As part of the return programme, nearly 200 houses throughout Kosovo are under construction and 500 other structures have been renovated in the past several years.
By Ivana Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 25/09/12
Members of the 16 Serb families which returned to Berkovo, 60km west of Pristina, in 2007. [Reuters]
Serbian and Kosovo officials and international and independent civilian organisations are increasing efforts to prompt the return of more than 210,000 Serbs and other non-Albanians who left Kosovo for Serbia following the end of the 1999 NATO intervention.
So far, only 12,000 of those internally displaced people have returned, according to the UNHCR office in Pristina.
Slavica Ilic, 43, returned to work her land in the village of Ranilug, where she received a new house, a cow and a calf under the return programme.
"I am producing milk and cheese and also fruits and vegetables, selling to both Serbs and Albanians. We could not survive in Bujanovac [south Serbia,] and are happy to be here and have a source of income," Ilic told SETimes.
Previous programmes to repair or construct living space were not properly implemented, according to Slavisa Petkovic, a Serb who served as minister for return in the Kosovo government.
"Aid in most cases was small or did not reach the displaced persons so that the return could not be … sustained," Petkovic told SETimes.
Petkovic echoed the complaints of non-Albanians that threats to their safety and scant, if any, economic opportunities are the main reasons preventing returns.
But despite challenges, nearly 200 houses throughout Kosovo are under construction and 500 other structures have been renovated in the past several years.
Returning Serbs' property that was illegally occupied by Albanians is key to prompting the displaced to return, according to Rada Trajkovic, a Serb who is an MP in Kosovo.
"The occupied property should be either returned or paid for, but it is obvious that there is no will for that," Trajkovic told SETimes.
Some Albanians approve of the returns, albeit reluctantly, but many do not, arguing the returnees should first be tried in court if suspected of crimes against Albanians.
"The wounds of the war can be cured only through justice. Kosovo is an independent state and they should accept this fact if they want to return," Arben Qerimi, 37, a waiter from Djakovica, told SETimes.
Milos Kesic from the village of Zetinje returned to the majority-Serb village of Partes instead.
"We almost returned to Zetinje, but the night before settling in a person was killed in front of our house. I was scared for the wellbeing of my wife and three children," Kesic told SETimes.
Kesic said they live in small quarters of 20 square meters and hope for help from the state. "We do not want to leave, nor do we have anywhere to go," he added.
"I am staying in spite of everything but need help since the four of us survive on one small salary," Slavisa Rajic, who escaped from Gnjilane to Partes and is renting an apartment for his family of four, told SETimes.
The Kesics and Rajices are among the 14 families in Partes who have now obtained new houses.
Both warn the state and international community should be more careful and involved in the renovation and return process to ensure it is fair.
"We co-operate well with the [Kosovo] government and our partners are the EU Office of the European Commission which has donated five million euro annually as well as the British Embassy, IOM, UNDP, etc, who support the return process through their own funds," Radojica Tomic, minister for return in the Kosovo government, told Informator.
SETimes correspondent Linda Karadaku in Pristina contributed to this report.