Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Serbia, Kosovo, UN to Promote Return of Displaced

Serbia, Kosovo And UN Sign Accord to Promote Return of Displaced

New York, Jun 6 2006 4:00PM

Representatives of the Serbian and Kosovo Governments today signed an agreement to speed up the return of people displaced by ethnic conflict in the Serbian province, which the United Nations has administered ever since Western forces drove out Yugoslav troops in 1999 amid grave human rights abuses.

“The Protocol confirms that in spite of differences on various issues, there is a will to cooperate to end the situation of displacement while duly respecting the right of the internally displaced to return to their homes and to freely choose their places of residence,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Representative Søren Jessen-Petersen said, signing the accord on behalf of the UN.

The accord, a necessary step on the way to deciding the final status of the province where Albanians outnumber Serbs and others by 9 to 1, and from which many Serbs fled, “shows that we are all committed to put the rights of the displaced persons on the forefront,” he added.

The Protocol seeks to boost returns through provisions that range from affording access to basic services to promoting integration of internally displaced persons (IDPs). It acknowledges that a successful process is based on three elements: ensuring safety of returnees; returning property to the displaced and rebuilding their houses; and creating an environment that sustains returns.

The UN mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) has been seeking to foster communal harmony and promote the return of Serbs who fled ever since it started running the province after the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO) military intervention in 1999. Most Albanians who had fled during the earlier fighting with the Yugoslav army have already returned.

Direct talks between the Kosovo and Serbian sides began in February in Vienna under the auspices of Mr. Annan's Special Envoy for the future status of the province, Martti Ahtisaari.

Independence and autonomy are among options mentioned but Serbia rejects independence and Kosovo’s Serbs have been boycotting the province’s provisional institutions. Significant differences so far have emerged on issues of decentralization, just one of many issues on the table.

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