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Kosovo: Misinformation could stoke ethnic tension

Kosovo: top UN envoy calls for end to misinformation that could stoke ethnic tension

With ethnically motivated crimes actually declining in Kosovo, the top United Nations envoy there today called for an end to the spread of misinformation about the security of Serbs in the Albanian-majority Serbian province, which the UN has run since Western forces drove out Yugoslav troops in 1999 amid grave rights abuses in ethnic fighting.

Such actions threaten to aggravate inter-ethnic tensions at a time when the first direct talks are underway to determine the final status of the province, where ethnic Albanians outnumber all others communities by 9 to 1.

“I have noted with concern periodic statements from certain quarters that risk creating a climate of fear and insecurity among the Kosovo Serbs,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Representative Søren Jessen-Petersen said. “All too often ethnic motive is alleged for crimes merely because the victims happen to be from the Kosovo Serb community.

“Whereas we always deplore any attack on any citizen, statements of misleading nature are not helpful and are in fact contrary to the interests of the Kosovo Serbs. This kind of misinformation not only erodes their confidence level, but has a cascading negative impact on inter-ethnic relations,” Mr. Jessen-Petersen added.

Crime statistics for the first quarter of this year reveal a marked decline in crimes where the possibility of an ethnic motive has not yet been ruled out. As compared to 72 incidents recorded during January to March 2005, there were only 19 such incidents during the same period this year. Of these, 12 involved Kosovo Serb victims, six Kosovo Albanians and one a Kosovo Croatian.

The UN mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) has been seeking to foster communal harmony and promote the return of Serbs who fled ever since it took over the administration of the province after the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO) military intervention in 1999.

In view of continuing perceptions of insecurity among the Kosovo Serbs, Mr. Jessen-Petersen has called for increased international police deployment in minority areas to support the local police efforts to prevent incidents and help increase community confidence, UNMIK said today.

The issue has taken on added significance now as the various parties continue direct talks under UN sponsorship in Vienna to decide the future status of Kosovo. Independence and autonomy are among options that have been mentioned. Serbia rejects independence and Kosovo’s Serbs have been boycotting the province's provisional institutions.

So far the talks have only dealt with issues of decentralization and significant differences have emerged over number and extent of new municipalities to be created with a Kosovo-Serb majority.

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