Friday, January 14, 2005

Red Cross, UN urge ethnic Albanians, Serbia to find Kosovo's missing

The international Red Cross and the United Nations on Friday urged authorities in Serbia and Kosovo to resume direct talks on some 3,000 people missing since the conflict in the Serbian province five years ago.

"Thousands of families have been waiting for years now to learn what happened to a missing relative," said Francois Stamm, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) operations chief for southeast Europe.

"The authorities on both sides have a responsibility to clear up this question," he added in a statement.

After a meeting with Soren Jessen-Petersen, the UN's special representative for Kosovo -- which is still under the world body's administration -- the ICRC reiterated that it was ready to chair a working group to find out what happened to the missing.

The southern Serbian province became a UN protectorate after a NATO bombing campaign to end the 1998-99 war between Serbian forces and separatist ethnic Albanian guerrillas.

Attempts to resolve the fate of those unaccounted for since the conflict have been hampered by the ongoing and at times violent stand-off between the Serbian and ethnic Albanian communities in the province.

Serbia has also objected to the appointment of Ramush Haradinaj, a former ethnic Albanian rebel commander, as prime minister of the province following elections in October.

Jessen-Petersen said further delays could only aggravate the suffering of families in all communities in Kosovo.

"I am grateful for the ICRC's offer to take a lead role in facilitating dialogue because we now need to move on this issue. It has been dormant for too long," he said.

The international community has insisted on a dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina on practical issues before it allows talks on the final status of Kosovo, which is hotly disputed by the two sides.

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