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Serb Refugees Blocked From Returning to Kosovo - 2002-09-21

United Nations police in Kosovo Saturday turned back at the Serbian border a convoy of Serb refugees attempting to return to their homes in Kosovo.

Organizers had called off the demonstration at the last minute fearing provocation from Albanians in Kosovo. Nonetheless up to 100 Serb refugees proceeded along the main road up to the border point at the town of Merdere. There they blocked the highway for some time but were not permitted to proceed into Kosovo.

The Serbs abandoned their homes in Kosovo in 1999 after the Yugoslav army was forced out of Kosovo by NATO's air war.

Some 200,000 Serbs fled and most say they want to return. The United Nations, which administers Kosovo, says it supports their return but that it must be done in a way that avoids inflaming ethnic passions.

Ninety percent of the people living in Kosovo are ethnic Albanians. Some 80,000 Serbs do live in Kosovo but only in ethnic enclaves protected by NATO peacekeepers.

Saturday's protest was intended to call attention to the plight of the Serb refugees. The Serbian government - as well as the United States - has been calling for faster action on allowing the refugees to return.