French troops fire on car in Kosovo flashpoint

PRISTINA, May 3, 2000 -- (Reuters) French soldiers fired at a car which deliberately ran into one of them at a checkpoint in the volatile Kosovo city of Mitrovica, the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force said on Tuesday.

KFOR said an occupant of the car was wounded in the Monday night incident, which came two days after clashes between Serbs and peacekeepers in the ethnically divided northern city.

The peacekeeping force, deployed last June after NATO's bombing campaign drove out Serb forces, issued a statement saying the recent violence in Mitrovica and attacks on minorities elsewhere in Kosovo had increased tension in the territory.

"The people of Kosovo have an historic opportunity to build their province to the benefit of all its inhabitants," said Spanish Lieutenant General Juan Ortuno, the KFOR commander.

"However, continued inter-ethnic violence, as well as attacks directed at the international community, will disrupt this process," said Ortuno, who took over the KFOR command last month.

In Monday night's incident, a car forced its way through a French military checkpoint in the Serb-dominated northern sector of the city and struck a soldier, KFOR said.

The soldier was slightly injured and French troops fired on the car in an attempt to stop it, a spokesman for the force said. The car escaped and was later seen at the city's main hospital in the northern sector with its driver and a wounded passenger.

A KFOR press officer in Mitrovica, Lieutenant Eric Bouysson, said he had no details about the injuries to the occupant of the car as the hospital does not cooperate with international authorities, although it appeared likely he had been shot.

Mitrovica, a run-down industrial city in northern Kosovo, is Kosovo's most dangerous postwar flashpoint. It has been the scene of violent clashes involving Serbs, ethnic Albanians and peacekeepers over the past few months.

Several KFOR soldiers and a police officer were slightly wounded, three cars were set on fire and 15 vehicles were damaged in Saturday night's violence in the city, according to KFOR.

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