CEOL
Kosovo Roma hold first meeting with ethnic Albanian leaders

PRISTINA, Apr 13, 2000 -- (AFP) Representatives of Kosovo's Roma, or Gypsy, population met ethnic Albanian leaders Wednesday in a bid to halt violence against minority groups and discuss the return of thousands of refugees.

Leaders of the Roma, Ashkalija and Egyptian communities met Ibrahim Rugova, the President of the Democratic League for Kosovo (LDK), and Hashim Thaci, who led the now-disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).

The various Roma groups, accused by many ethnic Albanians of collaborating with Serbian forces against the Albanian majority, have suffered widespread persecution since the end of the war last June.

Rugova, a veteran pacifist campaigner for Kosovar independence, said it was wrong to accuse a whole community rather than those who committed the crimes.

Dennis McNamara, special envoy to Kosovo for the UN refugee agency UNHCR said ethnic Albanian leaders would visit Roma communities, and the simple fact of appearing publicly together, would help increase tolerance.

The UNHCR estimates that about 1,000 Roma have fled since NATO-led peacekeepers replaced Yugoslav forces in Kosovo.

Nicolae Gheorghe, advisor on Roma issues for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said a key test for ethnic Albanians would be whether they vacated Roma houses they had illegally occupied since June.

Another important factor was freedom of movement and winning the trust of Albanians as customers again.

"Roma are basically service-provider people, commercial dealers," said Gheoghe.

"They have to fight for freedom of movement to be economically self-reliant. This is the question: how to capture and Albanian market for the Roma services."

While the Roma group tends to be multi-lingual, the Askalija and Egyptian groups have mostly adopted Albanian names, language and culture.

They have been offered one seat on the Kosovo Transitional Council (KTC), a multi-ethnic consultative body, but UN officials said they had not decided among themselves who should take it.



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