Nato `fails to stop attacks on Serbs' violence Serbs `being driven out of Kosovo'

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The Independent Online
NATO AND the United Nations seem ill-equipped to deal with the tide of violence committed by ethnic Albanians against the Serb minority in Kosovo, according to a human rights group.

A report by the New York-based Human Rights Watch said the Albanians appear intent on expelling Serbs and gypsies in a campaign of intimidation and murder. Their behaviour seriously jeopardises the West's stated goal of a multi-ethnic Kosovo.

The 18-page report cites killings, abductions and abuse it says cannot be fully explained by the desire of returning refugees to exact revenge for past atrocities. Instead it implicates rebel members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) in most of the abuses.

The report is the latest indication of Nato inability to ensure security for both Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo since it entered the province seven weeks ago.

It is likely to have serious implications for the West whose leaders - including the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and the US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright - have pleaded with Albanians to end the violence.

Abuses cited by Human Rights Watch included the gunning down of 14 Serb farmers near Pristina on July 23

"The intent behind many of the killings and abductions that have occurred in the province since early June appears to be the expulsion of Kosovo's Serb and Roma population rather than a desire for revenge alone," the report said.

"This explanation is borne out by more direct and systematic efforts to force Serbs and Roma to leave their homes."

The report says that "well over 164,000 Serbs have fled Kosovo", along with "significant" numbers of gypsies, accused by many Kosovo Albanians of siding with the Serbs during the Nato bombing campaign. A separate report by the European Roma Rights Centre contains testimony from a number of gypsies which echo the claims.

Human Rights Watch also said the Nato intervention force, K-For, appeared unsuited for police work. "K-For's concern about protecting its own forces, differing interpretations of the mandate ... and lack of experience in civil policing result in an uneven response to attacks and threats against minorities," it said.

Last night Nato officials defended their performance. "We have implemented basic law and order," a spokesman said. "Without the presence of K-For, the situation would have been worse."

KLA leaders again denied involvement in abuses and pledged to work with Nato. "I categorically say that they are not our solders," said Lirak Celaj, a spokesman for the KLA in northern Kosovo.

Human Rights Watch stopped short of accusing the KLA of specific atrocities, but said "the frequency and severity of such abuses makes it incumbent upon the KLA leadership to take swift and decisive action to prevent them".