French and locals injured in Kosovo clash

KOSOVSKA MITROVICA, Mar 8, 2000 -- (Reuters) More than 40 people, including 16 French KFOR soldiers, were injured on Tuesday when Serbs and Albanians fought in the divided Kosovo town of Mitrovica.

As well as the French soldiers, 20 Serbs and five Albanians were injured as the violence, accompanied by shooting and grenade blasts, continued into the afternoon in the tense northern district.

It was one of the most serious outbreaks in the city, which saw major clashes last month and where peacekeepers struggle daily to prevent fighting between Albanians and Serbs.

NATO's supreme commander General Wesley Clark was visiting another part of Mitrovica during the fighting. KFOR said he had cancelled a news conference because of it but a Serb representative said he met him to discuss security issues.

French KFOR spokesman Colonel Patrick Chanliau said 16 French soldiers were slightly injured in the fighting, of whom six were still in hospital. Twenty Serbs and five Albanians, one a woman, were also hurt.


KFOR later arrested four Albanians and extended an overnight curfew to start at eight p.m. (1900 GMT) instead of 10 p.m.

It said in a statement that the incident started with an exchange of insults between two small angry groups near an Albanian enclave in the Serb-dominated northern half of town.

"Others joined the dispute on both sides and finally individuals began shooting and throwing hand grenades," it said.

Philippe Pacaud, a spokesman for the United Nations Mission in Kosovo, said an Albanian had then opened fire.

"One Albanian fired a hunting rifle at a young man and wounded him and immediately after that Albanians from a courtyard threw two hand grenades," he said.

He said French KFOR troops arrested two Albanians, Ljuan Miftari and Djelal Ademi, one of whom attacked a group of Serbs with an iron rod in the Albanian district while the other fired two shots from a hunting rifle, seriously injuring a Serb.

Other Albanians threw hand grenades, some at a crowd of Serbs and two at French soldiers, Pacaud said.

"Fire was opened on them and wounded Ademi in the leg. Miftari, who fled, was caught about 100 metres (yards) from where the armed conflict took place," he said.

Chanliau confirmed all the shots and grenades came from the Albanian side.

"We hope the events were just involving people who were trying to settle private problems," he said, adding that security had been stepped up but that he could not elaborate.


Oliver Ivanovic, a leader of the Serb community in northern Mitrovica, said KFOR escorted him to the southern, Albanian part of town for talks with Clark, who he said assured him KFOR would try to protect minorities in Kosovo.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov expressed concern about growing tension in the province and called for "firm measures" against separatists and extremists and an end to the departure from Kosovo of non-Albanians.

Ivanov appealed to other members of the U.N. Security Council to halt the spiral of violence.

"Our opinion is that the situation in Kosovo is explosive and it is necessary to take preventive measures to stop further clashes," he said after meeting U.N. Balkans envoy Carl Bildt.

The shooting died down but KFOR said later a rocket had been launched at one of the Albanian apartment blocks in the troubled area. It only caused minor damage with no injuries.

By evening the city was calm but had an eery look because of bonfires lit in the south of the city to mark the second anniversary of the killing by Serb police of Adem Jashari, a founder of the Kosovo Albanian rebel movement.

The northern Mitrovica district where the firing broke out was heavily fortified by KFOR last week when it managed to return some Albanians to their homes there after a two-day standoff with Serbs who said they threatened their safety.

Early on Tuesday morning KFOR escorted a further 13 Albanians back to their homes in the Serb part.

The Albanians had fled last month to the Albanian southern part of the town, which is divided by the River Ibar, after ethnic violence in which at least nine people were killed and more than two dozen wounded.

Original article