Thursday, May 05, 2005

Kosovo Officials Fundraising To Restore Roma Homes

PRISTINA (AP)--Kosovo's top officials will attend a conference Thursday to raise funds for the reconstruction of a devastated Roma neighborhood in an effort to return the displaced to their prewar homes.

The donors' conference aims to collect aid for the rebuilding of homes in the so-called Roma Mahala, a neighborhood in Kosovska Mitrovica, an ethnically divided town some 45 kilometers north of the province's capital Pristina.

The attempt to return the Romas to their destroyed neighborhood will be an important test in the efforts of the U.N.-run province to bring rival communities closer together.

Kosovska Mitrovica, a scene of frequent ethnic clashes in the past, epitomizes Kosovo's ethnic divide, with ethnic Albanians living in the south and Serbs in the northern part.

The Roma neighborhood, in the southern part of the town, was home to some 8,000 Roma and other minorities and was destroyed in the aftermath of the 1998-1999 war when ethnic Albanian extremists attacked the minorities, seeking revenge for the killings of some 10,000 of their ethnic kin by Serb forces.

The Roma community in Kosovo was accused by some ethnic Albanians as collaborating with Serb forces during their crackdown on the independence-seeking ethnic Albanian majority.

About 1,000 of the displaced Roma settled in makeshift camps within Kosovo, some located near an industrial area with high lead levels, raising alarm about their health.

Authorities in Kosovo have been criticized for tolerating the situation since mid-1999.

Last week, the top U.N. administrator Soren Jessen-Petersen allocated EUR150,000 to a project to reduce lead contamination in the Roma camps.

Jessen-Petersen and Kosovo's Prime Minister Bajram Kosumi will be among those attending the donors' conference in Kosovska Mitrovica

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