Belgrade accuses West of cleansing Serbs from Kosovo

By Pierre Lhuillery


Belgrade has accused the West of working with Albanians to drive the last remaining Serbs out of Kosovo, in the wake of recent incidents in the divided town of Kosovska Mitrovica.

Yugoslav authorities returned the ball to NATO's court after they were accused of stirring up the trouble in Mitrovica, saying that sending American troops into the northern Serbian sector of the town was a deliberate provocation that could only cause apprehension among Serb residents.

According to Yugoslavia's ambassador to the United Nations, a big Albanian demonstration in the town on Monday was sponsored by Albanian separatists, and by KFOR, the NATO-led multinational force in the rebel Yugoslav province.

"The latest dramatic events in Kosovoska Mitrovica were sponsored by KFOR members as well as Albanian terrorists, because of their arrogant behavior and their brutal searches of Serbian houses," Jovanovic said in a protest letter to the Security Council.

Many Mitrovica Serbs have complained that U.S. and German KFOR troops used unnecessary force and caused damage during a search for arms at the weekend.

Clashes broke out as soon as the troops arrived in northern, Serbian-populated Mitrovica, with their armored vehicles receiving a barrage of stones and bottles.

Since the 11 weeks of the American-led NATO bombing of Yugoslavia last year, the United States is particularly unpopular among the Serbs.

Jovanovic said the "arrogant" action by KFOR American troops was intended to frighten remaining Serbs in the northern sector "in order to drive them out of Kosovo."

Monday's demonstration by tens of thousands of Albanians against the de facto partition of Mitrovica was part of the same scenario, the ambassador said.

At the time, groups of Albanians tried to force their way across a main bridge into the northern sector, repeatedly clashing with KFOR troops guarding the crossing between the two sectors.

"Obviously this attack was intended to drive the Serbs and other non-Albanians from Mitrovica," Jovanovic said.

The Albanians wanted to complete "the ethnic cleansing of non-Albanians who are living in isolated enclaves," Jovanovic said, adding that the objective was to hive off Kosovo from Yugoslavia.

The diplomat repeated Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's description of the KFOR and U.N. civilian mission in Kosovo as a "fiasco," but unlike the president, refrained from demanding the withdrawal "as soon as possible" of international officers and civilians from the province.

In recent days, NATO secretary-general George Robertson, General Wesley Clark, commander-in-chief of NATO forces in Europe, and Richard Holbrooke, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., have accused Milosevic of manipulating the situation in Mitrovica.

Reports have meanwhile surfaced of the possibility of intervention by the Yugoslav army.

But this failed to convince a western diplomat with long experience of the Balkans. "Milosevic has no need to do anything. Clearly this chaotic situation suits him. He is thriving on it."

Original article