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Regional approach is key to solving refugee problem in Balkans, UN officials say

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The refugee problem in the Balkans requires a regional approach, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata and the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Balkans, Carl Bildt, both told the Humanitarian Issues Working Group on the former Yugoslavia meeting in Geneva today.
"We must strengthen the rule of law, support political institutions protecting individual and group rights, remove obstacles to the repossession of property, and expand new horizons of socio-economic opportunities," Mrs. Ogata said.

Speaking on Kosovo, Mrs. Ogata said, "Let us today make known our commitment to work together so that the Kosovo crisis will be the last refugee exodus in European history."

She said although the situation for ethnic Albanians has improved, not all problems have been resolved, including the harassment, murder, expulsion and flight of non-Albanian minorities, and the need to accelerate the transition from emergency humanitarian activities to long-term rehabilitation and reconstruction.

Speaking at the same venue, Mr. Bildt said the situation in Serbia cannot be separated from the one in Croatia, Bosnia or Kosovo. In Kosovo, too, despite the rapid return of Kosovar Albanian refugees, thousands of new Serb refugees have caused a further strain next door in an already collapsing Serbian economy.

The Special Envoy said the regional approach requires legislative, political and economic measures to be undertaken simultaneously. These must be concrete, comprehensive, and be undertaken within a limited time period, he said.