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Kosovo driving out non-Serb minorities - report

PRISTINA (Reuters) - Lack of will among Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian leadership to ensure minority rights has driven out many Bosniaks, Turks, Roma and other non-Serb minorities, a report issued on Wednesday said.

Kosovar Albanians pay tribute in the cemetery of the Martyrs in the village of Meje, west of the Kosovo's capital Pristina, April 27, 2009. REUTERS/Hazir Reka/Files

The Albanian majority declared independence in February last year, nine years after NATO carried out a 78-day bombing campaign to drive Serb forces out of Kosovo.

Since then, ethnic divisions between two million Albanians and 120,000 Serbs who remained in the country have deepened, with 14,000 NATO peacekeepers and a 2,000-strong European Union mission overseeing a fragile peace.

The report issued by Minority Rights Group International (MGI) said that Bosniaks, Croats, Gorani, Roma, Ashkali Egyptians, and Turks who make up 5 percent of the population are facing discrimination and many of them have left the country since then.

“There is a lack of political will and substantive investment in effective implementation of minority rights among majority Albanians,” it said. “Together with a bad economy, these conditions mean that many members of minority communities are now leaving the new Kosovo state altogether.”

The report said that the poor treatment of minorities was due to a perception that they had been allies of, or did little to oppose, the former Serb regime in the 1990s.

Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic was indicted by the United Nations war crimes tribunal for killing ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, but died before his trial in The Hague was completed.

Non-Serb minorities in Kosovo have criticised the international community for paying too much attention to Albanian-Serb relations and ignoring other groups.

“The priority for the international community should be to ensure that there is some kind of international human rights mechanism to which minorities in Kosovo can turn,” Mark Lattimer, MGI director, said in an interview.

The rights group said ensuring the protection of minorities would help Kosovo on the path to the European Union.

Kosovo is the only country in the Western Balkans with no clear prospect of joining the bloc, as some member states including Spain and Greece have not recognised it. Serbia still regards Kosovo as part of its historic heartland, and has asked the International Court of Justice in The Hague to rule on the legality of its secession.