UNHCR welcomes more NATO troops in Kosovo, prepares for possible arrivals in Serbia

UNHCR is trying to send aid to some of the 1,000 people evacuated from their homes in Kosovo by NATO troops. The refugee agency is also readying itself to receive anyone fleeing the restive province for Serbia.

Some minority members in Pristina have been evacuated by NATO-led troops.   © UNHCR/R.Chalasani

BELGRADE, Serbia and Montenegro, March 19 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency in Serbia is standing by to receive people fleeing the recent violence in Kosovo, in addition to the more than 1,000 who have already been evacuated by NATO troops.

No significant spontaneous movements have been reported so far, with few people arriving in Serbia on their own since ethnic clashes broke out in Kosovo on Wednesday.

In the last two days, the NATO-led Kosovo Force has evacuated at least 1,000 minority members - mostly ethnic Serbs - from the Gjilan/Gnjilane, Pristina and Pec/Peja areas of Kosovo. Many of the evacuated houses were subsequently burnt down by angry crowds.

UNHCR is trying to send aid to some of the evacuees, working with the UN Kosovo Mission, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). But aid delivery has been hard as all movements in Kosovo have been halted because of the insecurity.

Since erupting in the northern Kosovo town of Mitrovica on Wednesday, the clashes have spread to Serbia proper, with angry crowds torching churches in Kosovo and mosques in Serbia. UN buildings and vehicles have also been stoned.

UNHCR, which on Thursday denounced the violence and called for calm, has welcomed the deployment of additional NATO troops in Kosovo. The refugee agency hopes this will put an end to the violence threatens to undo years of international efforts to reconcile the country's ethnic communities.