UNHCR condemns violence against Serb returnee in Kosovo

The recent shooting of a Serb returnee in Gjilan/Gnjilane, Kosovo, is a stark reminder that members of ethnic minorities who go back continue to face harassment and attacks, said the UN refugee agency.

Serb returnees working vegetable plots in Kosovo. Only a small fraction have returned out of an estimated 230,000 people &; mostly Serbs &; who fled Kosovo in 1999.   © UNHCR/R.Chalasani

GENEVA, Oct 7 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has expressed serious concern over a recent attack on a Serb returnee in Kosovo, calling it a "stark reminder" of continued harassment against ethnic minorities seeking to return to the province.

The returnee, a 73-year-old Serb woman, had gone back to her hometown of Gjilan/Gnjilane on Saturday to repossess her property as authorised by a court ruling. She was shot and wounded by an ethnic Albanian man who had moved into her house with his family after she fled Kosovo in 1999.

The woman is now in hospital in the northern Kosovo town of Kosovska Mitrovica. The man who shot her has been arrested.

"The shooting represents the worst act of violence against a Serb returnee to Kosovo in many months," said UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski at a news briefing in Geneva Tuesday. "It is a stark reminder that despite much progress in efforts to reconcile Kosovo's communities, members of ethnic minorities who go back continue to face harassment and attacks."

Some 230,000 people, most of them ethnic Serbs, were estimated to have fled Kosovo in 1999 to Serbia proper and Montenegro, as Serbs forces lost control of the province. Only an estimated 8,379 minority members have since gone back, about half of them Serbs. The remainder are ethnic Roma.