UN Kosovo administrator says Mitrovica unrest was planned

PARIS, Feb 21, 2000 -- (AFP) The United Nations' civilian administrator in Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner, said Sunday that recent violence in Kosovska Mitrovica was organized and the air embargo against Serbia had been lifted too soon.

"Mitrovica is a powder keg ... and this is a new phase," he told the public French radio France Culture. "I hope things will calm down quickly. I am not sure of that," he said, adding that he thought the recent violence was organized. "I think extremists on both sides have gained from it," he said.

Two weeks of violence that flared late February 3 in Mitrovica left 10 ethnic Albanians dead and more than 20 Serbs wounded.

The unrest followed a grenade attack on a bus carrying Serbs which killed two and wounded five, according to the United Nations.

Kouchner also said that the European Union was wrong to ease sanctions on Serbia before at least getting news on missing Albanian Kosovars in return.

The unknown fate of thousands of missing ethnic Albanians is one of the "great obstacles" to restoring faith between their compatriots and Serbs in Kosovo, he told France Culture.

"Alas, I saw that they were lifting the air embargo against Serbia without linking it to at least some news of the missing persons. I do not think that is good at all," Kouchner said.

Estimates vary as to the number of ethnic Albanians missing since Yugoslav forces withdrew from the southern Serb province in June following 11 weeks of air strikes by a NATO-led coalition.

Figures of between 3,000 to 7,000 have been cited, and Kouchner believes they are around 5,000 while admitting he is not certain.

"I believe that many are dead and that the Belgrade government is not ready to respond to requests for information," he said.

"If we had news of the missing, and if the news was good, I think that would change everything," he stressed.

Kouchner said he was basically in favor of lifting sanctions, calling them "still inappropriate."

The EU decided February 14 on a six-month suspension of the air embargo, which was imposed in September 1998.

Original article