BBC
Mitrovica Albanians return home

Friday, 3 March, 2000


About 40 ethnic Albanians have returned to their homes on the Serb side of the divided Kosovo city of Mitrovica.
They were taken back in personnel carriers and were under heavy French guard after a day of rioting by Serbs.
The angry Serbs, mostly men, earlier clashed with the French soldiers, throwing stone and bricks at the peacekeepers.
They were trying to enter part of the apartments which used to be home to hundreds of ethnic Albanians.
The troops, part of the Nato-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo, had fired tear gas and stun grenades to disperse the protesters.
Hundreds of Albanians stood quietly on the south bank of the river watching the operation.

Outbreak of violence
The Albanians fled during an outbreak of ethnic violence last month and the peacekeepers have been trying ever since to get them back into their homes.
On Thrusday, 43 ethnic Albanian families had been due to return to their flats.
But the first two ethnic Albanians to attempt a crossing of the River Ibar, which separates the communities, were forced back over a new footbridge.
The bridge had been built near the families' homes by Nato-led K-For peacekeepers to allow them to return more easily.

Symbolic step
United Nations officials said they would not abandon plans to resettle up to 120 families who fled Serb vigilante attacks.
The UN regional administrator, Mario Morcone, said it would be an important symbolic step towards reuniting a town torn apart by ethnic violence.
Bajram Rexhepi, mayor of Mitrovica's Albanian majority, said that if the families did not go back on Friday "the UN and Nato would lose credibility before my population."

Shadow guerrilla force
Meanwhile, Hashim Thaci, the political leader of the officially disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), has denied links with a shadowy ethnic Albanian guerrilla group.
Serb officials alleged that the KLA was directing the activities of the new group, which has reportedly claimed responsibility for an attack on Serb police on Saturday which killed one officer and injured three on the Serbia border.
An ethnic Albanian was also killed in the clash, one of a series of violent incidents in the region.



Original article