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Europe

German Defense Minister Visits Kosovo

Less than three weeks after violence between Serbs and ethnic Albanians erupted in Kosovo, German Defense Minister Peter Struck visited German soldiers stationed in the UN-controlled province on Monday.

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Struck during an earlier visit to the province.

Before leaving for his one-day visit to Kosovo, Struck made it clear that the province's ethnic Albanian political leaders had to make room for the Serbian population in order to succeed. "There will only be a place for them in the European community if they accept Serbs returning to their homes," Struck told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.

About 600 German soldiers were sent to Kosovo after 30 people were killed and hundreds fled their homes during the recent clashes. With a total of 3,670 troops, the German contingent is the largest in Kosovo.

Those stationed in the province were surprised by the attacks, which began after three ethnic Albanian boys had drowned after Serbs allegedly chased them into a river.

Many of the soldiers, who had to evacuate Serbian enclaves and monestaries that had been set on fire, said they hadn't expected the extent and rapid spreading of the violence. They will share their stories with Struck and present him with demands to improve working conditions.

While additional Danish and U.S. soldiers have already left Kosovo again, leading officers from the German contingent of the UN Kosovo Force (KFOR) have called for extra equipment and more soldiers: Things have quieted down, they say, but the situation is far from being stable.

As a result of the most recent clashes, Struck has made it clear that he expects German soldiers to stay in Kosovo past an earlier departure date of 2006, a position he reiterated during Monday's visit to Kosovo's capital Pristina.

Political solution remains uncertain

Saying that German soliders cannot be stationed in the province indefinitely, Friedbert Pflüger, a foreign policy expert for the opposition Christian Democrats, meanwhile called on Struck to present a proposal for the region's future upon his return from Kosovo. But a political solution to the conflict is not in sight.

Kosovo KFOR NATO-Friedenstruppe Pristina Flüchtling

A Serb men waits to be escorted to his village from a NATO peacekeepers base in Kosovo's capital Pristina on March 22. Hundreds of Serbs fled in fear as their houses were set on fire by ethnic Albanian mob.

The province's UN administrator Harri Holkeri first needs to deal with the aftermath of the violence, repair the damage to homes and churches as well as find the perpetrators of the crimes. About 200 people have been arrested so far and the investigations continue.

Kosovo's government has offered €5 million ($6.05 million) to restore buildings. All politicians in the province have condemned the violence, but President Ibrahim Rugova reiterated old claims of immediate independence for the province. Serbian leaders oppose this and demand more autonomy for the Serbian minority in Kosovo. Neither side seems willing to accept a division of the province.

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