Geneva, 3 March 2008 – Serbia’s Foreign Minister Monday denounced what he branded the cultural and ethnic cleansing of his kinsmen and other minorities in Kosovo since NATO military action drove out Serb forces in 1999.”Hundreds of thousands of Kosovo Serbs, Roma, Bosniaks and others were ethnically cleansed…hundreds have been killed, and thousands more disappeared without a trace,” Vuk Jeremic told the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Kosovo is regarded by many Serbs as the cradle of their civilization, but by the 1990s its population was 90% ethnic Albanian and the province was gripped by fierce fighting between nationalist rebels and Serb forces.

NATO intervened after Serb forces under the command of late President Slobodan Milosevic were accused of atrocities against ethnic Albanians.

Jeremic said this sparked a wave of revenge attacks against Serbs and other minorities, the effects of which are still felt today.

“Less than 8% of the estimated 250,000 Kosovo Serb IDPs (internally displaced people) have returned to their homes,” he said.

He noted that the U.N. refugee agency “warns that Kosovo Serbs, Roma and others risk persecution if they return to areas in which they would be a minority.”

After nearly a decade under U.N. administration, Kosovo unilaterally declared independence on Feb. 17, sparking fury in Belgrade which still regards it as part of Serbia.

“We will never recognize an independent Kosovo,” Jeremic said.

“We will employ all diplomatic and political means at our disposal to hinder, obstruct and ultimately reverse the unilateral, illegal and illegitimate declaration of independence of our southern province,” he said.

Source: AFP