Troops battle Kosovo protesters

Monday, 21 February, 2000

Nato-led peacekeeping troops have used tear gas to disperse thousands of Kosovo Albanian protesters trying to cross a bridge in the divided town of Mitrovica.
The K-For troops acted after a protest by thousands of local people against recent ethnic violence in the town was swelled by 30,000 from Pristina, AFP reported.
The demonstrators broke through a cordon of largely British soldiers and attempted to storm the bridge.
Following a tense stand-off lasting a few minutes, K-For troops fired tear gas and drove the demonstrators back about 50 metres.
The stand-off resumed 15-20 metres from the bridge, with Danish troops continuing to fire tear gas. Meanwhile, thousands of Serbs on the other side of the bridge played loud nationalist music to taunt the Kosovo Albanians.
As darkness fell, most of the demonstrators began to disperse.
The heavily-guarded bridge between the Serb north and Albanian south has frequently been a flashpoint for violence.
An upsurge of clashes in Mitrovica - one of the last remaining towns in Kosovo with a substantial Serb population - has left nine people dead in recent weeks.
For several months, Kosovo Albanians have been prevented from reaching the Serb side of town, including the hospital and the university, while Serbs have been unable to go to the post office on the southern side.
The demonstrators from Pristina set out for the 40km (25 mile) march to the town at 0800 (0700 GMT) with K-For helicopters flying overhead. They waved banners that read "Mitrovica, we are with you" and "Kosovo is One".
Protester Jeton Balaj said: "With this peaceful march, we want to make it clear to the whole world that Mitrovica cannot be partitioned because it means very much for all the people of Kosovo."
Earlier in Mitrovica, K-For troops conducted a second day of weapons searches.
Monday's searches focused on the south - the area dominated by Kosovo Albanians. No weapons were found.
On Sunday, Nato-led K-For troops were pelted with snowballs, bottles and insults as they seized weapons and explosives in a predominantly Serb district of the town. One person was arrested for possessing weapons.
Correspondents said K-For commanders had given the residents 24 hours notice of the search, and it was thought that guns and ammunition had been spirited out of the town.

Original article