UNHCR condemns violence targeting Kosovo Serb returnees

Briefing Notes, 22 September 2006

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 22 September 2006, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR strongly condemns a bomb attack this week on a Serb returnee family in the town of Klina/Kline in Western Kosovo, seriously wounding four persons. The Tuesday (19 Sept.) incident was also condemned by the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and by local authorities. It has further heightened anxiety and fear among the small community of Kosovo Serb returnees and the local community.

We're particularly concerned that this is the third violent attack over a short period of time targeting Serb returnees in the Klina/Kline municipality. On 20 June, a Kosovo Serb returnee to Klina/Kline was shot dead in front of his house, and on 11 September the newly constructed home of a Kosovo Serb returnee family was blown up.

A total of 552 Serbs and Roma have returned to Klina/Kline municipality since 2000 113 of them to the town itself.

Violence against the returning Kosovo Serbs and Roma has been a recurring phenomenon, varying in intensity and frequency. UNHCR sees a safe and secure environment as the crucial pre-condition for the return of non-Albanian ethnic groups to the province. Each and every security incident has dire consequences on the overall return process, with a ripple effect spreading among the non-Albanian displaced population. UNHCR considers it imperative that perpetrators of such acts are found and prosecuted in accordance with the law.

We also call upon the authorities throughout Kosovo to continue to ensure the safety and security of those who have returned to the province, and of those preparing to return.

In early 1999, Kosovo was the scene of atrocities and the forceful displacement of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians. Following the end of a three-month NATO intervention and the arrival of NATO troops in Kosovo in mid-June 1999, most of Kosovo's Albanian population returned to their homes within days.

In contrast, the return of non-Albanians to Kosovo, which started in 2000, has been painfully slow. To date, only some 15,600 minority returns have been registered out of the estimated 250,000 ethnic Serbs, Roma and others who left the province after the withdrawal of Serbian forces in 1999. There are still more than 220,000 displaced Kosovo Serbs and Roma over 207,000 of them in Serbia and the rest in Montenegro.

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