Southern Kosovo calm after US-Serb clashes
SEVCE, Apr 6, 2000 -- (Reuters) This Serb mountain village in Kosovo returned to its usual calm on Wednesday after clashes that left 11 U.S. troops and a dozen villagers slightly injured and NATO's pride more seriously hurt.
U.S. officers admitted their troops had been trapped in the alpine enclave by rock-throwing Serbs, forced to abandon military vehicles and that the Serb prisoner whose arrest ignited the conflict had escaped during the clashes.
U.S. military police and Polish peacekeeping troops entered the isolated village of Sevce on Tuesday and detained a man for illegal possession of two hand grenades after a house search, U.S. military spokeswoman Major Deborah Allen told Reuters.
Neighbors surrounded troops, hauling logs across the sole road out and fighting broke out, she said. Reinforcements came by helicopter but peacekeepers were forced to abandon their vehicles in Sevce and trek through a narrow gorge to safety.
"There were Serbs up on the sides of the canyon throwing rocks," Allen said. The trek of 2 1/2 km (1 1/2 miles) took the soldiers two hours, she said.
At the neighboring Serb village of Jazince the peacekeepers joined up with reinforcements and there was more fighting with a crowd of some 300 Serbs, Allen said.
NERVOUS AND PROUD
Villagers in Sevce, displaying a mixture of nervousness and pride on Wednesday at apparently emerging victorious from their confrontation with the world's biggest military alliance, gave a slightly different version of events.
Zoran Janicevic, a 40-year-old father of three whose arrest ignited the confrontation, was at liberty in his home village but unwilling to speak to reporters. His brother Bogdan however described scenes ranging from high drama to farce.
The grenades were discovered not in Zoran's home but an outbuilding where Zoran had placed them for safekeeping after finding them at a roadside, Bogdan said. "He didn't want children to hurt themselves," insisted Bogdan.
"He was going to hand the grenades to KFOR (the NATO-led peacekeeping force).
Villagers said U.S. troops had brought back Zoran by helicopter from a UN police station to the original scene of his arrest, after villagers had trapped other peacekeeping troops and UN police behind barricades of logs and lines of women and children.
When the villagers saw Zoran with hands bound they rushed the helicopter and a tug-of-war developed.
"There were old ladies holding onto Zoran and U.S. marines trying to drag him into the helicopter," said Bogdan.
At the height of the operation five military helicopters hovered overhead and up to 50 U.S. soldiers surrounded the tiny hamlet, locals said. Locals held up the rubber pellets fired at them during the struggle.
"Eventually they let him go. Then we took away the barricades and let the soldiers go," said Bogdan. "We are proud that so many people came to help us and fight for justice."
"They took a hostage so we took them hostage," said another local man. The main traffic on the one street of the idyllic village on Wednesday was of wandering sheep and chickens.
"The man escaped," another spokesman for U.S. forces confirmed. U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen said in Qatar the incident showed that Kosovo needed more police, not troops.
One U.S. soldier suffered a broken hand and others cuts and bruises on Tuesday. A Polish peacekeeping soldier and a interpreter were also hurt.
Almost all civilians in Kosovo are banned from owning weapons, and NATO-led peacekeeping troops carry out house searches for illegal arms.
Many Serbs have fled Kosovo since NATO-led forces occupied the province last year, fearing revenge attacks by ethnic Albanians. Around 100,000 remain, many occupying besieged enclaves, including several thousand in rural southern villages like Sevce.