U.N. Team Finds Evidence of Ethnic Cleansing in Kosovo
By Crispian Balmer
PODGORICA, Montenegro, May 24 -- The head of a United Nations' fact-finding mission to Kosovo said Monday he was outraged by clear signs of huge-scale ethnic cleansing in the ravaged southern Serb province.
Sergio Vieira de Mello, the U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, told reporters that everything he had seen during his three day trip to neighboring Kosovo indicated that Serb forces had chased out ethnic Albanian residents, leaving burnt houses and ghost towns in their wake.
"In a word, it is pretty revolting," he told a news conference, the day after arriving in Montenegro from Kosovo,
"We have seen enough evidence and heard enough testimony to confirm that there has been an attempt at displacing internally and externally a shocking number of civilians," Vieira de Mello, a Brazilian, said.
He declined to give full details of his findings, saying he would first report back to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Before that, he is due to return to Belgrade Tuesday for further talks with Yugoslav authorities.
In Washington, State Department spokesman James Rubin again expressed concern that the group might unwittingly become part of a Yugoslav propaganda campaign. "Yes, we remain concerned," he said, adding that he would await the final report.
Vieira De Mello said the Serbs had not given his team access to all the areas of Kosovo they had wanted to visit, but they had met many displaced ethnic Albanians inside the war-torn province who were in a perilous position.
"Those we have seen who are still inside are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, but perhaps more importantly, (they need) security and confidence. That is much more difficult to provide than humanitarian aid," he said.
NATO leaders have pledged to get the hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanian refugees back home before the onset of winter. Vieira de Mello said that was technically possible so long as the refugees were given help to rebuild their wrecked houses and infrastructure.
"I am not saying this will actually happen, but with resources it can happen. We have done it in much worse circumstances around the world," he told Reuters.
"But that is not the real issue here. The issue is security. These people will not return unless they have a sense of confidence," he added. "It is clear that without an international presence these people will not return."
Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has refused to countenance the idea of heavily armed international peacekeepers entering Kosovo as part of any peace deal. Western leaders say only a big NATO contingent could guarantee the safety of the ethnic Albanians.
Vieira De Mello also criticized the Yugoslav army for blocking much-needed humanitarian aid from reaching Montenegro in recent days, and said he would raise the issue "at the highest level" when he went to Belgrade.
Montenegro is Serbia's last remaining partner in the Yugoslav federation, but it has denounced Belgrade's Kosovo policy and welcomed in some 70,000 ethnic Albanian refugees over the past eight weeks.
Yugoslav troops, who take their orders from Belgrade, last week set up roadblocks at Montenegro's main border crossings and confiscated humanitarian aid sent by France and Italy.
Seven trucks bringing in more aid supplies have been blocked by soldiers at the Croatian border
"This is contrary to basic, elementary humanitarian principles," Vieira de Mello said.
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