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Wednesday, 3 May, 2000, 00:08 GMT 01:08 UK
Serbs split over refugee returns
Serb demo
Some UN officials oppose large-scale returns - for now
By Nick Wood in Pristina

A split has emerged in Kosovo's Serbian leadership over the control of refugees returning to the province.

The divisions surfaced after the head of the United Nations mission in Kosovo, Dr Bernard Kouchner, announced the creation of a new group aimed at encouraging Serb refugees to come home.

It is estimated over 200,000 Serbs have fled the province since the arrival of K-For troops last summer.

Committee for Returns

The Joint Committee for Returns, is made up of officials from the UN, K-For and the moderate Serb leader and head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo, Bishop Artemije.

K-For soldier
Heavily-armed K-For escorts accompany Serbs in many parts of Kosovo
An agreement on the return of refugees was signed by all three groups in the Serb Orthodox Monastery at Gracanica, South of Pristina on Tuesday.

The group says one of its first aims will be to create a pilot project for the return of refugees.

However the development is opposed by the head of the Serb leadership in the northern town of Mitrovica, Oliver Ivanovic.

He is organising a separate conference later this week with the same goal of returning refugees, and has the backing of the Yugoslav Government.

We would like the return of displaced persons to be a re-constructive movement, rather than a tool of destabilisation

Canadian Ambassador to the UN, Michel Duval
He has criticised the Serbian Orthodox church for co-operating with the UN.

Bishop Artemije has been pushing hard for the return of Serb refugees to Kosovo, and first raised the issue with the US Government on a visit to Washington two months ago.

The formation of the committee by the UN is the clearest sign yet of the international community's support for the project.

'Too soon' to return

However some UN diplomats have warned it is too soon for Serbs to return in large numbers.

Speaking on a visit to Kosovo last weekend, Canada's UN ambassador, Michel Duval, warned that the returns were at risk of being exploited politically.

"We would like the return of displaced persons to be a re-constructive movement, rather than a tool of destabilisation. There's a real risk that this could be the case," Mr Duval said.

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