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Religious and ethnic tensions persist in Kosovo

Washington, Belgrade, March 1, 2004 - The US Department of State said in its annual report on human rights practices across the world that ethnic and religious tensions are still present in Kosovo-Metohija, that there were different forms of violence, politically and ethically motivated killings, kidnappings and restrictions of the freedom of movement for members of non-Albanian ethnic communities.

The report on Serbia-Montenegro, which also assesses the respect for human rights in Kosovo, says that 72 murders were registered in 2003 (two more than in 2002), fourth of which was ethnically motivated. None of the perpetrators of Serb killings with a presumed ethnic motivation were arrested during the year, causing considerable concern within the Serb community.

As for kidnappings with political and ethnical background, the report says that nearly 3,600 people were registered as missing at the end of 2003, 75 percent of which were Albanians and 25 percent Serbs or members of other non-Albanian ethnic communities.

Many of 100,000 Serbs that have remained in Kosovo still live in northern Kosovo or enclaves protected by the UN peacekeeping force in Kosovo (KFOR), and only small number of 225,000 members of non-Albanian ethnic communities who had left Kosovo after June 1999 returned to their homes. The reasons for such a small number of returnees are lack of physical security, freedom of movement and working opportunities.

Despite some improvement over previous years, ethnic minorities, particularly Serbs, suffered from widespread social discrimination, particularly in employment, education, and health services. Property disputes and illegal occupation of homes continue to be a source of inter-ethnic friction.

According to the report, human trafficking remained a problem, especially of women and children. The report states that Kosovo is a country of origin, transit and destination for human trafficking, and the victims are most frequently women and children.

The report finds that judiciary in Kosovo, both international and local, continue to be subjected to bias and outside influence, particularly in inter-ethnic cases, and do not always provide conditions for fair trials.

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