But UN warns that it can't guarantee securityResettle Serbs, US urges
By Peter Finn
Paris, Monday, April 17, 2000
ISTOK, Kosovo - The United States is planning the first coordinated effort to resettle Serbs in Kosovo, despite the serious reservations of the UN refugee agency, which believes Serbs cannot be protected from revenge attacks by ethnic Albanians, according to U.S., UN, Serbian and Albanian officials in Kosovo.
The pilot project, which could begin this summer, will involve about 700 Serbs who were forced to flee the province last year. U.S. officials said they hoped it would 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 multiethnic society.
The idea has gotten a cool response from UN officials. In an interview, Dennis McNamara, the Balkans envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said, "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.
"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 United States is moving ahead with the effort. "Conditions are never going to be perfect, and there is never going to be a perfect moment," said one U.S. official. "This is something that has to start, even on a small scale."
No decision on a site has been made, but U.S. officials are leaning toward the village of Osojane, near Istok in northwestern Kosovo, which officials of the State Department visited last week. The village was inhabited by Serbs until last summer, when ethnic Albanian arsonists bent on revenge destroyed it shortly after NATO peacekeepers entered Kosovo.
Osojane, which would be rebuilt with U.S. funds, is being considered in part because the ethnic Albanian mayor of the region, Januz Januzi, supports the return of all displaced people to Kosovo. He has had an ongoing dialogue for the past six months with the one remaining Serbian enclave of 70 people in his area.
In addition, U.S. officials believe that Mr. Januzi - a longtime activist who served nine years in a Serbian prison, helped found the Kosovo Liberation Army, and fought and was wounded in the guerrilla campaign against Serbian forces last year - has the standing to help sell the idea to the local ethnic Albanian community.
"People were very impressed with him," said one U.S. official.
Mr. Januzi said his history of commitment to the cause of Kosovo has so far inoculated him against local grumbling about his contacts with Serbs, but he cautioned that repatriation will fail unless Serbs who live or want to live in the area make some apology for the atrocities that Serbian government forces committed against ethnic Albanians last year.
"I am for the return of Serbs," said Mr. Januzi, 42. "It is their right, but I don't want it to fail. For me, it will be easier to talk to Albanians and say, 'You should accept the apology and move on.' It would be a historic step, and I'm convinced Albanians can forgive."
U.S. officials said that they would welcome an apology by the returning Serbs, but that they do not view an apology as a prerequisite for starting the project. And because Osojane is a secluded village in a valley, they believe it can be adequately protected by NATO-led peacekeepers until conditions improve and Serbs can move freely in the province again.