Kosovo Serb leader threatens to cut off cooperation with KFOR

KOSOVSKA MITROVICA, Yugoslavia, Mar 15, 2000 -- (AFP) The self-proclaimed Serb leader of this northern Kosovo town said Wednesday the Serbs would cut off cooperation with NATO-led peacekeepers and the UN if they insist on setting up security zones in the area.

Oliver Ivanovic told reporters in northern Mitrovica that if international officials "continue to insist on imposing their idea of security zones," they would "face total citizen disobedience" by the Serbs.

Ivanovic was to meet later Wednesday with the UN administrator for the province, Bernard Kouchner.

He spoke just hours after French soldiers clashed with several hundred Serbs protesting against a security zone set up by KFOR in an ethnically mixed quarter in this tense and divided town.

At least nine Serbs were injured, two of them seriously, in the riots that erupted as French gendarmes and soldiers deployed at a key intersection leading into a northern Mitrovica neighborhood known as Little Bosnia, where a small number of ethnic Albanians live alongside the Serb majority.

French spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Patrick Chanliau said two French soldiers and two from the United Arab Emirates were "very slightly injured."

Two foreign journalists were also beaten by Serbs.

A KFOR official in Pristina said the deployment was aimed at curbing the actions of Serb "bridge watchers" -- militants who try to control the movement of Albanians in and out of northern Mitrovica.

But KFOR spokesman Chanliau insisted Wednesday's "operation was not aimed against anybody... it is for the benefit of everybody."

"KFOR's duty is to make sure freedom of movement is respected," Chanliau said, adding KFOR sought "concertation based on the population's trust and cooperation."

"Security which depends solely on a military presence is imperfect security," he added.

And KFOR spokesman Philipp Henning said in Pristina that the "confidence area" being established in Mitrovica would cover both bridges and both banks of the Ibar River.

"It will be one area in the center of Mitrovica extended to both sides of the river, including the bridges," he told a press briefing.

Henning said that an "identity cards system" would be established for all the residents in the area.

Meanwhile, UNMIK announced that 200 more policemen would be sent to Mitrovica, 100 each from Pakistan and Jordan.

The officers, who are trained in riot control, will remain within their units and not be dispersed within the UNMIK police force, said spokeswoman Susan Manuel.

"Their role is to back up UNMIK police and they take their orders from the UNMIK police commissioner or the (KFOR) commander of the region," she said.

Manuel added that the European Union had also pledged to send an additional 320 policemen to Kosovo, who were "to arrive soon."

Many of those "are specialists in combating organized crime and drug trafficking," she said.

A total of 2,547 officers are now in the province, with 2,390 deployed in the field, and the rest in training, according to UNMIK figures.

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