Hundreds of Serbs protest arrests

STRPCE, Jul 6, 2000 -- (AFP) Hundreds of Serbs gathered in this southern Kosovo village Wednesday to protest against the arrest of one of their neighbors and a decision by peacekeepers to deny them aid.

A close friend of the arrested man was applauded when he announced that he had begun a hunger strike in protest at his detention.

Following a riot on June 23 in which Strpce's UN headquarters was ransacked, the local KFOR commander announced that his troops would no longer escort aid convoys into the village and that money earmarked for investment there would be distributed elsewhere.

On Wednesday KFOR troops entered the village and arrested a Serb man in connection with the riot, a KFOR spokesman said.

Goran Milosevic, an official of the Paris-based non-government organization the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, told AFP that the detained man was Radojko Kecic, a local artist.

On Tuesday three Serbs were hurt when ethnic Albanians stoned a convoy of buses and cars trying to make it into Strpce without an escort.

Zoran Petrovic, another artist and a friend of the detained man, began a hunger strike in Strpce's main square.

"When I heard about the brutal way they arrested Radojko I was overcome. I was bouncing off the walls," he said, wearing symbolic iron chain around his neck.

"I'm not a violent man. I don't know how to kill. This is my only way of making a protest."

"KFOR came here to give us democracy, but democracy doesn't exist here any more."

American helicopter gunships flew overhead during the protest, but there was no violence and the crowd dispersed peacefully.

The June 23 riot broke out following the disappearance of a Serbian farmer, Bozidar Markocevic, who was later discovered to have been abducted and killed.

Milosevic, who said he was among the villagers who found Markocevic's body three days later, said local people had lost confidence in the ability of the KFOR force to protect them.

He said the tension had been stoked further by the distribution by KFOR of leaflets announcing a number of arrests, while only one had taken place. The villagers were now expecting further raids, he explained.

"People here expect 48 more arrests," he said.

A spokesman for KFOR confirmed that leaflets had been distributed, but said this was normal procedure.

Strpce is the main village in a municipality in Kosovo's mountainous south. Around 11,500 Serbs live there, Milosevic said, surrounded by ethnic Albanians and reliant on aid convoys like the one ambushed on Tuesday for contact with the outside world.

Milosevic said 13 Serbs had disappeared or been killed from the Strpce area since the arrival of the KFOR peacekeeping force in June last year which brought to an end a bitter civil war between ethnic Albanian separatists and Yugoslav government forces.

Original article