UN: still too early for mass Serb returns

PRISTINA, May 2, 2000 -- (AFP) The Canadian ambassador to the United Nations said here Saturday it is still too early for the mass return of tens of thousands of Serbs who have fled Kosovo since the UN took over.

"We would like the return of displaced persons to be a reconstructive movement rather than a tool of destabilization. There's a real risk that this could be the case" if they return too soon, said Michel Duval.

Speaking on the last day of a UN Security Council fact-finding mission to the Yugoslav province, administered by the UN since last June, he stressed that some 240,000 non-Albanian Kosovars "have to come back."

He said his delegation tried to explain to local ethnic Albanian and Serb leaders "that we have to try to create the conditions to make these returns possible."

He said the caution expressed by the UN mission head Bernard Kouchner about mass returns less than a year after a bloody civil war was "sometimes interpreted that we don't want the Serbs to come back.

"That is not the message. The message is that we have to prepare the return."

Thousands of Serbs have fled widespread revenge attacks since the UN mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and the international peacekeeping force KFOR took over under a UN mandate.

The leader of the Serbian half of the divided town of Kosovska Mitrovica, Oliver Ivanovic, told AFP Friday after talks with the UN delegation that "Serb returns are more important than security."

Shortly after the UN delegation left Mitrovica, KFOR peacekeepers fired warning shots in the air to separate fighting Serbs and ethnic Albanians, while an unidentified attacker threw three grenades at an Albanian house.

"Violence is a serious concern to this mission," said Duval, whose country holds the presidency of the Security Council for April.

"What was more important for us was that while these incidents were happening we were at a working meeting between the UN mission and the two communities," he said.

He said his delegates wanted to deliver a "firm message that they have to develop a culture of peace, the violence has to stop. The international community is providing them with an opportunity for reconstruction."

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