Nobel-winning agency blasts UN, Nato in Kosovo

PRISTINA, Aug 17, 2000 -- (Reuters) Nobel Prize-winning aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres leveled stinging criticism on Wednesday at NATO and the United Nations in Kosovo, accusing them of a passive attitude to violence in the province.

The president of MSF's international council said the medical charity had pulled out of three ethnic minority enclaves in Kosovo last week because the levels of violence and intimidation against local people were unacceptable.

"We are not abandoning a patient in suffering that is inevitable. Their suffering is not inevitable," James Orbinski told a news briefing in the Kosovo capital Pristina.

"There has been a passive acceptance of acts of violence against minorities," said Orbinski, who picked up the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of MSF last year. "A culture of impunity has emerged."

He said MSF believed that maintaining a presence in the enclaves, all in northern Kosovo and including part of the flashpoint city of Mitrovica, would contribute to an impression that the situation there was normal and acceptable.

"We felt that our action was becoming complicit," he said.

Kosovo's United Nations-led administration (UNMIK) says it is working hard on security for minorities but improvements are bound to take time in the aftermath of an ethnic Albanian-Serb conflict in which thousands of people lost their lives.

"I'm not saying the security situation is great now. (But) compared to a year ago, we're in much better shape," said spokeswoman Claire Trevena, adding that UNMIK was talking to minority community leaders to see where it could improve.

MSF, whose French name translates as Doctors Without Borders, pulled out of the Srbica and Vucitrn areas, where Serbs form a minority among ethnic Albanians as in most of Kosovo, and from northern Mitrovica, where Albanians are in the minority.

UNMIK and the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force took over responsibility for Kosovo in June 1999 after a NATO bombing campaign to end repression of ethnic Albanians prompted Serb-dominated Yugoslav security forces to vacate the province.

Since then, however, the international authorities have been unable to prevent numerous acts of violence and intimidation against minorities in Kosovo which continue daily. More than 150,000 members of minority communities have left Kosovo.

Orbinski said MSF's medical workers found that most people they saw in the enclaves were suffering from psychological problems relating to their perilous security situation. But their fears were genuine, not the result of an illness.

"The most common problems people had was fear, worry, hopelessness and anxiety. All of these were in fact legitimate. These are not delusions," Orbinski said.

Major Scott Slaten, a spokesman for KFOR, said the peacekeepers were doing all they could to help minorities. He said many acts of intimidation, which could be as subtle as a knock on the door, were hard to detect or prevent.

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