CEOL - Kosovo Serbs Accuse NATO Of False Crime Figures

PRISTINA, Nov 12, 1999 -- (Reuters) Kosovo Serb leaders accused the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force on Thursday of publishing false crime statistics to cover up a failure to protect minorities from killings and kidnappings.

Kosovo's Serb National Council lodged a protest at the latest figures issued by KFOR, which reported 379 people had been murdered since it moved into Kosovo five months ago - 145 from the ethnic Albanian majority, 135 Serbs, and 99 others.

As Serbs account for only somewhere around five percent of Kosovo's population of two million people, the statistics already painted a chilling picture of widespread and deadly attacks by ethnic Albanians angry at years of Serb repression.

But Serb leaders said the total was far higher, with nearly 400 Serbs killed since June, when Yugoslav Serb military and police forces withdrew from Kosovo following three months of NATO bombings meant to stop a mass purge of ethnic Albanians.

Serb leaders also said more than 500 had been kidnapped in the Yugoslav province, compared with KFOR's figure of just 43.

"KFOR officials want to manipulate the public and justify the failure of the international peace forces to prevent mass retaliation after their arrival," the Council, which groups representatives from many parts of Kosovo, said in a statement.

Major Ole Irgens, the KFOR spokesman who released the statistics on Wednesday, insisted the figures were an accurate total for the crimes reported to KFOR. If anyone knew of any more crimes, they should report them, he said.

"We have to act on reports to us, not on rumors," Irgens told Reuters. The spokesman also questioned how the Council had managed to collect its statistics.

"I don't see that they have had the infrastructure to collect these numbers," he said.

KFOR and international police say the level of crime in Kosovo in still unacceptably high but stress that the number of murders has fallen considerably over the past few months.

Running at a rate of more than 30 per week when KFOR first arrived, it fell to as low as seven a couple of weeks ago but increased again to 12 for the week ending on November 6, according to the peacekeepers.

KFOR and the United Nations say attacks on minorities such as Serbs - and others accused of collaborating with them such as Roma and Slav-speaking Muslims - have also declined.

But independent groups and Serb leaders have suggested that trend may have most to do with the fact that there are simply fewer members of minority groups left in Kosovo.

Up to 220,000 non-Albanians have fled the province in fear over the past few months and many of those who remain now live grouped together in guarded, mono-ethnic ghettoes.

"Informed observers agree that there is a climate of violence and impunity, as well as widespread discrimination, harassment and intimidation against non-Albanians," said a recent report by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR.

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