Soldiers attacked by stone-throwers in Kosovo arms sweepBy Andrew Gray
MITROVICA, Yugoslavia, Feb. 20 - U.S. soldiers were attacked by stone-throwing Serbs as hundreds of NATO troops hunted for weapons and criminals in a violent Kosovo city today.
The American soldiers were checking flats in the Serb-dominated north of Mitrovica when Serbs started hurling stones and other projectiles at them, a spokesman for the KFOR peacekeeping force told Reuters.
Lieutenant-Commander Philip Anido said KFOR troops had since secured the district and were in control of the situation.
Oliver Ivanovic, chairman of the Serb National Council in Mitrovica, told Reuters that four Serbs had been injured by U.S. soldiers. Two were hit in the face with rifle barrels, he said.
They were very, very aggressive. I think they came just to provoke something like this (stone-throwing). They were like Germans in the Second World War, Ivanovic said, adding that U.S. soldiers had kicked down doors and damaged flats.
Nikola Kabasic, a spokesman for the Serb council, said, Maybe the (Americans) have watched too many John Wayne movies.
A Reuters photographer also saw Serbs throwing stones at German armored personnel carriers.
Serbs See NATO as Enemy
Nationalist Serbs believe Americans and Germans have supported their enemiesCroats, Bosnian Moslems and Kosovo Albaniansin Balkan ethnic conflicts over the past decade.
A KFOR spokesman, British Warrant Officer Mark Cox, said he had no reports of injuries in the search operation. He also had not heard of complaints about excessive force but KFOR was prepared to look into such allegations.
Hundreds of KFOR troops from around a dozen nations took part in the dragnet for weapons and gunmen that also covered the Albanian-dominated southern side of Mitrovica.
Mitrovica has been the scene of several eruptions of armed political violence this month that have left at least nine people dead and more than 20 wounded, including two French soldiers shot in gunbattles a week ago.
Many Serbs see U.S. forces as enemies because of Washingtons leading role in last years NATO bombing campaign against Yugoslavia, launched to halt a Serbian purge of Kosovos rebellious ethnic Albanian majority.
KFOR said its soldiers had fanned out across the city and that the search operation would continue until the peacekeepers commander, German General Klaus Reinhardt, was satisfied all threats to law and order have been crushed.
Its in everyones best interests to rid the city of illegal and dangerous weapons and to detain troublemakers, said a KFOR spokesman.
Troops from countries including France, Denmark, Belgium, Austria, the United States, Britain, Canada, the Netherlands, Germany, Norway and Turkey were involved in the operation.
Residents of the industrial city were advised via radio messages, loudspeakers and leaflets that the search was taking place and urged not to interfere, the spokesman said.
Recent violence in Mitrovica has presented KFOR and Kosovos United Nations-led administration with one of the most serious threats to their mission to bring security, law and order and democracy to the Yugoslav province.
KFOR and the United Nations moved into Kosovo last June after Serbian security forces were driven out by NATO bombing.
Serbs have grouped together in the north of Mitrovica to form a majority there. They say they have done so purely for their own protection, many having fled the Albanian revenge attacks which have plagued post-war Kosovo.
The Serbs action has angered the many ethnic Albanians who cannot return to their homes in northern Mitrovica.