Families flee Kosovo violence

By Jacky Rowland

Saturday, 5 February, 2000

Dozens of ethnic Albanian families are fleeing their homes in the Serb-dominated city of Mitrovica in Kosovo following renewed ethnic violence.

Nato-led peacekeepers fired tear gas and imposed a curfew following the aattacks which left four ethnic Albanians and two ethnic Turks dead.

Several more people, including Serbs, are reported to have been wounded.

International peacekeepers say it is the worst outbreak of ethnic violence since the end of the Naato bombing campaign in June last year.

An emergency centre has been set up to house families who want to move from the predominantly Serb region to the Albanian sector in the south.

The bridge which separates the two communities has been close and street patrols stepped up.

A United Nations official has described the sectarian clashes as a "terrifying and appalling increase in multi-ethnic violence".

Some 400 ethnic Albanians, angered by deaths among their community, gathered near a central bridge in the town, hurling stones and bottles.

Four French peacekeeping troops were slightly injured and troops responded by firing tear gas, K-For sources said.

Local members of the Kosovo Protection Force (KPC), the civilian successor of the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), arrived to calm tensions.

The latest victims died on Friday afternoon in hospital in the mainly Serb northern part of the town.

Rocket attack

The violence was sparked by a rocket attack on Wednesday on a UN bus carrying Serbs from Mitrovica, killing two elderly Serbs and injuring five others.

An elderly couple of ethnic-Turkish origin were gunned down in their apartment on Thursday evening.

Then two grenades were thrown into a Serb cafe, causing numerous injuries. Two separate cafes had been targeted and at least 21 Serbs had been wounded.

In the early hours of Friday, an ethnic-Albanian woman and man were killed and two others died as a result of their injuries in the violence.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in the Serbian sector of the town was closed after three UNHCR vehicles were destroyed in the overnight violence, officials said.

Horrifying stories

UNHCR spokeswoman Paula Ghedini said Albanians from the Serb sector had told horrifying stories of having doors "blown in by plastic explosives" and being physically abused and warned to leave the area or be killed.

She said many of the 4,500 ethnic Albanians living in the northern sector had been escorted by K-For to the south, where Muslims form a vast majority.

General Klaus Reinhardt, the K-For commander, has ordered "all means at his disposal to stop the brutality and revenge attacks" in Mitrovica, which has been divided since Nato-led peacekeepers replaced Serb forces in Kosovo last June.