UN report paints bleak picture of life for Kosovo minorities

PRISTINA, Feb 11, 2000 -- (AFP) Kosovo's Serbs and other ethnic minorities remain in a "precarious position" according to a U.N. report released Friday, which paints a grim picture of exclusion, joblessness and harassment for non-ethnic Albanians.

The report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) also criticizes Kosovo's Western administrators for failing to bring more minorities into the Yugoslav province's legal and political structures.

It calls last week's outbreak of violence in the divided town of Kosovska Mitrovica, which left eight ethnic Albanians dead and some 15 Serbs injured, a "serious setback ... to efforts to promote freedom of movement and to protect minorities."

Constant protection of minorities by deploying international KFOR peacekeeping troops in their neighborhoods is still "essential" but ultimately "not sustainable," it says.

The lack of international police, with the force only half its pledged strength, constitutes another grave problem, making witnesses and victims of ethnic violence reluctant to speak out.

Likewise efforts by the U.N. administration (UNMIK) to woo minorities into the local police force "have met with limited success so far," while no Serbs at all have joined the Kosovo Protection Corps, the civil disaster relief group.

Of 387 judges and prosecutors appointed in December to jump-start the jammed legal system, 90 came from minorities but a "disappointingly low number" attended swearing-in ceremonies, which were conducted only in Albanian.

"The small number of those who were sworn in is an indication of the low level of trust and high level of fear still felt by minorities," the report concludes.

"The protection of minorities is the litmus test of peace in Kosovo," it says, adding that "few minorities in the province today have jobs."

It warns that unless the "current lawlessness and culture of impunity regarding ethnic attacks" is stopped, UNMIK will find it "extremely difficult ... to achieve its mission, or for real development ... to move properly forward."

But it also calls on Kosovars to shoulder responsibility for order in the troubled province and not expect "the internationals to do it all."

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