UN says about 100 000 Serbs now in Kosovo as returns increase
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 12, 2000 -- (AFP) About 100,000 Serbs remain in Kosovo, a senior United Nations official said Tuesday, adding that previous estimates as low as 30,000 were flawed.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also said there was "some evidence" that small numbers of Serbs were returning to Kosovo as crimes of violence against them and other ethnic minorities diminished.
The exact number of Serbs in the predominantly ethnic Albanian province was controversial, the official said, but he dismissed "the thumbnail analysis" of some humanitarian agencies.
"They noted how many Serbs had been registered as refugees in Serbia and Montenegro and subtracted that from the census figures for 1991, and came up with a number of 30,000 to 50,000," he said.
The NATO-led international force known as KFOR which entered Kosovo in June had done "a village-by-village, town-by-town analysis," he said.
"It's not a census, but it's based on the close personal knowledge by the military forces who are on the ground in these villages," he added. The figure of 100,000 is also close to the Serbs' own estimate, the official said.
Large numbers of Serbs fled Kosovo in mid-1999 after Serbian forces withdrew in the face of prolonged NATO bombing, and 800,000 Albanian refugees poured back into the province.
"The surge of departures has slowed," the official said. "It is now at least holding even and there is some evidence of returns." The numbers were "not huge," he said. "They are measured in hundreds. But it is a sign of a changing climate that this kind of a tide is beginning slowly to reverse."
The official acknowledged that "it is still very dangerous to be a minority" in Kosovo, where ethnic Albanians have been accused of committing murderous acts of revenge.
Yet the number of "major ethnic crimes" such as murder have dropped from between 40 and 50 a week to "three, four or five a week" since the UN Interim Administration in Kosovo (UNMIK) was set up in July.
He said the passage of time was the major factor in lowering ethnic tensions. Another was the fact that Serbs from small, isolated villages had moved and banded together into larger communities, the official said.
Most returning Serbs had gone to the north of Kosovo, he said, but some were in Kosovo Polje, in the western outskirts of the provincial capital, Pristina.
Even in eastern Kosovo, he said, "local Serb mayors are telling their former residents across the boundary in Serbia, 'come back, life is better here for you even in winter than it will be in Serbia proper'."
The official said UNMIK was unable to police Kosovo effectively because UN member states had failed to provide the additional 1,700 international police requested by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, taking the authorized force strength to 4,700.
The total includes 1,000 paramilitary riot police.
UNMIK had only 2,000 ordinary policemen on the beat, the official said, equivalent to one for 800-900 inhabitants.
By contrast, in "settled, stable countries of Western Europe the average is one police officer for 300 to 400 people," he pointed out.
Germany had pledged to double its contingent from 200 to 400 and the United States to increase its contribution by 100 to 500, he said.
"These are very welcome increases but in themselves by no means enough," he added.
He acknowledged that "every policeman we gain is a policeman taken off the streets of a contributing country which takes its own policing seriously."
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