Kosovo leader urges Albanians not to seek revenge

KOSOVSKA MITROVICA, Yugoslavia, Feb 9, 2000 -- (Reuters) A top Kosovo Albanian leader urged supporters on Tuesday not to seek revenge for recent ethnic violence which killed eight people and wounded more than 20.

Hashim Thaci, a former commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army which fought Serb rule, said the problems in the tense ethnically divided city of Mitrovica should be solved through dialogue, not on the streets.

"We will not respond with violence to the institutional Serb violence and terrorism," he told a rally of about 1,000 people in the Albanian-dominated south of the city.

"We have to solve all problems within institutions, together with the international community," said Thaci, now president of the Party for the Democratic Progress of Kosovo.

Thaci told the crowd he was not satisfied with the response of NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force and United Nations police to the violence. Protesters carried banners critical of the French peacekeepers who patrol the northern industrial city.

The violent upsurge, one of the worst since KFOR and the U.N. took over responsibility for the province last June, began last Wednesday with a rocket attack on a United Nations bus which killed two Serbs.

The following night violence erupted in northern Mitrovica. A Serb bar was targeted in a grenade attack which wounded 15 people. Serbs went on a rampage of shootings, grenade attacks and arson which killed at least eight people.

Albanians say all the dead were members of their community while international officials say two were ethnic Turks.

French troops accused

Demonstrators at Tuesday's rally carried placards with slogans such as "French - you are accomplices in the crimes," "Stop massacres" and "Criminals out of Kosovo."

Albanian protesters have clashed several times with peacekeepers over the past week.

"We are in the middle of a crisis in Mitrovica," acknowledged Bernard Kouchner, head of the U.N.-led administration established in Kosovo after NATO bombing to end repression of ethnic Albanians drove out Serb forces.

"I agree that we have to improve the level of protection in the northern part of Mitrovica," Kouchner told reporters in the provincial capital Pristina. "We are working on that."

Before NATO's bombing last year, Albanians formed the majority in both northern and southern Mitrovica. But Serbs grouped together in the north after Albanians were forced to flee and have now established de facto control of the district.

The Serbs insist they have gathered together only for their own security. But the division is one of the most sensitive issues for Albanians, who see it as an attempt to partition the province and make sure mineral-rich northern Kosovo remains part of Serbia even if the rest becomes independent.

More than 400 ethnic Albanians have been evacuated from northern Mitrovica in the past few days because of fears for safety, French forces said. The peacekeepers have stressed the evacuations should be only temporary.

Original article