Washington seeks to return 700 Serbs to Kosovo

WASHINGTON, Apr 17, 2000 -- (AFP) The United States is hoping to resettle about 700 Serbs in Kosovo by as early as this summer despite objections from UN and NATO officials, the Washington Post reported Sunday.

Washington hopes the repatriations will bolster 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 multi-ethnic society.

But the plan has met resistance from the United Nations, which believes the returnees would be vulnerable to attacks by ethnic Albanians.

One UN official told the daily that plans to repatriate the Serbs who were forced to flee Kosovo last year are ill-timed.

"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," said Dennis McNamara, the Balkans envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

"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," McNamara told the daily. "The security conditions are just not there."

But a US official countered however that "there is never going to be a perfect moment" to resettle the refugees.

"This is something that has to start, even on a small scale," the official said.

No decision on a location has been made, but US officials are leaning toward the village of Osojane, near Istok in northwestern Kosovo, which was visited by State Department officials last week, according to the Post.

The village was inhabited by Serbs until last summer, when ethnic Albanian arsonists destroyed it shortly after NATO peacekeepers entered Kosovo.

Of the estimated 200,000 Serbs in Kosovo before the war, approximately three-quarters have fled since NATO peacekeepers arrived, according to the Post.

Hundreds of Serbs have been killed or have disappeared since the war ended. Most of them, officials suspect, were targeted by vengeful ethnic Albanians, the daily reported.

The NATO-led peacekeeping mission, which comes under Spanish command on Monday, is also leery of the US project, the Post said, quoting an alliance official who said the US proposal "troubles a lot of people."

Original article