Mitrovice violence prompts troops call

Radio intercepts suggest Serbs are orchestrating trouble in city

Owen Bowcott and Richard Norton-Taylor

Thursday February 24, 2000

Nato commanders in Kosovo yesterday urgently demanded that reinforcements be sent to the province after claiming to have intercepted radio contacts between local Serbs and police units in Serbia.

The latest evidence suggesting that Belgrade may be orchestrating the violence in the northern city of Mitrovice emerged as neighbouring Macedonia put some troops on high alert because of the deteriorating security situation.

"Nato does not have the troops it needs in Kosovo," a senior Nato official confirmed last night. "We have asked for reinforcements and the request has support."

The K-For peacekeeping mission in Kosovo was originally supposed to have 49,000 troops, but the force now numbers 30,000. There are also 7,000 soldiers from non-Nato countries. Others contingents are stationed in Macedonia.

Serious overstretch has forced Britain to cut the number of its troops in the province to under 4,000, from a peak of more than 10,000 last summer.

Nato commanders have requested that an additional battalion be deployed and that the Nato strategic reserve be placed on reduced notice. The request for more troops had "received support" from Nato's North Atlantic council, and an emergency meeting on the crisis is planned for tomorrow.

As well as monitoring radio conversations between Serbs, Nato intelligence has observed Yugoslav army movements in the Kosovo border area. They are thought to be training manoeuvres but could be transformed into something more aggressive at short notice.

Unrest has also been growing in Serbia proper. Ethnic Albanian guerrillas have conducted small-scale infiltrations of an ethnic Albanian enclave across the border.

But it was the mounting pressure in Mitrovice which triggered the request for extra peacekeepers. US, British and Canadian troops have already moved in to help the French in the flashpoint city, where Nato units struggled on Monday to hold back up to 70,000 ethnic Albanians protesting against Serb violence.

Hundreds of peacekeeping troops yesterday fanned out through what the military called "hot zones" of the city to conduct house-to-house weapons searches.

"There are still a lot of arms to recover, but this is a sign - we are here and we will continue to be here as long as it takes," said Captain Alain Racine of the French 8th Para troop brigade. By early afternoon, his squad had recovered three Kalashnikov assault rifles, several other rifles, camouflage uniforms and a variety of other weaponry.

Capt Racine said most of the weapons were recovered from caches in ruined buildings, adding that there was no way of telling if they had been hidden by Serbs or Albanians.

The UN also announced a plan to return Albanians to their homes in the northern, Serb-dominated side of the city and to create a secure zone from north to south.

Original article