Giving hope to persecuted Christians since 1995
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(AP) – Recent ethnic violence has dealt a “devastating blow” to the process of repatriating tens of thousands of people who fled the 1998-1999 war in Kosovo, a U.N. official said Tuesday. More than 200,000 Serbs and other ethnic minorities streamed out of Kosovo in mid-1999 following a NATO air war that ended a Serb crackdown on the province’s independence-seeking ethnic Albanian majority. Only about 10,000 of Kosovo’s displaced have returned, and a new round of violence against ethnic Serbs three months ago has slowed that influx significantly, said Peggy Hicks, the U.N. official in charge of the repatriations. The mob attacks by ethnic Albanians in mid-March “destroyed the confidence and the trust” between the two communities, Hicks said. Nineteen people were killed and over 900 injured in rioting after the drowning deaths of two ethnic Albanian children were blamed on Kosovo Serbs. Dozens of Serb churches and monasteries and thousands of their homes were destroyed in just a few days of rampage. International and local officials hoped that 2004 would see increased returns. But the rioting in March prompted another 4,000 people to flee. “The March violence dealt a devastating blow to our hopes for returns for this year,” Hicks said, adding that repatriations were three months behind schedule. Though formally part of Serbia-Montenegro – which succeeded Yugoslavia – Kosovo has been run by the United Nations since mid-1999. Most of the displaced people are Serbs who fled real or threatened ethnic Albanian intimidation. Serbia and Kosovo’s Serbs strongly oppose the Albanian majority’s demands for independence. U.N. and local authorities in Kosovo are revising plans for repatriations as part of a larger U.N. policy paper that lays out guidelines for the province’s political future, Hicks said.