PRISTINA, Serbia, Dec 17, 1999 -- (Reuters) Hundreds of homeless Kosovo Albanians protested near U.N. offices in Pristina on Thursday, accusing international officials of moving too slowly to house them and even of stopping them from helping themselves.
As winter bites, tens of thousands of ethnic Albanians are still living in tents after returning to Kosovo six months ago to find their homes in ruins - typically lacking at least a roof after being set ablaze by Serb forces.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Serbs have fled Kosovo, leaving their homes empty and usually intact.
International organizations say they have distributed tens of thousands of house-repair kits to families but Albanians at Thursday's rally said they had done nothing to prevent an unfair free-for-all in which many empty flats and houses had been seized by unscrupulous speculators.
"There are people who have moved into flats left empty and let out their own nice houses to foreign officials for a huge rent, while my family and others are still living in tents," said Agim Murati from the Shterpce area in southern Kosovo.
One local Albanian official at the demonstration said foreign peacekeeping troops had even arrested him and colleagues when they tried to fairly allocate empty apartments in the southern town of Urosevac.
"We drew up a list of 136 homes which were being occupied by people who did not deserve them," said Ismail Xhemajli, a local official of the self-styled Kosovo Albanian "provisional government" which UNMIK (U.N. mission in Kosovo) wants wound up.
"We issued them with orders to get out but one complained to KFOR (the Kosovo peacekeeping force) and I and four others were arrested." He said they had been held for up to 32 days but released without being convicted of any charge.
"We know the place, we know who needs help and who doesn't. UNMIK and KFOR are hindering us. They are protecting people who are stealing apartments."
Protesters at the peaceful rally held banners reading "our babies are being born in tents" and "stop war profiteers and speculators".
The demonstrators' complaints add to criticism of the international administration in Kosovo that it has preferred to leave undone some vital tasks rather than trust Kosovo Albanian groups to do them.
Independent Brussels-based think-tank the International Crisis Group this week issued a scathing report on the U.N. and NATO-led forces' record in six months of administering Kosovo, especially critical of the absence of law and order and effective policing.
"At the core of the international community's failure to deliver is its refusal to take self-governance by the population of Kosovo as the desired end result," the report said.
International officials in Kosovo say they have to be wary of allowing public administration to fall into the hands of corrupt or deeply factionalized Albanian groups.
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