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Refugee families living in the northern towns of Mitrovica and Zvecan have been urged to move to more environmentally-safe areas (RFE/RL)
9 February 2006 -- International authorities in Kosovo today urged several hundred Roma living in makeshift camps near a lead-polluted dump in the province to move to safer UN-proposed housing.
A joint statement issued today by the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), says the move is an emergency requirement for the health and safety of internally-displaced persons (IDPs) and their children.
The statement says UNMIK, WHO, and UNICEF are once again urging Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian IDPs to vacate the lead-polluted camps in northern Mitrovica and Zvecan and move their families to the safer environment offered by UNMIK, at Osterode Camp.
The families were forced to leave their houses when they were attacked by ethnic Albanian extremists in mid-1999.
Kosovo is a Serbian province under United Nations administration.
THE WORLD'S NEWEST NATION? The region of Kosovo has a population of more than 2 million, some 90 percent of whom are ethnic Albanians. It was one of the poorest regions in the former Yugoslavia, but has considerable mineral wealth and an enterprising population, many of whom work abroad but keep close contact with Kosovo. All ethnic Albanian political parties seek independence on the principles of self-determination and majority rule. They feel that Serbia lost its historically based claim to what was its autonomous province under the 1974 constitution by revoking that autonomy in the late 1980s and then conducting a crackdown in 1999 that forced some 850,000 people to flee their homes.
Since NATO's intervention that year to stop the expulsions, Kosovo has been under a UN administration (UNMIK). The UN has begun to gradually transfer functions to elected Kosovar institutions. The primary Serbian concerns are physical safety for the local Serbian minority, a secure return for the tens of thousands of Serbian displaced persons, and protection for historic Serbian religious buildings. The main problems affecting all Kosovars, however, are economic. Until Kosovo's final status is clarified and new legislation passed and enforced, it will not be able to attract the investment it needs to provide jobs for its population, which is one of the youngest and fastest growing in Europe. Prosperity is widely seen as the key to political stability and interethnic coexistence in Kosovo, as is the case in much of Southeastern Europe.
For an archive of RFE/RL's coverage of developments in the disputed region of KOSOVO, click here.