution, while some cases were men trying to force women relatives into marriages if they were already having unapproved relationships.

Fothringham said the false reports were distracting security forces from more important tasks in the crime-ridden Yugoslav province, where international peacekeepers took over after Serbian forces were driven out by NATO in June.

"The evidence is that there is no greater incidence of kidnapping than is traditional in this part of the world," said Sale.

She added that the few people held in connection with abductions were ethnic Albanians suspected of snatching other Albanians.

However, amid widespread violence in the province -- much of it revenge attacks by ethnic Albanians against Serbs after years of repression by Belgrade -- rumors of abductions have mushroomed in recent weeks.

Many locals have said that women refuse to go out after 4:00 p.m. for fear of being abducted and forced into prostitution by reported criminal groups, with the finger frequently pointed at gangs from Albania.

KFOR said that in one case the parents of a 10-year-old girl reported her abducted after she was seen out with a boy, while in another a man alleged to have snatched a girl from her school turned out to be her uncle.

The peacekeepers said they planned a series of radio reports to reassure the population, but said the reports at least showed increasing trust in the multinational security forces here.

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