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Yugoslavia: UN Official Appeals For Tolerance In Kosovo

A senior official of the UN refugee agency says Kosovar society can not be successfully rebuilt until ethnic Albanians stop their revenge attacks on Kosovo's remaining Serbs. Correspondent Ben Partridge reports on Dennis McNamara's call for tolerance in a speech this week in London.

London, 12 November 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Intimidation and attacks by ethnic Albanians on the remaining Serbian and Romany populations in Kosovo are continuing on an almost daily basis, the UN said this week. The attacks come despite efforts of international UN peacekeepers to uphold law and order.

Dennis McNamara of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) is a UN special envoy to the former Yugoslavia and Albania. Speaking at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London this week, he said it is understandable that many of the hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians who were forced out of Kosovo by Serbian repression -- and who have now returned -- feel "fury" toward the remaining Serbian population. He says this personal anger was fueled by the discovery in June and July of alleged mass grave sites.

McNamara said the anger the returning Kosovar Albanians has prompted many Serbian civilians to flee.

"The fury of returning refugees [is] understandable at a personal level, bearing in mind that between one and three alleged mass grave sites were reportedly being found every day in Kosovo in June and July. This fury has tragically created a new Balkan refugee exodus. This a major concern and preoccupation for the United Nations and all humanitarian agencies in Kosovo."

McNamara said the number of Serbian and Romany civilians now remaining in Kosovo has fallen to less than half of the original pre-conflict populations, before NATO's intervention in March to stop Serbian paramilitary repression of the ethnic Albanian population.

He said many civilians live in constant fear of attack. Peacekeeping troops in KFOR, NATO's force in Kosovo, have to physically protect groups of Serbs and Roma in various places across the province. He noted that in mid-July, up to six civilians were killed each day.

McNamara said that now, three months later, there has been a substantial reduction in the rate of killings, but the violence and attacks continue. He said the homes of Serbs and Roma continue to be forcibly occupied or burned, even as the international community mounts a continuing effort to rehouse the returned ethnic Albanian refugees before winter.

"Until this violence is contained, efforts to promote reconciliation or the large-scale return of Serbs, and other minorities, to Kosovo remain premature. The climate of fear and intimidation is also reaching into the Albanian community, with Albanian moderates being subject to threats and intimidation."

McNamara noted that the independent Kosovar Albanian publisher, Veton Surroi, was recently the target of virulent attacks in the local media, attacks which the UN interpreted as death threats. Surroi, publisher of the Pristina daily "Koha Ditore," had publicly urged restraint and tolerance toward minorities in Kosovo.

Ethnic Albanians blame the Serbian and Romany civilians for allegedly helping the Serbian paramilitaries repress Albanians. McNamara said some of the Serbs and Roma did take part in the atrocities, but they have already fled. He said it was important that they should be held accountable for their actions by the international community. But the rest of the Serbs and Roma, even those who were "silent witnesses" to human rights violations, should not, in McNamara's words, "become the new refugees of the Balkans on the basis of perceived collective responsibility." McNamara said that the international community needs to take concerted action to tackle the problem. But he added that local community leaders also need to understand that the suffering of the Albanian population is no justification for renewed ethnic purging. The key to a stable society, the UN envoy said, is tolerance.