Albanians plan return homeFeb 28, 2000
MITROVICA - After weeks of violence, the United Nations administration plans to return ethnic Albanians to their homes in the Serb-dominated north of this divided town.
UN officials were to help ethnic Albanians return to three high-rise apartment buildings in the northern, Serb-majority part of Mitrovica beginning next week. Those wishing to return begun on Friday registering with authorities.
According to local ethnic Albanian leader Bajram Rexhepi, 76 families have fled the northern sector since last years NATO air campaign to end a Serb crackdown on the province. The number includes many who were evicted or fled out of fear following recent ethnic violence in Mitrovica that left at least nine people dead and dozens injured in a series of grenade attacks and shootings.
Serbs or others who have since moved into the empty apartments will be relocated to alternative accommodations, UN officials say. The multinational peacekeeping force and UN police are in the area to provide security for the ethnic Albanians once they return.
NATO also plans to build a footbridge across the Ibar River dividing the Serb north from the Albanian south in an effort to provide easier access between the two sides.
But evicting those who have taken over empty flats could cause further trouble.
On Wednesday, an ethnic Albanian translator working for the UN police was attacked by a group of Serbs after he accompanied police to one of the disputed flats.
Helping ethnic Albanians return "needs careful planning; it needs security first of all, it needs people willing to go back," said Dennis McNamara, special envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Prishtina.
"Weve had people register with us saying they would like to go back once the security is in place. But at the moment its not in place," McNamara added.
Rexhepi also said Thursday that Serbs "who didnt participate in the war" and have been forced to flee from their homes in the south could also return.
"We are ready to (free up) Serb flats in the south if they want to return," he said, but added that "we cannot guarantee their security," which would have to be provided by UN police and peacekeepers.