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Yugoslavia: UNHCR Says Serbian Refugees Face Critical Situation

Belgrade, 20 July 1999 (RFE/RL) - The United Nations' refugee agency, the UNHCR, says Serbian refugees from Kosovo are facing a critical situation in Serbia. Vesna Petkovic, a spokeswoman in the UNHCR's Belgrade office, said today that the Serbian refugees have been provided with "completely unsuitable" accommodations. She said Serbia is dealing with around 150,000 Serbian refugees from Kosovo, while Montenegro is absorbing about 22,000 others. In Geneva, a UNHCR spokesman says that most ethnic Albanian refugees from Kosovo have now returned to the province. The spokesman said the UNHCR is planning to close down four of its remaining six refugee camps in Albania. He said the number of ethnic Albanian refugees in Macedonian camps has dwindled to about 8,000.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today in Vienna that the failure of the international community to help restore water supplies and other basic services to Yugoslavia could lead to an exodus of Serbs. Speaking to the permanent council of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Annan also said complete reconstruction of the Balkans could take at least 10 years.

The Yugoslav government today complained in a letter to Annan that the UN mission in Kosovo is exceeding its mandate by treating Serbs as a "minority" in their own country. Belgrade demanded the immediate return of Yugoslav Army and police to Kosovo border posts with Albania and Macedonia.

Meanwhile, Russia has resumed formal ties with NATO to discuss joint peacekeeping operations in Kosovo. Restoration of the ties was announced in Moscow today by the Foreign Ministry. Russia froze relations with NATO to protest its bombing of Yugoslavia.