United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has condemned attacks against Serbian Orthodox churches in the U.N.-administered province of Kosovo. Mr. Annan arrived Tuesday in the Yugoslav capital amid widespread public protests on another issue the United Nations is involved in.
Mr. Annan touched down in Belgrade, while thousands of supporters of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic demanded that the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague immediately release the former leader. Their protests came as the U.N. Secretary-General planned to ask Yugoslav leaders to cooperate better with the tribunal and to respect sanctions against Iraq.
Under Milosevic, Yugoslavia had close ties with Iraq and other controversial nations. But after he lost power, state arms dealer Yugoimport continued to violate the U.N. ban on weapons trade with Baghdad by overhauling MiG jet engines and providing other unspecified military services for Iraq.
In addition, Mr. Annan was expected to urge Belgrade to arrest all suspected war criminals, including those responsible for alleged atrocities in Kosovo province, which he also visited Tuesday.
At the same time he had to admit that the United Nations Mission In Kosovo, known as UNMIK, failed to prevent attacks against minority Serbs.
Speaking earlier at UNMIK headquarters in Pristina, Mr. Annan condemned this weekend's bombings, which damaged the interior of a Serbian Orthodox Church, outside the provincial capital, Pristina, and destroyed another one in a nearby village.
"We should treat our neighbors the way we would like to be treated. The incident of last weekend when bombs were thrown into the churches is not something anyone can condone. And those incidents and instances must stop," Mr. Annan said.
The U.N. chief discussed the tensions with Kosovo's leadership amid concern that the attacks against religious sites will discourage up to 200-thousand Serb and other minority refugees to return.
Many fled for fear of revenge attacks after the Serb led military crackdown against Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority in 1999, following NATO airstrikes.
Mr. Annan also saw for himself the ethnic tensions, when he visited Kosovska Mitrovica, a tense, northern town divided between Serb and Albanian sections with U.N. police and NATO led peacekeepers in the middle. "I have had the chance to visit Mitrovica and see some other villages in the country. And as difficult as things are, there are hopeful signs that we further progress," he said.
One of the plans is to set up a municipal government with ethnic Albanian and Serbian leaders. Mr. Annan suggested that despite the setbacks, the U.N. was making a difference in the Balkans by saving others from the scourge of all out war.
On Sunday he unveiled a marble memorial in nearby Bosnia Herzegovina to honor the 257 U.N. workers who died in the line of duty in the former Yugoslavia.