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Kosovo: 800 return to Malisevo

Briefing notes

Kosovo: 800 return to Malisevo

8 January 1999

More than 80 families comprising about 800 people have returned to Malisevo in central Kosovo in the past several weeks. The returnees said they were encouraged by assurances of support given by High Commissioner Sadako Ogata during her visit to the area on 21 December. Mrs. Ogata, who went to Malisevo with Ambassador William Walker, head of the Kosovo Verification Mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said then that UNHCR and OSCE would try to create conditions for the safe return of the people of Malisevo, which had been a ghost town since its 3,000 residents fled fighting there in July. Since then police and army units have occupied the area, and the town had become a symbol of fear among the displaced of Kosovo, who still number about 180,000.

Hundreds of newly displaced Kosovars have also begun returning to villages in the Lapastica area of Podujevo, a strategic municipality on the Pristina-Pec road. Fighting broke out in the area on Christmas Eve, prompting more than 5,000 people to flee their homes. The clash, which lasted four days, was the worst since a cease-fire was called in Kosovo in October. A standoff brokered by OSCE has ensued, but an upsurge of random violence elsewhere has claimed 20 lives, including three Serbians, in the last 10 days.

Demonstrations by Serbian civilians on Thursday (7 January) over killings of Serbians disrupted relief activities and alarmed aid agencies. Three convoys were prevented from returning to Pristina on Thursday because of the demonstrations, and are returning to the provincial capital today.

UNHCR is extremely alarmed by continued violent inter-ethnic incidents marked by tit-for-tat retaliations. Utmost restraint is required from both Serbs and Albanians to preserve the fragile truce while political efforts to resolve the conflict continue.