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UN Envoy: Recent Kosovo Violence a Setback to Peacekeeping Efforts - 2004-05-11

A senior U.N. envoy says the recent wave of ethnic violence in Kosovo dealt a severe blow to the world body's five-year peacemaking effort there. The comments coincide with the release of a new U.N. report that concludes Kosovo's Albanian majority took advantage of the violence to try to rid the region of minority groups.

The secretary general's special envoy to Kosovo, Harry Holkeri, said the ethnically-motivated violence that swept the region in mid-March has called into question the value of the U.N. mission there, known as UNMIK. "The violence was the most serious setback to UNMIK's efforts of the last five years, and shook the mission to its foundations. It challenged the sustainability of the international community's efforts to build a multi-ethnic Kosovo where all citizens could live in peace and security," he said.

In a separate report submitted to the Security Council, Secretary General Kofi Annan describes the violence as a targeted effort by Kosovo Albanians to drive out Serbs and other minorities, and to destroy the social fabric of their existence in the region.

In his presentation, Mr. Holkeri criticized Kosovo's political leaders, including the prime minister, for being slow to condemn attacks on religious sites.

He also found fault with government officials and news media for jumping to conclusions about the circumstances surrounding the drowning of two ethnic Albanian boys. The deaths enraged residents and played a role in triggering the ethnic outburst.

Mr. Holkeri said nearly two months later, tensions remain high. "The current security environment in Kosovo is not conducive to the forcible return of members of minority communities to their homes in Kosovo," he said.

In a briefing for diplomats Monday, Mr. Holkeri gave what was described as a pessimistic assessment of the U.N. mission's progress. One envoy present for the briefing said UNMIK was described as the most expensive mission of its kind in the world, even though its results have been limited.

Also speaking to the Security Council Tuesday, the foreign minister of Serbia and Montenegro, Vuk Draskovic accused the international community of failure to respond to the ethnic violence in Kosovo. "International administrators and the provisional institutions in the province did not react resolutely enough, and so on 17 March, tens of thousands of ethnic Albanians, driven by local media and radicals, started killing Serbs and destroying monuments of centuries old Serbian and Christian tradition in the province," he said.

Mr. Draskovic urged greater protection for Serbs and other minorities in Kosovo.

The violence in mid-March left at least 19 people dead and more than one thousand injured, including more than 100 international police officers and peacekeepers.