Belgrade, 26 November 2007 – More than half of some 200,000 Serb, Roma and other minorities who left Serbia’s breakaway Kosovo province in the last eight years would like to return, but are afraid or have nowhere to go, a poll showed on Monday.

The poll on the living standards of those “internally displaced persons” showed they were poorer, less healthy and socially isolated compared to their Serb neighbors in the cities and towns where they settled.

“Those over 30 years of age and the rural population are more prone to want to return”, said the survey, carried out by Serb authorities with support from international agencies.

“Their main reason for not doing so by now is the fear of violence, and their distrust of Kosovo institutions”.

Half of the respondents would like to return to Kosovo despite the difficulties. Although more than 60 percent of them owned property in Kosovo, many houses had meanwhile been taken over by Albanians, making return even harder, the survey added.

Kosovo has been under U.N. rule since 1999, when NATO bombed Serbia to stop its brutal crackdown on separatist rebels.

A final round of talks on the future status of Kosovo began in Austria on Monday, with little hope of compromise. The Albanian majority demands independence, Serbia offers autonomy.

Some analysts have warned that if Kosovo’s Albanian leaders proclaim independence and are recognized by the West, many of the province’s 100,000 remaining Serbs — a five percent minority — will pack up and leave for Serbia proper.

Serbia already has one of the largest refugee populations in Europe, mostly ethnic Serbs who fled during wars in Croatia and Bosnia in the 1990s.

Source: Reuters