'We did not come here to fight'

KOSOVSKA MITROVICA, Yugoslavia, Feb 19, 2000 -- (AFP) The leader of the international peacekeeping force in Kosovo expressed concern Friday about the delicate situation prevailing in this town after clashes between his forces and ethnic Albanians on Sunday.

"We did not come here to fight, and we were supposed to fight only if the (Yugoslavian army) would come back," German General Klaus Reinhardt, KFOR's commander in chief, said during a joint news conference with UN administrator Bernard Kouchner.

"So you should know, this is not a very nice situation which we are in right now."

On Sunday, KFOR troops exchanged gunfire with Albanian snipers in the northern part of Kosovska Mitrovica. Two French soldiers were wounded, one Albanian gunman was killed and others were wounded.

Since NATO's arrival in Kosovo last June, nearly 250,000 non-Albanians have fled the province. The Serbs who remain live in enclaves and are the victims of almost daily attacks by Albanians.

Nearly 1,500 ethnic Albanians have in turn fled Kosovska Mitrovica, where members of the Serb majority led a series of attacks against them on February 3 and 4. Mitrovica is divided into a largely Serb northern section and an overwhelmingly Albanian southern section.

One of the keys to solving the crisis is "that the Serbs not be afraid of being pushed out" of the divided town, Reinhardt said. "KFOR will support them and will help them to stay here. I hope the Albanian leaders will support this position."

Ethnic Serbs in the northern half of Mitrovica say they fear being expelled from the town by ethnic Albanians, as has happened elsewhere in Kosovo.

Kouchner stressed the importance of returning both communities to their homes. "This process must be done in parallel. The Albanians must return to the north and the Serbs to their homes," Kouchner said.

Reinhardt noted that KFOR troops in Mitrovica were being reinforced. "We have started to search the city for weapons and for people who have no business to be here," he said. "And we'll continue to do this and we'll increase it in the next couple of days."

Earlier, Reinhardt and Kouchner met separately with Mitrovica's Albanian mayor, Bajram Rexhepi, and the city's Serb leader, Oliver Ivanovic.

Original article