UN urges restraint in sending home Kosovo refugees

PRISTINA, Apr 14, 2000 -- (Reuters) Kosovo's United Nations-led administration appealed on Thursday to host countries to minimize forced repatriations of refugees from last year's conflict.

Officials in the administration have been alarmed at a recent wave of forced returns, mainly from Germany, and fear a large and uncontrolled influx could hamper their efforts to bring stability and order to the volatile province.

In an open letter, UN mission head Bernard Kouchner said the experience with returns this year was worrying.

"Bearing in mind that the returns are just starting, and that we already have problems with too many arriving simultaneously and with a lack of regard for the dangers to ethnic minorities, it is crucial that we put things right quickly," he said.

"Otherwise the tens of thousands of returnees expected this year will swamp the capacity to absorb them."

The UN estimates up to 150,000 people could return to Kosovo this year, increasing the population of the war-shattered Balkan territory by almost 10 percent.

Kouchner asked host countries to take two immediate steps - to minimize forced returns, especially of ethnic minorities and people with a violent past, and to help more in reintegrating the returnees.

"We are doing our best, with the help of the international community, to rebuild Kosovo and establish peace and security. We are making fragile progress," Kouchner said. "We cannot allow these common efforts to be undermined."

Most of the more than 800,000 refugees who fled Serb forces during NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia last year have returned to Kosovo.

Host countries complied with a UN request not to send back returnees during winter. But some German regional states have wasted no time with the arrival of spring and forced back hundreds of people over the past few weeks.

Officials say they are particularly worried about returnees who are forcibly repatriated, as they are normally given no advance warning and arrive in Kosovo without any clear plans or financial support.

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