UN Council told 1,600 Kosovars still held by Serbs

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 17, 2000 -- (Reuters) An estimated 1,600 people from Kosovo are still being detained in other parts of Serbia while about 3,500 inhabitants of the mainly ethnic Albanian Serb province are listed as missing, the Security Council was told on Wednesday.

U.N. Assistant-Secretary-General for peacekeeping operations Hedi Annabi, who gave these figures during a closed-door briefing for council members, added that the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, former Irish President Mary Robinson, was considering appointing a special envoy to deal with the issue of detainees and the missing.

"The status of people from Kosovo detained in Serbia proper remains a matter of concern," Annabi said, according to his briefing notes obtained later.

"The most accurate count of Kosovo detainees in Serbia proper is approximately 1,600," he said, citing a survey by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) of all civilian and some military prisons.

He also said there were "approximately 3,000 missing persons from the NATO bombing period and 400 to 500 persons reported missing since mid-June 1999."

NATO conducted 11 weeks of air strikes against targets in Yugoslavia, including Kosovo, from March to June last year to force Belgrade to halt the oppression of ethnic Albanians.

Hundreds of thousands of Kosovo Albanians fled during this period, mainly to Albania and Macedonia, though most returned after the bombing ended and a U.N. administration backed by the NATO-led KFOR entered Kosovo in June.

"The appointment of a special envoy to deal with the issue of detainees and the missing is being considered by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights," Annabi said.

Part of his briefing summarized a recent upsurge of violence in Kosovo between ethnic Albanians and Serbs. Although centered on the mixed city Mitrovica, "this has affected inter-ethnic relations in other regions of Kosovo and has led to an increase in tension throughout the province," he said.

Annabi said the ability of the U.N. interim administration to maintain the pace of its achievements largely depended on making good a serious lack of financing for Kosovo's budget.

"As it now stands, the cash available for the 2000 Kosovo consolidated budget ... will be exhausted by early March, even after allowing for revenue collection," he said.

While DM 21.4 million ($10.8 million) had been received out of 28 million ($14.1 million) needed for the Kosovo Protection Corps, an emergency force established last month, and for a population registration program, a 46 million mark ($23.2 million) deficit remained for unspecified budget support.

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