Treatment of Kosovo's minorities is 'barbarian'

PRISTINA, Aug 30, 2000 -- (AFP) Joschka Fischer, the German foreign minister, lashed out at the "barbarian" treatment of minority groups by Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority during a flying visit to the province Tuesday.

"We are very concerned and shocked by the barbarian attacks on children," Fischer told a news conference in Pristina. "For us it's crucial that these gangsters be brought to justice."

"It's a political issue how the majority is dealing with minorities ... the situation of the minorities will be one of the most important elements in demonstrating the political will of the majority to develop and build democracy," he said.

Fischer was speaking after a weekend in which a 75-year-old Serbian farmer was shot dead in his fields and an 8-year-old Serbian girl killed by an ethnic Albanian hit and run driver.

Ten days before his visit, 10 Serb children were injured when attackers threw grenades into a basketball court where they were playing.

Ethnically motivated violence against minorities has been commonplace in Kosovo since the arrival of the province's UN administration and KFOR peacekeeping force in June last year.

In the decade before that, the ethnic Albanian majority population was itself the target of brutal repression -- and eventually attacks designed to kill them or drive them out -- at the hands of the Yugoslavian government and Serbian extremists.

In the build up to municipal elections in Kosovo in October, the first polls here since the end of the 1998-1999 civil war, violence against minorities and between rival ethnic Albanian political factions, appears to be increasing.

Fischer said that Germany would continue to support rebuilding work and the UN administration of Kosovo headed by Bernard Kouchner, who sat next to him during the news briefing. But he t warned that Kosovo's long-term European aspirations had been undermined by the post-war bloodletting.

"I understand the bitterness of the families who lost sons, whose children were tortured and killed," he said.

"But this can never be a reason to throw grenades at children. To break up this rule of violence is a major political issue for all the Albanian parties, and also for the Serbian groups."

Kouchner also attacked the violence as "not only unacceptable but savage."

Fischer was due to visit German troops and non-governmental organizations in the southwest Kosovo town of Prizren before returning to Germany late Tuesday.

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