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Thursday, June 10, 1999 Published at 00:11 GMT 01:11 UK

World: Europe

Kosovo's Serb exodus

Serbian leaders in Pristina are urging people to stay

By Southeast Europe Analyst, Gabriel Partos

The leader of the Kosovo Serbs' main opposition movement, Momcilo Trajkovic, has urged Kosovo Serbs not to abandon their homeland when Serbian forces are withdrawn from the province to be replaced by a multi-national peacekeeping force.

Mr Trajkovic's appeal, which came at a rally of several hundred Serbs in the Kosovo capital, Pristina, on Wednesday, coincided with reports that many Kosovo Serbs were preparing to leave the province.

Kosovo: Special Report
Before the outbreak of the conflict last year, the province's Serbian community was estimated to number about 200,000 people - or nearly 10% of Kosovo's population.

Since then, tens of thousands of Kosovo Serbs have left their homes; some fleeing the violence of the ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army; others seeking safety from Nato's bombing, by moving to the countryside or going to other parts of Serbia and even Bosnia.

Apprehension and fear

Although the number of Kosovo Serb refugees is dwarfed by that of the Kosovo Albanians - well over a million of who have been displaced over the past year - the prospects for the Kosovo Serbs now appear bleak.

[ image: Kosovo's Serbs will feel insecure when Serbian forces depart]
Kosovo's Serbs will feel insecure when Serbian forces depart
The withdrawal of all Serbian forces from Kosovo - which Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic agreed to last week - fills most local Serbs with apprehension, if not fear.

For the past 10 years - since the abolition of Kosovo's autonomy - the potential threat from a dispossessed and largely hostile Albanian majority has been kept in check by a strong and repressive Serbian police presence.

Since the fighting began last year, this has been complemented by a sizeable Yugoslav army contingent.

Both are now set to depart. And many Kosovo Serbs are likely to go with the security forces - just as the Krajina Serbs left en masse when they were defeated by the Croatian army in 1995.

KLA reprisals

Many have been saying all along that they would not want to stay in a newly-autonomous Kosovo moving towards a form of majority rule.

[ image: Serbs fear possible attacks by KLA guerrillas]
Serbs fear possible attacks by KLA guerrillas
Any governing structure would be likely to be dominated by ethnic Albanians - even though the Rambouillet peace plan provides for a high degree of power-sharing involving the minority communities.

Some may now be leaving because they or their relatives have been involved in some of the reported atrocities that have accompanied the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo Albanians.

Others may be fearing indiscriminate revenge attacks by the KLA.

Protection demanded

Mr Trajkovic, who is the leader of the Kosovo Serbs' anti-Milosevic Serbian Resistance Movement, has now called on fellow Serbs not to abandon Kosovo.

He is also appealing to the international community - in effect the Nato-led peacekeepers who along with Russian troops are expected to be deployed in Kosovo - to provide protection for the local Serbs.

The peacekeepers will do their best; but whether they can meet this challenge in full is open to question. Their commanders are adamant that they will move in straight away as the Serbian forces depart to prevent a power vacuum.

But even then it seems hardly possible to provide complete security in every corner of Kosovo, at least in the initial phase.

The first few days of peace implementation could turn out to be the most difficult task; and with so many weapons on both sides, ensuring anyone's security is likely to be a huge problem.

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