Nato repulses Kosovo Serbs in tense town

KOSOVSKA MITROVICA, May 1, 2000 -- (Reuters) Serb mobs clashed on Saturday night with NATO peacekeepers escorting ethnic Albanians back to homes in a Serb-dominated part of Kosovo, witnesses said.

They said hundreds of Serbs confronted KFOR peace force trucks ferrying about 80 people back from an excursion to the ethnic Albanian-controlled south of the divided city of Kosovska Mitrovica in northern Kosovo.

A French army spokesman said the trucks were blocked by a Serb crowd convinced that they were bringing in ethnic Albanians who did not live in north Mitrovica and were trying to infiltrate the neighborhood.

"KFOR reacted by sending in reinforcements by vehicle and helicopter to end the blockade," he told Reuters.

The crowd dispersed after negotiations between KFOR sector commander General Pierre de Saqui and Serb community leader Oliver Ivanovic, spokesman Lieutenant Patrick Chanliau said. He had no further detail on the incident.

But witnesses reported serious violence in which Serbs stoned ethnic Albanian houses in the vicinity, shot at a helicopter bringing troops to the scene and clashed with soldiers before being pushed back.

Chanliau said chain-reaction violence erupted in other parts of the north with hundreds of furious Serbs blocking intersections and vandalizing or setting ablaze at least 15 UN international police cars.

He said troops and anti-riot gendarmerie squads were dispatched to disperse the mobs. The situation was calming down shortly before the start of the midnight to 6 a.m. curfew in the city, Kosovo's worst ethnic flashpoint.

Witnesses said KFOR used tear gas to rout some of the crowds - denied by Chanliau - and a Western official who asked not to be identified reported street fighting and shooting into the air.

The violence occurred a day after a UN Security Council delegation visited both sides of Mitrovica as part of a three-day Kosovo tour that resulted in recommendations to improve security measures in the ethnically torn province.

During the delegation's stop in Mitrovica, ethnic Albanians stoned a UN bus escorting Serbs from north Mitrovica to an Orthodox Easter service at a KFOR-guarded church on the south side of town.

Original article