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Rights group urges UN to pay Kosovo lead poisoning victims

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — A human rights group urged the United Nations on Thursday to reverse its policy and pay compensation to members of the Roma and other minority communities in Kosovo who were resettled in U.N.-run camps in the late 1990s and now suffer from lead poisoning.

Human Rights Watch said in a report launched at U.N. headquarters that about 600 people forced from their homes in Mitrovica after the 1998-1999 Kosovo war were resettled in camps know to be contaminated by lead from a nearby industrial mine.

The rights group said it interviewed 19 men and women in June whose families, including more than 30 children, were affected by lead poisoning in the U.N.-run camps. It found many are experiencing myriad health problems including seizures, kidney disease and memory loss.

Last year a U.N. human rights advisory panel found that the U.N. mission in Kosovo was aware of the health risk in November 2000 but failed to relocate the displaced people, violating their rights to life and health. It recommended that the U.N. pay compensation and apologize.

But in May, the U.N. announced it was creating a voluntary trust fund for projects to help "more broadly the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities." It made no mention of compensation or an apology. Katharina Rall, a Human Rights Watch environment researcher, said "the U.N. should stop ignoring its own experts' sound advice and compensate the people who are experiencing lifelong damage and hardship due to the U.N.'s shortcomings."

She said parents also asked the U.N. to provide good health care and education to all affected children.

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