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The human rights watchdog Amnesty International says clashes in Kosovo in March showed that international forces have failed to protect ethnic minorities in the UN protectorate. In a report published today, the London-based group also says that five years after the international community took control over Kosovo, Serbs and other minorities remain as vulnerable as ever. Amnesty calls for those responsible for crimes committed in March to be brought to justice and for the international administrators of the region to investigate why peacekeepers failed to protect minorities during the violence.
Prague, 8 July 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Amnesty International says the violence in Kosovo in March -- which left 19 people dead and some 950 injured -- demonstrates what it calls the "failure of both domestic and international forces to protect ethnic minorities."
The report focuses on the clashes of 17-18 March, which predominantly involved attacks by ethnic Albanians on Kosovo Serbs and some other minority groups.
Kosovo, officially still part of Serbia and Montenegro, has been under the administration of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), following NATO's air campaign against Yugoslavia in the spring of 1999. The international force in Kosovo (KFOR), led by NATO, remains the sole official military force.
The violence in March reportedly involved some 51,000 people in 33 incidents throughout the region. More than 4,000 people were forced to flee their homes, and there also was large-scale destruction of property.
Sian Jones, one of the authors of the report, told RFE/RL that the high number of people killed and injured shows the lack of a coherent and consistent response on the part of the international community. "There was no real coordinated or coherent response across Kosovo by either UNMIK police or by the [local] Kosovo force to the public-order incidents that occurred," Jones said.
The report says that five years after the international community took control of Kosovo, "minorities remain as vulnerable as ever." It blames KFOR and the civilian police for failing to provide security and public safety for the minority communities.
Jones explained that Serbs were not the only ones attacked. "In areas where Albanians are in the minority, in the northern provinces around Mitrovica and Zubin Potok, certainly, Albanians were forced to leave their houses, and our particular concern is for a group of [ethnic] Ashkali, who were living in Vushtrri [Vucitrn in Serbian] who found themselves burnt out of their homes," Jones said.
The report says some 1,000 people from the Serbian and Ashkali communities remain homeless and are living in poor conditions as a result of the latest violence. It goes on to say that a civilian command structure for KFOR "would help ensure greater accountability for human rights violations committed by KFOR personnel."
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed Ambassador Kai Eide of Norway to investigate the violence and its political implications, and to recommend how the ethnic Albanian and Serbian communities in Kosovo can live together again peacefully.
Sian Jones of Amnesty International said the new report calls on international and local officials to clearly establish who was responsible for the failure to prevent or contain the violence. "We're calling on KFOR and UNMIK to make the results of their internal investigations public, so we can actually establish what actually happened and where the failure to protect actually occurred along the chain if command. We're also calling on NATO and the French and German governments to conduct inquiries themselves. We're also calling on the authorities to put as much energy as they can into finding the perpetrators," Jones said.
The report calls on UNMIK to bring all of those believed to be responsible for murder, arson, and incitement of violence to justice. In June, UN police in Kosovo said they had arrested about 270 people in relation to the violence and that international prosecutors had begun handling 52 of the most serious cases.
The report also warns that the continuing uncertainty over the final status of Kosovo has contributed over the past year to what it calls "the rising interethnic tensions." The international community has conditioned negotiations on the province's final status with progress on a set of standards on protection of minorities, the rule of law, and the economy, and have set the middle of 2005 as a review date.
U.S. Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman, who was in Kosovo yesterday, urged local leaders and the UN administration to "move fast, comprehensively, and successfully" to implement the standards. Grossman warned that the deadline for implementation is "right around the corner." Implementing the standards, Grossman said, "gives us the best chance to create a multi-ethnic, democratic, prosperous, and peaceful Kosovo."