Nato holds Kosovo Serb leader, crowd angry

PRISTINA, Apr 25, 2000 -- (Reuters) NATO peacekeepers detained a Kosovo Serb leader for two hours, saying his identity papers had expired, and fired a warning shot to disperse Serb protesters, a spokesman said on Monday.

Oliver Ivanovic, political chief on the Serb-controlled side of the divided city of Kosovska Mitrovica, told Reuters his papers were in order and accused KFOR of unacceptable bungling.

Serbian media said two Serbs and two KFOR soldiers were injured in a clash involving a crowd of 200 who gathered round the roadblock near Leposavic in north Kosovo to demand Ivanovic's release. KFOR said the atmosphere was tense.

North Mitrovica, protected from hostile ethnic Albanians in the south by KFOR troops, is the last urban concentration of Serbs in Kosovo and a haven of nationalist hard-liners believed to be supported by Belgrade.

The city was plagued by Serb-Albanian violence before KFOR beefed up security along the sector boundary and introduced a small "confidence zone" as a first step towards restoring safe passage and inter-communal cooperation.

"Mr Ivanovic was stopped at 3:45 p.m. on Sunday on his way to Leposavic because his KFOR papers were expired and the soldiers wanted to take a picture to renew his papers," KFOR Major Frank Benjaminsen told a news briefing in Pristina.

"Mr. Ivanovic refused and a crowd of about 50 people gathered around the checkpoint. The atmosphere got a bit tense and the Belgian squadron leader fired one warning shot. It didn't escalate further from that."

Benjaminsen said Ivanovic was released around 5:45 p.m.

Ivanovic said he left without being photographed because he had a valid KFOR pass, which he showed to Reuters in his office in Mitrovica. It was valid until June 30 and did not look new.

"They never told me why they were keeping me there," he said in English. "The whole matter was unacceptable."


Ivanovic, head of the Serb National Council branch in Mitrovica, cooperates with KFOR on security issues and regularly meet UN administrators.

He and south Mitrovica Albanian leader Bajram Rexhepi had their first meeting on Sunday with the new Mitrovica regional UN administrator, William Nash, who described the talks as "straightforward, friendly and comprehensive".

Nash, in a statement, said the talks included proposals for the safe return home of refugees and that both men pledged to work for peaceful solutions to issues in the volatile region.

But Ivanovic has ruled out any large return of ethnic Albanians to north Mitrovica, saying this would endanger Serbs.

He has also boycotted U.N.-led policy councils which include ethnic Albanians, though more moderate Serbs from smaller enclaves in Kosovo have joined these bodies.

Original article