Serbs visit graves in tinderbox Kosovo city

KOSOVSKA MITROVICA, Yugoslavia, Mar 5, 2000 -- (Reuters) International peacekeepers took advantage of calm in Mitrovica on Saturday to escort Serbs to a graveyard in the southern Albanian part of the divided Kosovo city.

Serb mother Vesna Djuric was escorted to the grave of her 17-year-old son, her only child who died in 1993. The visit, on Orthodox Day of the Dead, was her first since clashes erupted in the flashpoint city last month.

"Before I'd come to visit the grave every day and it used to be full of flowers. Now, I can't come as often as I used to. It is hard to visit the cemetery under the escort. But we live in hope that it will change," she said.

On Friday, Serbs rioted when peacekeepers escorted 41 Albanians back to their homes in a now heavily-reinforced apartment complex in the mainly Serb part of the city.

More were expected to return to the northern side in the coming days but the peacekeepers said no Albanians had wanted to go on Saturday.

There were no incidents overnight in the three apartment towers beside the Ibar River which now house just some of 43 Albanian families that used to live there.

"Albanians didn't ask today to be escorted across. We are here just to make it possible for them to go home when they want," Lieutenant Matthieu Mablin, from the KFOR NATO-led peacekeeping force, told Reuters.

The Albanians had been whisked past stone-throwing Serbs in a huge military operation to get them back to homes they had fled after violence in the district last month.

The return of the Albanian families, in a convoy of armored troop carriers, was seen as an important test of the will of NATO and the United Nations in standing up to Serb resistance.

French KFOR forces appeared to have removed several of the armored vehicles and tanks from around the buildings. KFOR engineers were continuing to build a military pedestrian bridge intended to allow Albanians living in the Serb area free access to shops and schools in the south.

"It is calm," said a French lieutenant, who would not give his name, commanding a patrol guarding the three towers.

French officials said five French soldiers were injured by rocks in fighting with Serbs on Friday, with two requiring hospital treatment. Two Serb men and two women were slightly hurt by exploding teargas canisters, they said.

General Pierre de Saqui de Sannes, the head of the French contingent, said on Friday his troops would guard the towers day and night.

But he added: "The tensions have to ease because we can't continue to have as many soldiers here as there are people in Mitrovica."

Original article