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The Suhareka/Suva Reka municipal assembly declared that Serb families should not return to the village of Mushtisht/Mustiste, the focus of recent protests about wartime crimes.
Suhareka/Suva Reka municipal assembly members issued a statement on Monday saying that Serb families who left Mushtisht/Mustiste after the war in 1999 should not return.
The statement came two months after a protest by Albanian residents of the village who prevented Serb families making a visit to their abandoned homes.
“We have come to the conclusion that conditions have not yet been met for their return to Mushtisht,” the statement said.
Municipal councilor Alush Shala, of the governing Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, said that before the Serb families’ return could be considered, the Serbian state and local Serbs should apologise for crimes committed against the Albanian population in the village.
“Our wounds are still open so we are asking for an apology for the murders, terror and destruction, while the perpetrators of those crimes should be brought to justice,” Shala said.
Suhareka/Suva Reka’s mayor, Sali Aslannaj, declined to comment on the municipal council’s statement, while the Ministry of Local Government ,which oversees decisions taken at a local level, downplayed the its relevance.
Deputy minister Bajram Gecaj told BIRN that the statement was not voted upon and so does not have any legal effect.
“Unless this act has the character of a decision, it does not create any legal effect so the ministry has no power to assess the legality of such statements,” Gecaj said.
The head of the municipal assembly, Regfki Gegaj, told BIRN that the statement was voted upon, but agreed that it had no legal significance.
“It was approved only to satisfy the political appetites of political parties,” Gegaj said.
The OSCE’s mission in Kosovo criticized the council’s statement.
“Return is a legally guaranteed right and conditions for return should be created separately from investigating and prosecuting war crimes,” OSCE mission spokesperson Senad Sabovic told BIRN.
Mushtisht/Mustiste, which was mixed before 1999 war, was the scene of deadly violence and human rights abuses during the conflict. Many Albanians from the village are still missing.
After the peace agreement which ended the war in 1999, the remaining Serbs in the village were expelled or fled in fear of retaliation.
Since then, they have not been able to return to the village or to visit the church and their relatives’ graves.
Clashes in August during a protest against the possible return of the Serbs to the village were condemned by Kosovo, Serbia and the international community.
“The scenes from the village of Mushtisht are completely unnecessary and unacceptable,” Kosovo President Hashim Thaci said in a statement at the time.
People in Mushtisht/Mustiste also staged a protest in September urging the Special Prosecution, which took over investigations of war crimes in Kosovo in 2014, to launch a new probe into killings in the village in 1999.
Source: Balkan Insight