LONDON (Reuters) - "Ethnic cleansing" could happen again in Kosovo unless negotiations on the province's future lead to strong legal safeguards for minority communities, a minority rights group warned on Monday.
Legally part of Serbia, the majority Albanian province has been run by the United Nations since 1999, when NATO bombs drove out Serb forces accused of ethnic cleansing in a two-year war with separatist guerrillas.
Ethnic Albanians, who make up 90 percent of the population, are pushing for independence from Serbia, a goal Serbia rejects.
London-based Minority Rights Group International said in a report that after seven years of U.N. and international governance, the deeply segregated communities in Kosovo have fallen into a situation that is "little short of disastrous".
"The danger is that the patterns of segregation that are accepted in Kosovo, and that leads to the terror of ethnic cleansing, will be enshrined in the constitution and will be played out again over the next decade," the group said.
It criticised the United Nations and the international community for failing to protect the rights of Kosovo's minorities and said the situation was the worst in Europe.
Half the pre-war Serb population fled a wave of revenge attacks after the 1998-99 war. Hundreds more fled Albanian mob riots in March 2004 that killed 19 people.
Kosovo also has Bosniak, Croat, Turk, Ashkalia and Roma minorities, according to the report.
The report said talks on Kosovo's "future status" offered the best hope, but also the greatest danger for peace.
It called for a radical move away from segregation of communities and recommended that minority rights be guaranteed by the rule of law and that all minorities, including women from minority groups, be consulted about their future.
It said Kosovo will need a new constitution and this should guarantee the equality of all citizens and communities and safeguard rights to languages, religions and cultures.