Curfew in Kosovo city after second violent upsurge

KOSOVSKA MITROVICA, Yugoslavia, Feb 14, 2000 -- (Reuters) The volatile Kosovo city of Mitrovica was under curfew early on Monday after a second eruption of violence this month left two people dead and at least 15 wounded, including two French soldiers.

It was the first time such serious and sustained fighting had broken out between NATO peacekeepers and the ethnic Albanians the alliance intervened to help last year.

The NATO-led KFOR peace force said one ethnic Albanian sniper had been killed and four more snipers wounded in the gunbattles which raged around northern Mitrovica on Sunday afternoon. The four wounded were under guard in hospital.

Local Serb leaders said three members of their community had been wounded - two of them shot, one the victim of a grenade.

The two French peacekeepers were wounded by snipers who opened fire on them, KFOR said, while one Albanian was killed and six Albanians were wounded in a grenade attack which appeared to have been the first link in Sunday's chain of violence.

Seventeen people were arrested for crimes linked to the violence, a KFOR spokesman said. The force extended a curfew, imposed after the last serious outbreak on February 3, to run from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. in an effort to restore calm.

"Shameful day"

"The only people who have benefited from this shameful day are those who have an interest in preventing the return of peace and order to Kosovo," KFOR and the province's United Nations-led administration said in a joint statement.

NATO bombed Yugoslavia last year with the aim of ending Serb repression of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority.

Serb forces withdrew last June and KFOR moved in together with the United Nations to run the territory, although it legally remains a part of Serb-dominated Yugoslavia.

Recent events in Mitrovica, while not always typical of developments elsewhere in Kosovo, underline how tough a task the international authorities still face in trying to establish peace, order and tolerance nearly eight months down the line.

The day began with the grenade attack on an Albanian home in the Serb-dominated north of the ethnically divided city.

A French soldier was shot in the stomach by an unidentified sniper a few hours later, a spokesman for Kosovo's French-led northern military sector said.

Italian troops guarding one of the bridges between the two ethnic strongholds immediately returned fire.

KFOR set off after the sniper and another French soldier was shot in the arm. Both soldiers were evacuated to a KFOR hospital. Neither was in critical condition.

Snipers shot on purpose

"After these events, other snipers began shooting at our troops," said a KFOR spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Chanliau. "Extremists shot at our people. They did it on purpose, that's obvious."

Battles with elite KFOR sharpshooters ensued and five ethnic Albanian snipers were wounded and captured, one of whom died later in a local KFOR hospital, KFOR said.

The peacekeepers stressed that although only ethnic Albanian snipers had been caught, this did not mean people from other ethnic groups had not also been shooting. Serb leaders said Serbs had also opened fire, but only in self-defense.

Officials at the U.N. and KFOR acknowledged that the exact sequence of events, on an afternoon when the air in northern Mitrovica was often thick with gunfire and explosions, and the reasons behind them were still unclear.

"What is clear, however, is that two young French soldiers, who came here as peacekeepers, are lying in hospital beds suffering from gunshot wounds inflicted on them by the very people that they came here to protect," their statement said.

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