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Tuesday, July 20, 1999 Published at 16:32 GMT 17:32 UK

World: Europe

Serb exodus warning

Reconstruction in the Balkans will last 10 years - Kofi Annan

The international community has been warned that Serbs could abandon Yugoslavia unless the country gets help in restoring its battered infrastructure.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said humanitarian aid to Serbia should include repairing water supplies and hospitals to try to prevent an exodus.

Kosovo: Special Report
The warning came during a speech to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which is helping the civilian mission in Kosovo.

Meanwhile the UN refugee agency has expressed concern at the number of Kosovo Albanian refugees being robbed by criminal gangs in Albania.

A meeting of the Russian-Nato joint permanent council scheduled for Tuesday did not take place. It would have been the first session following the Kosovo conflict.

The meeting has been postponed indefinitely, according to the Russian news agency Itar-Tass. Other reports say the two sides could not agree on an agenda.


[ image: UNHCR says convoys best way to avoid robbery]
UNHCR says convoys best way to avoid robbery
The UN chief told the OSCE that Serbs could abandon Yugoslavia because of high unemployment, a wrecked infrastructure and the coming winter.

He said: "It is in our own self-interest to try and do whatever we can do to create the minimum conditions that will make it possible for them stay at home."

Mr Annan said it would take at least 10 years to complete reconstruction under the Balkans stability pact.

Mr Annan said that even if only humanitarian assistance were on offer to Serbia, the definition of that aid should be broad enough to allow assistance to go to repairing electrical systems, water supplies and hospitals.

Divisions have emerged in the international community on how to treat Serbia while Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, an indicted war criminal, remains in power.

Hawkish EU leaders are reluctant to offer Belgrade broader humanitarian aid until Serbs topple Mr Milosevic. US officials have said Serbia could receive humanitarian assistance but at this point, it should be limited to food and medicine.

'Gold mine'

Geneva Correspondent Claire Doole: "Returning home is fraught with difficulties"
The office of the UN High Commissioner for refugees says that criminals in Albania see the Kosovo Albanian refugees as "some sort of moving gold mine", subjecting them to robberies and extortion.

The agency advises the refugees to return in groups - or in officially organised convoys - to lessen the likelihood of the attacks.

[ image: Kosovo Albanian refugees about to fly home from Switzerland]
Kosovo Albanian refugees about to fly home from Switzerland
The UNHCR says that nearly 700,000 of the Kosovo Albanians, who fled the province, have now returned. It is intending to close four of the six remaining refugee camps in Macedonia by the end of this week.

The UN Secretary-General reiterated a call for the quick deployment of civilian police to Kosovo, where security is a problem and relations are tense between returning Albanian refugees and Serbian residents.

"We need to have the resources and people. We have pledges but pledges are not enough. We need to have them on the ground to do the work," Mr Annan said.

OSCE officials said 150 international staff members were in Kosovo with another 100 arriving soon to join a police-training force that will eventually number 700.

The target is to begin operations by mid-August, recruiting and training members of a 6,000-strong police force, which will include some 3,000 local candidates recruited both from the Albanian and Serbian communities.

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