Kosovo Serbs hold Easter service under Nato guard

KOSOVSKA MITROVICA, May 1, 2000 -- (Reuters) Kosovo Serbs attended Orthodox Easter Sunday services in a church sealed off by hundreds of NATO peacekeepers on guard against ethnic Albanian attack.

Equipped with batons and shields and backed up by two dozen armored combat vehicles, the KFOR troops enabled three buses to deliver 80 Serbs to St Sava Church in the Albanian-dominated south side of Kosovska Mitrovica.

The Serbs were brought in from the Serb-controlled north of the ethnically divided city, where hundreds of Serbs rioted on Saturday night over an alleged infiltration of ethnic Albanians in KFOR civilian escort vehicles.

Three empty ethnic Albanian homes and at least three UN international police vehicles were torched in disturbances that occurred a day after a UN bus bringing Serbs to an Orthodox Good Friday service in south Mitrovica was stoned.

French, Italian and Danish KFOR troops pulled out all stops on Sunday to pre-empt another attack, blocking all access routes before the three buses arrived with the Serb faithful at 8 a.m. (0600 GMT).

Some ethnic Albanians in the vicinity jeered and shouted abuse but were kept far back from the church compound and the 90-minute service passed off without incident.

The three buses ferried the Serbs back to north Mitrovica uneventfully. A half hour later, KFOR reopened the bustling main street that runs by St Sava Church.


"In light of the last two days' incidents, a lot less Serbs came here today for the services than would have been expected, and we expect no more today," said First Lieutenant Eric Bouysson of the French brigade in charge of the region.

On the north side of the Ibar River that bisects Kosovo's third largest city, crowds of Serbs blocked intersections and danced in the street to amplified strains of nationalist "turbo-folk" music. No incidents were reported.

Friday's stoning of the UN bus occurred as a UN Security Council was visiting Mitrovica as part of a three-day Kosovo tour that resulted in recommendations to improve security measures in the ethnically riven province.

KFOR went on heightened alert across Kosovo as minority Serbs observed Orthodox Easter in scattered KFOR-guarded enclaves into which they retreated after Yugoslav security forces withdrew from the province last June.

Belgrade abandoned a bloody military crackdown on Kosovo Albanian separatism at that time after 11 weeks of NATO air strikes conducted to end a vicious two-year conflict.

When KFOR entered Kosovo in support of an interim post-war UN administration, returning ethnic Albanian refugees went on a spree of anti-Serb reprisals, terrorizing most local Serbs into flight to Serbia proper.

A couple of north Mitrovica districts where UN authorities resettled hundreds of ethnic Albanians who had been driven out by Serb militants are shielded around the clock by KFOR troops at sandbagged, barbed-wire checkpoints.

Mitrovica has been the worst ethnic flashpoint in the province.

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