French in Mitrovica say fire comes from both sides

ZAGREB, Feb 15, 2000 -- (Reuters) French peacekeepers in this volatile Kosovo city complained on Monday they had come under fire from both ethnic Albanians and Serbs when Mitrovica erupted in violence at the weekend.

"When we flushed the snipers out, we found that one was an Albanian and another was a Serb, each firing separately from a different floor," said a visibly angry Captain Cedric Dujardin of the 92nd Infantry Regiment, which was in the thick of the shooting and had two of its men wounded.

The regiment's commanding officer, Colonel Jean-Philippe Bernard, took reporters around sites where the clashes took place, sparking two minor incidents involving irate Serbs who made their grievances loudly known to visiting correspondents.

Bernard identified his wounded men as Privates First Class, Sebastian Caouren, 21, of the Oise region near Paris, and David Tatoli, 19, of Clerment-Ferrand.

One Albanian sniper was killed in the weekend violence, four other snipers were wounded and several dozen suspects were arrested, most of them ethnic Albanians.

Caouren's arm was broken by a bullet, while Tatoli was hit in the stomach by a projectile which hit the ground and rebounded under his "Ninja turtle" body armor. Both were in satisfactory condition.

They were shot at a crossroads in a muddy, run-down area called "Little Bosnia" where ethnic Albanians, Serbs and smaller ethnic groups live in an explosive atmosphere.

The presence of reporters brought out several Serbs, some of whom appeared to have been drinking heavily, who escorted an Orthodox priest who identified himself as Father Mitrophane.

Priest angry at French

Speaking in a mixture of several languages, the priest angrily accused the French soldiers of having kicked down his door when they entered his home to search him for weapons.

"There was shooting going on and we weren't going to knock politely. Anyway, he wasn't there at the time," Colonel Bernard told reporters.

During another stop along the banks of the Ivar river, a band of Serbs, some of whom also looked intoxicated, excitedly tried to mob the reporters to air grievances about Albanian neighbors.

But possibly the oddest scene was at number 11 Knjaza Street, where a French armored troop carrier mounting a machinegun was backed up against the entrance of a five-story building in the heart of the Serb quarter of the city.

Helmeted French soldiers stood on the landing of each floor, protecting two ethnic Albanian couples who lived in the building and were threatened by neighborhood thugs seeking to "ethnically cleanse" the area.

As Danish armored vehicles roared by in the muddy street, Bernard said his troops had intervened many times to save ethnic Albanians.

"The other night, a Serb mob gathered and we packed three women and two children off to the other side of town and to safety," he said. "All they had on them were their nightgowns and their slippers."

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