UN refugee agency condemns attack on police post in southern Serbia

UN refugee agency condemns attack on police post in southern Serbia

The United Nations refugee agency has strongly condemned last Friday's attack on a police post in southern Serbia near the Kosovo boundary, during which unknown assailants gunned down two officers and severely wounded two others.

"This is a cowardly act which does not serve the people of southern Serbia, many of whom have finally been able to return to their homes after nearly two years of displacement in Kosovo," Eric Morris, special envoy of the UN High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR), said on Saturday.

Mr. Morris added that the attack against the police post in Muhovac, Bujanovac municipality, threatened to undermine the hard-won stability in the Presevo valley. "We have been working extensively with the Albanian villagers, Serb authorities and the international community to create conditions for safe and sustainable return of displaced people in the Presevo valley," he said

According to UNHCR, some 15,000 people fled the municipalities of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac in southern Serbia since the 1999 NATO air strikes. Many fled when tensions rose last November between Albanian rebels and Yugoslav forces along the former ground safety zone (GSZ). Over 5,000 displaced people have returned to the region since peace was restored in June following a NATO-brokered peace agreement and the subsequent peaceful re-entry of the Yugoslav army to the former GSZ.

"UNHCR is concerned that the incident puts a damper on its return efforts," an agency spokeswoman said today in Pristina, adding that since July UNHCR has assisted more than 1,000 villagers to return to their hamlets in Bujanovac and Presevo municipalities. "The return of the ethnic Albanian community to southern Serbia has been identified as a success story," the spokeswoman said.