Conflict over Kosovo arms probe

Sunday, 20 February, 2000

Tensions have risen sharply in the Kosovo town of Mitrovica, as K-For peacekeeping troops conduct a major search for illegal weapons and suspected criminals.
US and German troops were bombarded with stones, bricks and snowballs as they tried to search apartment buildings in the Serb-controlled area of the ethnically divided town.
Serbs, for their part, complained of an excessive use of force by the soldiers during the operation.
The leader of the Serb community in Mitrovica, Oliver Ivanovic, said American troops had broken down doors and destroyed furniture.
He said that, during a search at the university campus, they had thrown furniture and belongings out of windows.
A spokesman for the city's Serb council said 10 Serbs had been injured during the search and another 10 detained.

Stones and snowballs
Earlier, Serb residents threw stones, bricks and snowballs at US and German peacekeeping troops.
No-one was reported to have been hurt.
A K-For spokesman said the soldiers moved to another area to avoid an escalation of the conflict.
"The US troops are a reserve company, so they can be deployed wherever it is necessary," the spokesman said.

Many Serbs see US forces as enemies because of Washington's leading role in last year's Nato bombing campaign against Yugoslavia.
About 2,300 troops from more than 12 countries are continuing to search houses in both the northern, mainly Serb part of the town and in the southern, mainly ethnic Albanian area.
They say they have already made a number of arrests and discovered automatic weapons and a quantity of plastic explosive.
Military officials are describing it as the biggest operation of its kind in the province.
They say they hope the overwhelming show of force will prevent a repeat of last weekend's events, when French troops were shot at - the first time K-For troops had come under fire since their arrival last summer.
The search follows two weeks of unrest between Serbs and Albanians, during which at least nine people have been killed.
There have also been several other large weapons finds in the town in recent days.
On Saturday, French troops seized rocket launchers, grenades and machine-guns from apartments in the north of the city. Two Serbs and an ethnic Albanian were arrested during the raids.
In another case, the French troops found a big cache in an ambulance.
French commander General Pierre de Saqui de Sannes said the driver tried to turn back at a checkpoint, and overturned the vehicle in a ditch before managing to escape.
A search of the ambulance revealed 10 rocket propelled grenades, nearly 200 grenades and thousands of rifle and machine gun rounds.

Mitrovica is one of the last remaining towns in Kosovo with a substantial Serb population.
The bridge between the Serb and ethnic Albanian areas has frequently been a flashpoint for violence and is heavily guarded by K-For troops.
The operation, which is expected to continue for several days, has been backed by the UN authorities.

Original article