Kosovo city under curfew to halt violence

KOSOVSKA MITROVICA, Yugoslavia, Feb 5, 2000 -- (Reuters) NATO-led peacekeepers in Kosovo fired tear gas and imposed a curfew on Friday after an eruption of violence between Serbs and Albanians which prompted deep international concern.

The peacekeepers used tear gas and booming percussion grenades to scatter a crowd of several hundred ethnic Albanians in the city of Mitrovica venting their anger after a night of grenade attacks and shootings which left six people dead.

All the killings appeared to have taken place in Serb-dominated northern Mitrovica. Four of the dead were ethnic Albanians and two were ethnic Turks, another mainly Moslem minority in the area, the KFOR peacekeeping force said.

Some 15 Serbs and six Albanians were wounded. An eight-year-old boy was among the dead, a spokeswoman for the UN mission in Kosovo said.

The clashes, hard on the heels of a deadly rocket attack this week on a UN bus carrying Serbs, marked one of the worst spates of violence since international authorities took de facto control of the Yugoslav province in June last year.

The French commander of peacekeepers in the region imposed a curfew beginning at 1900 GMT. A helicopter dropped leaflets explaining the measure from above the run-down industrial city.

"The situation is so tense that security comes before all else," General Pierre de Saqui de Sannes told reporters.

In Brussels, the European Union's top foreign policy representative issued a statement deploring the violence.

"I strongly appeal to both communities to avoid any further escalation and to exercise utmost restraint," said Javier Solana, NATO's secretary-general during the bombing campaign which drove Serb forces from Kosovo and installed KFOR.


U.S. Defence Secretary William Cohen, in Munich for a security conference, said the violence showed the need for Europe to help build a civilian police force in Kosovo.

"What we need is more (police) on the ground to get the institutions started that will establish the rule of law," Cohen said.

U.S. officials and military peacekeeping commanders say only 2,000 of a needed 6,000 civilian police have been sent to Kosovo and that the European Union has not paid any of the $35 million it promised for that force.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, said in a statement issued in Geneva: "The violence against Serbs and Albanians must be brought to a halt and the humanitarian mission of UNHCR and its partners must be respected on the ground in Kosovo."

About five peacekeepers were wounded in Friday's clash which was ended with the help of officers from the Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC), a force formed to provide a new role for ex-ethnic Albanian guerrillas who fought Serbian rule.

NATO intervened in Kosovo last year to end Serb repression of the province's ethnic Albanian majority. But its troops have struggled to stop the two communities continuing to fight each other, albeit at a lower level.

The violence of the past few days underscored how far Serbs, Albanians and international authorities still have to travel in Kosovo to reach a genuine peace.

It also completely overshadowed the establishment of the first departments in one of the U.N.'s flagship projects in Kosovo - a joint administration allowing the world body to share the running of Kosovo with local officials.