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Kosovo Roma protest against toxic site housing

Kosovska Mitrovica — Some 200 Kosovo Roma staged a candlelight vigil Wednesday to protest their decade-long sequestration on highly toxic wasteland which has led to severe health problems.

"We wanted to show our problem needs a solution, which will provide us with healthcare and a decent settlement," said local Roma leader, Skender Gushani at the protest being held on International Roma Day.

"We demand to be evacuated from these camps and to be medically treated," he said.

After a NATO air campaign that wrested Kosovo from Serbian control in 1999 and put it under UN administration, more then 200 Roma families who had lost their homes were resettled temporarily in three camps on dangerous wasteland with high lead levels.

The Roma said they were promised by Kosovo’s UN administration that they would only be housed in the camps in the north of the territory for 45 days at most.

But 10 years on, some 500 Roma have still been living in two of three refugee camps.

In its 2004 and 2008 reports, the World Health Organization has called for the camps to be evacuated, as irreversible organ and brain damage have been registered among many of the children living there.

"Since 1999, 83 people, among them children, have died here," Gushani said, insisting that many deaths were related to lead exposure.

During his visit to Kosovo in March, the Council of Europe’s human rights envoy Thomas Hammarberg urged for the refugees resettlement.

Kosovo formally seceded from Serbia in February 2008.

The move has been recognised by 57 countries, but Belgrade says it will never recognise the independence of its southern territory.