KFOR seize Serb suspect from hospital

PRISTINA, Jun 9, 2000 -- (Reuters) KFOR peacekeepers raided a hospital on Thursday to seize an ethnic Serb who had threatened to kill Britain's top military commander in Kosovo earlier this week.

Serbs in the monastery town of Gracanica demanded that the unnamed man be returned to their care, but KFOR officials said he was under investigation for attempted murder and would be held in a "secure" medical facility elsewhere in the province.

Tension in Kosovo's dwindling Serb community has risen sharply following the murder of eight of their number last week in attacks blamed on ethnic Albanian extremists.

The Gracanica Serb was shot in the shoulder on Tuesday after he had stolen a pistol from a KFOR soldier and brandished it in front of Britain's Brigadier Richard Shirreff.

Security troops travelling with Shirreff said they believed both they and the brigadier were in danger of their lives and had no option but to open fire on him. The pistol was recovered.

Peacekeepers tried to arrest him on Wednesday but were prevented by several hundred ethnic Serb protesters. Soldiers returned to the medical center in the early hours of Thursday when the local residents were sleeping.

"This action was necessary to maintain the principle of the rule of law and demonstrates that KFOR will not tolerate attacks against its troops," KFOR said in a statement.

The Yugoslav news agency Beta said Serb staff at the medical center had started a hunger strike to protest at the arrest.


Shirreff rushed to Gracanica on Tuesday to try to reassure locals after an unidentified assailant threw a grenade into a small crowd near the town's market place, injuring five people.

Former NATO Secretary General Javier Solana visited Kosovo on Thursday and was due to meet moderate Serb leaders in Gracanica later in the day.

"We are very alarmed by this situation. We look at this (violence) with tremendous indignation," he told reporters, adding that Albanian leaders in Kosovo must publicly denounce the attacks on the Serbs.

"As long as we continue with this violence it will be very hard to continue with the reconstruction," said Solana, who is now the European Union foreign affairs chief.

Monday marks the first anniversary of the United Nations and KFOR taking over control of Kosovo from the Yugoslav authorities at the end of the NATO bombing campaign. Their 12-month administration has been plagued by rampant violence.

Earlier on Thursday explosives experts destroyed a bomb planted close to UN police headquarters in Pristina.

Officials said they did not know who was responsible for the device, adding that if it had gone off it would have caused considerable damage and killed anyone in the vicinity.

On Wednesday a Russian KFOR peacekeeper was punched momentarily unconscious and had is rifle stolen by Albanians in the western city of Pec, KFOR said on Thursday.

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