AIM: start

MON, 14 JAN 2002 23:44:14 GMT

Plans for the Return of Kosovo Serbs

AIM Pristina, December 23, 2001

At the same time when Kosovo is faced with a parliamentary crisis due to political polarisation between Albanian protagonists, the agreement the UN Administration has reached with the Yugoslav representation in Kosovo on the large-scale return of the displaced Serbs to several regions of Kosovo, has only exacerbated the political climate in Kosovo. That is why the Albanian political and wide public have paid less attention to the parliamentary crisis and more to the large-scale return of the Serbs, which they have already labelled a kind of re-colonisation of Kosovo.

Be that as it may, some ten groups of settlement will be built in Kosovo over the next ten years so as to encourage the return of displaced Serbs. Such agreement has been reached between representatives of the Coordinating Centre for Kosovo and the UN Mission in Kosovo. The spokesperson for this mission, Susan Manuel confirmed that the aim of this project is to build settlements on locations where there are prospects that Serbs could be integrated into the Kosovo daily life. Ms. Manuel also said that the international officials would first have to define regions in which the Serbs would be welcomed by their neighbours, expressing her conviction that there are such places. "I cannot say which places are in question, but I would not include Pristina among them. However, there are regions where people would accept the return of their neighbours, although it will be difficult to pin down exactly such locations", said the spokesperson, Manuel, adding that this would be a priority issue for the international community.

Actually, the latest agreement of the international administration and Belgrade officials represents a continuation of the Project prepared several months ago by the Office of UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN Mission in Kosovo, two organisations which have always exerted maximum efforts at improving the position of the Serbian community in Kosovo. According to the Project, it is necessary to provide immobile property and houses for the return of the Serbs. The Project would be implemented by giving property to persons of Serbian nationality wishing to return, irrespective whether they had sold their property to the Albanians on their own, through lawyers or whether they still have it in their possession.

On the other hand, although assessments have been presented that conditions are not yet suitable for the return of the Serbs to their houses and flats, the UNHCR-OSCE-UNMIK Project envisages the construction of some ten new settlements for the Serbian community, which would be financed from international funds for assisting Kosovo. According to the demands of Serbian party, these settlements should be located in a continuous belt leading from Mitrovica in the North to Kamenica in eastern Kosovo thus constituting a zone of Serbian enclaves that would divide Kosovo into two halves, while the Albanians would be on both sides. On the other hand, according to officials of the UN Interim Civil Mission in Kosovo, conditions have already been created for the return of a part of Kosovo Serbs to mixed settlements, i.e. there where the Albanians represent the majority and mostly in smaller towns of central Kosovo, primarily in Lipljane and Obilic, as well as in the East, in Vitina and Gnjilane. To that end, Civil Administrator in Kosovo Hans Haekkerup undertook preparatory measures on time by signing a Decree on prohibiting the Albanians from buying the Serbian property in mixed settlements, which UNMIK assessed as strategic purchase since, according to it, it contributed to a large-scale departure of Serbs from Kosovo. The Albanian representatives in the joint advisory Body (the Administration Council of Kosovo), which before the elections included representatives of the leaders of three largest Albanian political parties and one representative of the Serbian community in Kosovo, opposed this Decree. Legal experts have compared this Decree with the one issued during Milosevic's regime on the prohibition of the sale of immobile property to citizens of Albanian nationality, which was assessed as discriminatory. The Ombudsperson for Kosovo, Marek Novicky, also negatively assessed Haekkerup's Decree. Namely, under this Decree the Albanians could not buy Serbian immobile property without previous permission of the international administrator of the given municipality.

This measure has greatly contributed to the preservation of the Serbian property, thereby making their return much easier. The recent statement of the Vice-President of the Serbian Government Nebojsa Covic that Serbia was planning to buy the property of Kosovo Serbs, attracted much interest here, with the explanation that it would be impossible to do since municipalities mostly control the land and other immobile property.

On the other hand, in connection with the adopted Agreement, officials of the UN Mission have stated that the fact that a large number of Kosovo Serbs had already sold their property in Kosovo would not represent an obstacle to their return. "They will be given new property in settlements that have been designed for that purpose by the Project on the return of 180 thousand Serbs", stated an UNMIK official. Thus, the Serbs who have sold their property would be offered a possibility of getting new property free of charge, although most of them acquired not only immobile property, but also some business in Serbia with the money they got from the earlier sale of their Kosovo property.

Certain details from this Project have been published at the time when Albanians were prevented from visiting their burned down houses in the northern part of Mitrovica because the local Serbs, who are mostly concentrated in the largest Serbian enclave in Mitrovica, Leposavic and Zubin Potok, were against it. "we are also exerting pressure for the return of Albanians to the North of Kosovo. As you have seen for yourself, some Serbs have opposed their visit to the North, but that doesn't mean that those were their neighbours, because activists and extremists are usually those against" said Susan Manuel, spokesperson for the UNMIK, who was unable to confirm whether there was a clear plan for the return of Albanians to northern Kosovo, dominated by members of the Serbian community.

The new Projects envisages the return to Kosovo of not only elderly people and farmers, but also of intellectuals and the young, as 20 percent of working places in future self-governing structures are envisaged for non-Albanians, whereas Serbs would get over 50 percent of places reserved for minorities. Nevertheless, spokesperson for the Mission, Ms. Manuel said that there would be no selection of persons wanting to return.

Some time ago, local and international officials published the results of their research about conditions under which Kosovars live, stating that over 50 percent of the population was living in extreme poverty. Professor Rifat Blaku, Ph.D., Director of the Centre for Migrations and lecturer at the Faculty of Law said that prior to this Project a Committee for the Return of Serbs was established in Gracanica, and Project operations Trojan I and Trojan II signed while UNMIK and Belgrade officials initialled an Agreement in Belgrade. "Possible implementation of this Project will further exacerbate the current economic and social situation in Kosovo", claimed Mr. Blaku, explaining that Kosovo is lacking a unified and clear strategy of local officials for the creation of a stable and democratic surrounding, which creates space for claims that multi-ethnic Kosovo would be possible only with the large-scale return of exiled Serbs.

On the other hand, Serbs do not trust UNMIK to keep its promises, either when the latest Agreement is in question, or the Belgrade document or the Project on the Return of 180 thousand Serbs and construction of settlements in the strategic North-East zone. They are not sure whether the latest Agreement would put the Project of the construction of settlements in Kosovo "outside the law", since it envisages the return to mixed settlements in an attempt to rectify the UNMIK's omissions. "It is good that the life is finally getting back to normal and that Serbs would start coming back", said Mrs.Rada Trajkovic, representative of the Kosovo Serbs in joint structures with UNMIK and chief of delegate club in the Kosovo Parliament symbolically called "Povratak" (The Return), which calls for the return of Serbs to Kosovo and re-integration of Kosovo into Serbia.

Irrespective of criticism and objections, UNMIK has done very little regarding selective return of Serbian population, which would help guarantee the stability. More precisely, for greater part such attempts have failed. Nevertheless, the selective return would imply providing data on the returnees as many members of the Serbian community in Kosovo had been, willingly or against their will, engaged in military and para-military formations of Milosevic's regime at the time when gravest crimes against the Kosovo Albanians were committed.

"In this stage, the identification of perpetrators of crimes and Serbian criminals, as well as their arrest or, at least, deprivation of the right of return to Kosovo, would create better conditions for Serbs when it comes to their integration into the Kosovo society and would also help the Albanians to do their share of work, as majority, in securing the rights of Serbian minority in Kosovo", said the intellectuals and activists of the Association for the Protection of Human Rights, Albanians, Serbs and Bosniacs at the Round Table on the subject of "Albanians and non-Albanians" held in Pristina.