Nato raids Serb bar in tense Kosovo city
KOSOVSKA MITROVICA, Yugoslavia, Feb 13, 2000 -- (Reuters) NATO troops raided a Serb bar in the volatile Kosovo city of Mitrovica on Saturday but found nothing to support accusations it was a base for paramilitaries, a military spokesman said.
Kosovo Albanians in the ethnically divided city had long alleged that the Dolce Vita bar was a base for Serb paramilitaries and renewed their allegations after an eruption of violence last week in Serb-dominated northern Mitrovica.
Local Serbs say the men who hang out at the bar next to the main bridge between the Serb and Albanian districts and use two-way radios to communicate with one another are part of a protection group who want to prevent trouble, and are unarmed.
Officers decided to search the bar after members of the protection group, known as the Bridgekeepers, obstructed a patrol from the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force in northern Mitrovica on Saturday morning, the spokesman said.
The patrol of French troops was pursuing a man, believed to be a Serb, who had been trying to force entry into an Albanian apartment, spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Chanliau said.
He said the Bridgekeepers' intervention was "an obstruction of what KFOR was trying to do", adding: "That justifies a raid."
Several KFOR officers said they believed a French soldier had been slightly injured in the incident but Chanliau said he had no information of any injury. He said the Bridgekeepers had blocked the path of the troops giving chase.
FRENCH UNDER PRESSURE
Danish and French troops who swooped on the bar as darkness fell found no weapons and made no arrests, Chanliau said. A crowd of around 150 Serbs gathered outside the bar as the raid went on but dispersed later without incident.
The French troops who form the main peacekeeping contingent in the city had been under pressure from Albanians to act against the Bridgekeepers after clashes in northern Mitrovica last Thursday night in which eight Albanians died.
Another 20 people, mostly Serbs, were wounded in what was one of the worst incidents since KFOR and the United Nations took responsibility for the Yugoslav province last June.
Albanians had alleged the protection group was involved in the violence - a charge its leaders denied.
KFOR has imposed a curfew on the city and reinforced the French - who came in for heavy criticism from Albanians - with troops from Britain, Germany and several other countries.
More than 900 Albanians have fled the north side of Mitrovica since the violence erupted, according to figures from the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
The exodus has raised fears among Albanians that Serbs are plotting to partition the province by ethnically cleansing northern Mitrovica, creating a Serb-dominated zone stretching from there to the Serbian provincial boundary.
This would ensure mineral-rich northern Kosovo remained in Serbia even if the rest of the territory gained the independence sought by the ethnic Albanian majority, the theory goes.