Peacekeepers expand security zone in Kosovo Town

PRISTINA, Sep 4, 2000 -- (AFP) Kosovo's KFOR multinational peacekeeping force is preparing to expand "within a month" a security zone set up to control movement in the flashpoint town of Kosovska Mitrovica, a KFOR spokesman said Sunday.

"The expansion is ready on a technical level," Lieutenant Philippe Eriau told AFP, "We have built a watch tower to secure the expansion. Now an agreement must be between the UN mission in Kosovo and the KFOR to put it into effect."

The so-called "confidence zone" is a section of central Mitrovica, an ethnically divided town which is often the scene of violent clashes between Serbs and ethnic Albanians, in which a curfew is enforced and checkpoints used to search for weapons and the two-way radios used by extremist groups to organize their activities.

The expansion is to be carried out on the southern side of the River Ibar, in the majority Albanian quarter, and take in a lightly populated area mainly made up of waste ground between the river and a station, 200 metres (yards) away.

The zone will not be expanded on the northern, Serb dominated side of the river, Eriau said. Previous moves to improve security in the Serbian sector have produced violent protests.

"If the zone is to be expanded, its a good thing," Eriau said, adding that the town had been relatively calm in recent weeks.

On Saturday KFOR soldiers distributed leaflets to the local population to explain the plan.

The confidence zone was announced on March 22 by KFOR's French-led northern brigade, and has been steadily enlarged to include three tower blocks inhabited by Albanians on the north of the river, two bridges connecting the Serbian and Albanian areas, the town's UN administrative buildings and "Little Bosnia," part of the Serb sector inhabited by Albanians and Muslim Slavs.

It was intended to be the first stage of a plan to reintegrate the town, by providing security for those who found themselves on the "wrong" side of the Ibar surrounded by people from the rival community.

Despite the introduction of the zone and the presence of hundreds of KFOR troops and UN police, minority groups have continued to flee, leaving both banks increasingly ethnically pure, according to the UN High Commission for Refugees.

Kosovo has been administered by the United Nations since June last year when the arrival of the KFOR peacekeeping force on the back of a NATO bombing campaign brought an end to a civil war between ethnic Albanian separatists and mainly Serb Yugoslavian government forces.

Original article