Serb leader calls for EU help in repatriating 5000 Serbs to Kosovo

BELGRADE, Mar 31, 2000 -- (AFP) A Kosovo Serb leader urged the European Union on Thursday to back a repatriation program for some 5,000 Serbs who fled Kosovo after the arrival of the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force in June last year.

Oliver Ivanovic, a Serb leader from the northern part of Kosovska Mitrovica, a divided town in the north of the province, made the demand during a meeting with an EU observation mission visiting Mitrovica.

The programme presented by Ivanovic involves the repatriation of some 5,000 Serbs to 15 Serb villages located in the region of Istok, Klina and Pec, three towns in northwest Kosovo.

The program has already been presented to the US State Department, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Sadako Ogata, and representatives of the international community in the province.

Ivanovic said it should start at the end of May.

"I asked the EU mission to help this action, to assure the means and to help the reconstruction of houses, because they have all been burned down," Ivanovic told journalists.

"The implementation of this plan will be a test for the Belgrade authorities, because they will have an opportunity to concretely help an action of return of expelled Serbs," he said.

"It will also be a test for the Albanians, because if they do not accept this plan, everybody will understand that they want a Kosovo without Serbs, an ethnically-pure Kosovo," Ivanovic said.

Some 240,000 Serbs and other non-Albanians have fled the province because of violence or threats by Kosovo Albanians since the retreat of Yugoslav forces and the arrival of multinational forces in June 1999.

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