CEOL
KFOR troops encounter Serb police near Kosovo

PRISTINA, Mar 9, 2000 -- (Reuters) The NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo said on Wednesday several of its soldiers had been involved in an encounter with Serb police close to the provincial boundary.

The police stopped a patrol of Finnish soldiers on Sunday near the border town of Mirovic and took them to a house for questioning, said Lieutenant Commander Philip Anido, the spokesman for the KFOR force.

Initial reports said the Finns had been inside Kosovo when the incident took place but subsequent checks suggested they may have strayed across the boundary, Anido said.

Under the agreement which governed Serb forces' withdrawal from Kosovo after NATO bombing last year, local police are the only Serb security personnel allowed within a five km (three mile) buffer zone on the Serbian side of the boundary.

Ethnic Albanians in the area have alleged that other police units have also been active there. Elements of the uniforms and equipment used by the police involved in Sunday's incident indicated they may not have been local, KFOR sources said.

They said the incident was likely to be raised with Yugoslav authorities.

Diplomats, analysts and local politicians have flagged the region of Serbia just outside Kosovo as the area which could be next to see an eruption of violence in the volatile Balkans.

The police had asked the Finnish soldiers about KFOR exercises and equipment, Anido said. The leader of the Finnish patrol had told them they would not answer such questions.

The Serbs released the Finns at the end of the encounter, which lasted more than one hour, Anido said.

"It became friendlier and friendlier and, really, they both realised they were professional people," Anido said.

Some ethnic Albanians, who form the majority of Kosovo's population, see the region on the Serb side of the boundary as part of Kosovo and want to wrest it from Belgrade's control.

Tens of thousands of ethnic Albanians live in the area and an armed ethnic Albanian group has recently emerged, saying it will defend the region from alleged Serb police brutality.

KFOR initially said nothing publicly about Sunday's incident but confirmed it on Wednesday after being questioned by a local journalist who had learned of the encounter.



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