TANJUG: UNMIK condemns attacks on Serbs in Žač

Tanjug, New York (24 April, 2010) – The head of the UN Mission in Kosovo and Metohija, Lamberto Zannier, sharply condemned the stoning of Serb returnees in the village of Žač in Kosovo and Metohija.

He called for dialogue between members of the Serb and Albanian communities who "have to live with each other". Zannier expressed concern over the harassment of the members of 26 Serb returnee families, whose tents have been stoned for the past several nights in the village of Žač in the east of the Serbian province.

"Priština authorities have rightly characterized these incidents as 'cowardly and intolerable" and called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice," said Zannier, as published on the website of the UN.

The UNMIK chief warned that "such incidents can negatively affect the delicate process of returns of displaced persons to their homes in Kosovo". Zannier stressed the need to ensure that similar incidents do not happen again and that the only lasting solution to the issue of returnees is "open and honest dialogue".

In his latest report on Kosovo to the Security Council, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon stated that although voluntary returns remain at a low level, last year there was an increase of returnees from the previous year.

Thus, last year more than 1,100 people returned to their homes, as compared to 679 in the year 2008.

In the first two months of this year, 259 members of ethnic minority communities voluntarily returned to Kosovo, including 90 Serbs, 22 Albanians, 30 Roma, 89 Ashkali and Egyptians, 16 Bosniacs and 12 Goranis.

Last year during the same period 55 people returned to the southern Serbian province.

The report states that last year's efforts by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the Serbian Ministry for Kosovo and Metohija and the Ministry of Communities and Returns in Priština "have revived interest among the displaced and given a new impetus to the return process".

Ban stressed, however, that "the total number of returnees is still disappointingly low" and called for cooperation by all parties in order to increase their number.

In the night between Tuesday and Wednesday unknown persons in several passes stoned two camps with UNHCR tents in the village of Žač which house 26 members of Serb returnee families, who yesterday left the village and went to central Serbia.

Serbs returned to the village of Žač in late March, and because of their return local Albanians have protested for several days, claiming that among the returnees are those who participated in the persecution and killings of their compatriots, which the returnees deny.