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UN seeks to encourage Serb refugees to return to Kosovo

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The senior United Nations envoy in Kosovo sought to encourage Serb refugees to return home today with a visit to a Serbian village that had once been in an area of multi-ethnic coexistence but was left battered and empty after the conflict with Kosovo Albanians in 1999.
Michael Steiner, Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Representative, was accompanied by Kosovo Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi and a delegation from the donor community in the visit to Sredska in Kosovo's southern Zhupa Valley, where some Serbs have already returned.

"We call upon all those who want to return to do so, because as we saw for ourselves, they can return and find a suitable environment," Mr. Steiner said. "We are creating these conditions."

Several Serbs who returned in the past six months accompanied the visitors on their tour and the group discussed ways to make life better in Sredska and encourage more returns.

"We are engaged for the return of all citizens of Kosovo and for their good treatment," Rexhepi said. "Kosovo institutions, along with UNMIK (UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo), and UNHCR (UN High Commissioner for Refugees) are committed to encouraging the population to return to their homes in Kosovo."

Zoran Stevanovic, 70, who returned to Sredska five months ago, said the village still needs improvements in such areas as health care, transportation and communication. "It means a lot to us that the Prime Minister is here because we expect a lot from them," he said, adding that he had good relations with Albanians in nearby villages, who come to socialize on a regular basis.