US said planning to return Serbs to Kosovo

WASHINGTON, Apr 16, 2000 -- (Reuters) The United States is planning the first coordinated effort to resettle Serbs in Kosovo despite the serious qualms of the UN refugee agency, which believes they cannot be protected from revenge attacks by ethnic Albanians, The Washington Post reported on Sunday.

Citing U.S., UN, Serbian and Albanian officials in Kosovo, the Post said in an Istok, Yugoslavia-datelined story that a pilot project could begin as early as this summer and involve about 700 Serbs forced to flee the province last year. Kosovo has a majority ethnic Albanian population.

The report quoted U.S. officials as saying they hoped it would boost the standing of the moderate Serbian leadership within Kosovo, foster Serbian cooperation with the international community and test the stated commitment of ethnic Albanian politicians to a multiethnic society.

But the idea has received a cool response from UN officials, including Dennis McNamara, Balkans envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

"We would be very happy to see the return of the Serb displaced population, but it's very difficult to be supportive or proactive on returns at this time," McNamara was quoted as saying in an interview.

"If we were going to promote or participate in this, the security conditions - housing, access to services, freedom of movement - would have to be in place," he said. "And the security conditions are just not there."

Nevertheless the Americans were moving ahead with the effort, the Post reported.

"Conditions are never going to be perfect, and there is never going to be a perfect moment," an unidentified U.S. official was quoted as saying. "This is something that has to start, even on a small scale."

Of the estimated 200,000 Serbs in Kosovo before last year's NATO air war against Yugoslavia, about three-fourths have fled since NATO-led peacekeepers arrived.

In Washington, a State Department spokesman was not immediately available for comment on the report.

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