25 March 2006

Kosovo Serbs demand return to homes and jobs in troubled province

Associated Press, Feb 08, 2006 9:55 AM


ZVECAN, Serbia-Montenegro-Hundreds of Serbs displaced from Kosovo since the 1998-1999 war held a protest rally Wednesday demanding a safe return to their homes and jobs.


About 500 protesters gathered in the town of Zvecan, where the province's U.N. administrator, Soren Jessen-Petersen, had arrived for talks with the leaders of the dwindling Kosovo Serb community.


"Our right to work and live in freedom has been suspended more than six years ago," protest leader Dragisa Terencic said, referring to the 1999 change of authority when NATO intervened in the armed conflict between Serbs and ethnic Albanian separatists over Kosovo.


As NATO bombing forced Serbia to relinquish control over its southern province, more than 200,000 Serbs fled while about 100,000 remained, living mostly in enclaves surrounded by the ethnic Albanian majority.


The Wednesday rally gathered representatives of more than 7,000 Serbs who worked in Kosovo's coal mines and power plants before the war.


Jessen-Petersen later met with protest leaders and said he would "consider their demands."


International negotiations on a final status for Kosovo were expected to begin later this month in Austria. Ethnic Albanian demand independence, while Serb leaders in Belgrade have vowed not to give up the province.


"In the process of determining Kosovo's (future) status, special attention will be given to the issue of (ethnic) minorities," Jessen-Petersen after his meetings.