CEOL
Peacekeepers seal off Drenica valley for weapons search

PRISTINA, Jun 15, 2000 -- (AFP) Hundreds of KFOR peacekeepers in the British-led central sector of Kosovo started weapons searches early Thursday in the Drenica Valley, heartland of the Yugoslav province's ethnic Albanian former separatist fighters.

"This is possibly the biggest planned operation we have had" in the zone, said spokeswoman Captain Katherine Hurley, who said the cordon and search operation started at 5:00 a.m. (0300 GMT).

Some 300 British, Finnish, Norwegian and Czech troops moved into designated search zones, sealing off villages before combing them for weapons caches, Hurley said.

The operation, expected to last at least two days, comes after a renewed outbreak of ethnic violence that has left eight Serbs dead and more than 20 injured in recent weeks.

An ethnic Albanian man was also injured and his two sons killed last Sunday in an attack on a village near the Drenica Valley, although security officials have been unable to confirm reports that they were attacked by a group of some 15 Serbian-speaking people.

The violence has also targeted troops belonging to the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force, especially British soldiers.

Last week, a Serb man was shot and injured by a British soldier after he pulled a gun on the British commander, Brigadier Richard Shirreff, at point blank range during rioting in the Serb village of Gracanica, near Pristina.

Also last week, a bomb was left outside Pristina's UN police station, just 30 meters (yards) from the headquarters of one of the British regiments that make up the KFOR peacekeeping force.

KFOR made sweeps of small towns near the provincial capital Pristina earlier this week, including communities with significant Serb populations.

The searches unearthed 12 rifles, a rocket launcher, two grenades, four bayonets, two machine gun tripods and more than 3,000 bullets.

The UN-administered province has been tense in recent weeks as violence between the ethnic Albanian majority and the remaining Serbs flared up just as KFOR marked the first anniversary of its arrival here.



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