Troops call off Kosovo searches

Tuesday, 22 February, 2000

International peacekeeping troops have suspended operations to search for weapons in the divided Kosovo town of Mitrovica.
The decision comes just a day after 50,000 Albanian demonstrators converged on the area and clashed with the troops.
The searches were due to take place in the Albanian-dominated south of the town, after two days in which the majority of raids were in the Serb areas to the north.

Mitrovica itself was quiet overnight, with a curfew resuming after demonstrators left the town.
British and Canadian troops from the K-For peacekeeping force are on stand-by to prevent a repeat of Monday's events, when soldiers used tear gas to control crowds as Albanians attempted to storm the heavily-guarded bridge dividing the two halves of the town.
Searches conducted by United States soldiers in the Serb part of Mitrovica dramatically increased tension in the town on Sunday. US and German troops had to retreat after being bombarded with stones, bricks and snowballs.
As the violence flared, Yugoslav government media accused the US of complicity in driving Serbs from the province.
The state-run newspaper Politika on Monday devoted its entire front-page to the situation in Mitrovica, describing the searching of Serb houses as "arrogant".
It alleged that uniformed Kosovo Albanians had joined US forces in the search "in the capacity of guides and interpreters".

Belgrade accused
Western officials however placed the blame on the Serbian government for stirring up ethnic tensions in Mitrovica.
The American ambassador to the United Nations, Richard Holbrooke said: "I think there is no question who's responsible for it. It's Belgrade. The leadership in Belgrade is fomenting trouble north of the Mitrovica bridge."
And Nato Secretary-General George Robertson warned Belgrade that the organisation would not tolerate fresh conflict after monitoring a build-up of troops close to Serbia's border with Kosovo.
The commander of K-For, General Klaus Reinhardt, praised his troops for the way they had dealt with Monday's clashes.
But the BBC's Jacky Rowland in Belgrade says events in Mitrovica raise important questions: how were the Albanians able to enter the town despite a K-For undertaking to block the protest, and why did the protesters disperse so quickly after international officials addressed them?

K-For criticism
Critics of the peacekeeping force suggest that its commanders lack the political will to use force against Albanians, who are still seen by many in the international community as the victims in the Kosovo conflict.
Much of the blame for the violence has been placed at the door of the French K-For troops who patrol Mitrovica.
For their part, local Serbs have targeted their anger at the Americans and the British. They point out that British K-For troops had overseen the departure of almost the entire Serb population from the provincial capital, Pristina.
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.

Original article