Kosovo's Thaci says Mitrovica violence may spread

TIRANA, Feb 17, 2000 -- (Reuters) A senior leader of Kosovo's Albanians said on Wednesday that last weekend's violence in the divided town of Mitrovica could spread if the U.N. administration did not stamp its authority there.

Hashim Thaci, co-chairman of Kosovo's Temporary Administrative Council, also told Koha Jone newspaper that French troops of the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force must shoulder some blame for the gun battles that erupted on Sunday because they had allowed Serbs to control half of the town.

"It is paramount the (U.N.) institutions be more active to solve the situation in Mitrovica otherwise they will have to face bigger problems," said Thaci, a former leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army guerrillas.

"I also cannot exclude that such developments could spread to other parts of Kosovo," he went on.

Fighting in Serb-dominated northern Mitrovica drew in Serbs, ethnic Albanians and KFOR troops. Two French peacekeepers were wounded by sniper fire and one ethnic Albanian - identified by KFOR as a sniper - was shot dead by KFOR troops.

Thaci accused international peacekeepers of doing a "weak job in Mitrovica and allowing terrorist groups and Belgrade institutions to function freely there".

"These phenomena should be eliminated in order to solve the problem of the city as soon as possible," he added.

The French commander of Kosovo's northern sector, General Pierre de Saquis de Sannes, has defended his soldiers against Albanian accusations of showing a pro-Serb bias by arresting far more Albanians than Serbs in the aftermath of the violence.

He noted most of the fighting had taken place in an Albanian area so it was natural most of those detained were Albanian.

The Yugoslav army withdrew from Kosovo at the end of NATO's 11-week air campaign last year. Most Serbs abandoned their homes in Kosovo to escape the violence of returning ethnic Albanians.

Thaci said he had appealed to Albanians in Mitrovica not to answer violence with violence but through the democratic institutions that were being built in Kosovo.

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