Kosovo calls on ethnic Serb refugees to return
May 4, 2009, 15:44 GMT
Pristina - Kosovo authorities on Monday made an open call to ethnic Serb residents who fled the territory to come back, amid accusations by Belgrade that Pristina was obstructing their return.
'All the conditions have been met to build a multiethnic society,' Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci told journalists in Pristina.
'On behalf of the Kosovo government I call upon the Serbian government, the Belgrade authorities, to help the process of return of the refugees to their homes and property. Belgrade should not manipulate the process of the return of refugees,' he added.
For several days now Kosovo Serbs have clashed with the international peacekeepers over the rebuilding of houses by ethnic Albanians in the divided town of Kosovska Mitrovica. Kosovo Serbs are demanding that their houses be rebuild as well and see the rebuilding of Albanians' homes as a threat.
International forces, including the new European Union law enforcing mission in Kosovo (Eulex), used tear gas and water cannons to disperse angry ethnic Serbs who tried to stop the rebuilding of houses.
Belgrade says Kosovo Serbs are not returning because they fear for they safety and that the rebuilding of the Albanian houses in the northern mostly Serbian part of Mitrovica as another sign that ethnic Albanians do not want Serbs to return.
'The return is related to an agreement. So far Serbs returned only when Kosovo Albanians gave them the 'green light.' This is the first time that international forces have assisted someone who decided to return without previously reaching an agreement with the other side,' Oliver Ivanovic, a Kosovo Serb leader, told Belgrade media.
'Serbs are afraid for their safety because in the return of the Albanians they see their safety endangered,' he added.
In 1999 NATO bombed then Serbia to stop the brutal crackdown by Serbian forces on Albanian insurgents in Kosovo. After the bombing and the arrival of international forces in Kosovo thousands of Serbs fled Kosovo. Since then only a few hundred have returned.
In February 2008 Kosovo declared independence and was recognized by most of the European Union and the United States. Serbia, backed by Russia, opposes it.
Kosovo's minister in charge of returning refugees, Nenad Rasic, said that some 180 Kosovo Serb families returned to their homes last year.