Holbrooke says Belgrade 'fomenting' Kosovo strife

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 22, 2000 -- (Reuters) American U.N. envoy Richard Holbrooke accused the Belgrade leadership on Monday of "fomenting trouble" in the mainly Serb-inhabited area of Mitrovica, the ethnically divided town in northern Kosovo.

"I think the situation in Mitrovica is dangerous and requires the immediate attention of all the countries concerned," he said in answer to reporters' questions about the volatile situation in the town.

On Sunday, stone-throwing Serb demonstrators attacked United States members of the NATO-led peacekeeping force who were hunting for weapons and paramilitary personnel in the Serb part of Mitrovica.

"I think there is no question who is responsible for it. It's Belgrade. The leadership in Belgrade is fomenting trouble north of the Mitrovica bridge," Holbrooke said, referring to the bridge that divides the Serb and ethnic Albanian areas.

Holbrooke, chief negotiator of the 1995 Dayton accords that ended nearly four years of conflict in Bosnia, added: "The problem here comes from Belgrade. This is not a simple question of local Serbs who are all stirred up north of the bridge. This is being stirred up by the MUP (Yugoslav Interior Ministry), by the Yugoslav authorities, and the Yugoslav leadership is directly responsible for this."

It was "absolutely appalling" that people in Kosovo were throwing stones and otherwise endangering the lives of NATO peackeepers, he said. "This is not an acceptable situation."

Asked about events on Monday when NATO-led peacekeepers fired tear gas and used batons to break up a crowd of tens of thousands of Kosovo Albanians, including many who marched to Mitrovica from Pristina, the capital, Holbrooke said: "I don't know about today. But yesterday's action was clearly fuelled by the Serbs."

At least nine people, both Albanians and Serbs, have died and about 20 have been wounded in armed violence this month in Mitrovica. The wounded include two French peacekeepers shot in gun battles.

Serbian Orthodox Church Bishop Artemije Radosavljevic of Raska-Prizren, whose diocese covers the whole of Kosovo, told a news conference later extremists in both the ethnic Albanian and Serbian communities were responsible for the violence.

"The idea of a democratic and multiethnic Kosovo that was propagated by the international community has failed," he said, speaking to reporters at the United Nations through an interpreter.

"What did happen in Kosovo was, basically, one repression supplanting another.... The repression of the autocratic regime in Belgrade was simply exchanged for a new repression, governed by and run by the Albanian extremists," the bishop said.

The "human tragedy" that followed the arrival of NATO-led KFOR troops last June was a terrible toll to pay for peace, he said. Some 500 Serbs and other non-Albanians have been killed and 500 kidnapped and listed as missing, while 80 Serbian Orthodox churches had been destroyed and around 200,000 Serbs evicted from Kosovo along with 50,000 other non-Albanians, he added.

Every large town in Kosovo except Mitrovica, which had been made up of multiethnic communities before the conflict, had been ethnically cleansed, he said.

"Unfortunately there are still many extremists on both the Albanian and the Serbian side who do not want a peaceful solution to this problem," the bishop said.

Asked about Holbrooke's charge that the Belgrade authorities were fomenting violence in Mitrovica, he said the the remaining Serbs in Kosovo knew violence could not solve their problems. "And it is therefore our position that these most recent tensions are the products of policies of the Belgrade regime," he said.

Original article