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Arson Attack on Kosovo Serb Returnee’s House Condemned

Authorities have pledged to investigate the torching of newly-built house of a Serb returnee in western Kosovo and rebuild it as soon as possible.

Kosovo Police on Wednesday said they are investigating an incident of two days ago, when the newly-built house of a Serb returnee in Veriq/Veric village in the western municipality of Istog/Istok was set on fire.

Driton Rugova, police spokesperson for Peje/Pec region, told BIRN that Svetislav Veric’s house suffered material damages from the fire set by unknown persons.

“We have not identified any suspect yet. Police are working in coordination with the prosecution in investigating the incident,” Rugova said.

He added that at the moment of the incident the house was uninhabited, as the family was on the verge of returning to their home after 24 years after leaving at the end of the Kosovo war in June 1999.

A Pristina-based NGO, the Council for the Defence of Human Rights and Freedoms, CDHRF, said on Wednesday that the attack was “a flagrant act against human rights” and called for swift action by law enforcement.

“We ask the Kosovo government to allocate necessary funding for renovation of the damaged house in order to create conditions for the physical return of the returnee and guarantee his safety,” CDHRF said.

Kosovo’s Minister for Communities and Returns, Nenad Rasic, an ethnic Serb, said that the family had expected to return home “in the coming weeks”.

He added that the ministry has taken measures “to rebuild and renovate the damaged house immediately after the incident”.

On Tuesday, Istog/Istok Mayor Ilir Ferati joined US Ambassador Jeffrey Hovenier in a visit to the burned house where he called on police to investigate the incident and bring the culprits to justice.

“As mayor, I strongly condemn the arson attack on the newly-built house of a Serb resident,” Ferati wrote on Facebook after the visit.

“The Republic of Kosovo and Istog municipality are home to all citizens without any distinction … so I welcome the readiness of Kosovo institutions and the US embassy to continue support for the affected family and all returnees in our municipality,” Ferati added.

US ambassador Hovenier also called on the authorities to identify and hold the authors of the incident accountable.

“I want to condemn this arson attack and this effort to intimidate the family from expressing their right to return to their home,” Hovernier said in a video from the torched room of the house, which he posted on Twitter.

“The international community takes very seriously the rights of displaced persons to return to their homes in conditions of dignity and security, to acclaim their property possessions… We appreciate the response of the authorities of Kosovo thus far in support of this family,” he added.

Official figures say more than 200,000 Serbs fled Kosovo after the war in 1999. Their return has been slow, especially in recent years. According to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, 498 people voluntarily returned in 2017, 327 in 2018, 191 in 2019, 394 in 2020 and 368 in 2021.

Source : Balkaninsight