Nato peacekeepers to bar Serb 'bridge watchers' in Mitrovica

KOSOVSKA MITROVICA, Yugoslavia, Mar 15, 2000 -- (Reuters) The self-proclaimed Serb leader of northern Kosovska Mitrovica said Tuesday that NATO-led peacekeepers aimed to "expel" men under his command who patrol part of this volatile town.

Oliver Ivanovic said he would oppose the move, warning that it "will create a certain number of conflicts".

Serbs known as "bridge watchers" patrol in the north of Mitrovica, monitoring those who cross the town's two bridges in a bid to exert control despite UN civilian policemen and the NATO-led peacekeeping force KFOR.

Mitrovica is divided in two, with mainly Serbs living north of the Ibar river, and Albanian Kosovars to the south.

Ivanovic said he had met for two hours Tuesday with French General Pierre de Saqui de Sannes, commander of the French batallion in charge of northern Kosovo, who announced the new measures.

The general "told me that KFOR was going to create a 100-metre (yard) security zone around the eastern bridge, into which only residents would be authorized to enter," Ivanovic said.

"Our men will be expelled even though I warned the general about the possible consequences,"

Two Serb "guardians" will be stationed along with KFOR troops in the zone starting Wednesday, he added.

Ivanovic said the safety zones would have the opposite effect to the one sought by KFOR.

"I don't think that is a solution," he said, warning that the "security zone will become a zone of insecurity," and that Serbs would fear attacks by Albanian Kosovars.

"This is unacceptable for the Serbs because it concerns the 'Little Bosnia' neighborhood, where there have been 17 attacks against Serbs despite KFOR arms searches," Ivanovic charged.

The National Serb Council for Kosovo Mitrovica (SNV) which is headed by Ivanovic was to meet Tuesday night to discuss the security zone.

"I cannot even begin to imagine that the council will accept this," Ivanovic said.

On Wednesday, he is due to discuss the measure with the UN civilian administrator in Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner, and KFOR commander General Klaus Reinhardt.

Earlier in the afternoon, a KFOR spokesman said it was "unsatisfactory" that any authority other than KFOR and UN police "was controlling comings and goings."

"It is time we put an end to this," said Lieutenant-Colonel Patrick Chanliau.

Ethnic clashes in Mitrovica in early February killed nine Albanians and two Serbs, and injured scores more, including French KFOR troops.

The UN announced this week that retired US general William Nash had been appointed as the region's civilian administrator, a candidate with strong backing from US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

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