13 hurt during protest over an arms inspectionSerb escapes detention as mob attacks UN force
Paris, Thursday, April 6, 2000
PRISTINA, Kosovo (AFP) - A Serbian man arrested by U.S. and Polish peacekeeping troops escaped custody after a mob attacked the soldiers, injuring 13 people, a U.S. Army spokesman said Wednesday.
The man, arrested Tuesday after troops from the NATO-led force KFOR found two hand grenades in his home in the southern village of Sevce, escaped as a mob of about 150 Serbs set upon the troops as they tried to leave the house, Captain Russell Berg said.
The Serbs first blocked the troops in the house and used logs to cut off access roads to the village near the Macedonian border, forcing KFOR to use helicopters to send in 24 U.S. military police reinforcements to the beleaguered force.
Captain Berg said the suspect reportedly fled after the reinforcements arrived. ''As far as I am aware he is not in our custody,'' he said.
The U.S. Army said Tuesday that 11 U.S. soldiers suffered cuts and bruises in six hours of clashes with up to 450 protesters in Sevce and the neighboring village of Jazince. One Polish soldier and an interpreter were also slightly hurt, the army said.
The troops from the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force used dogs and rubber bullets against a ''very hostile crowd,'' Captain Berg said, although he denied Yugoslav press reports that the dogs had been unleashed on the protesters.
Polish troops also set up roadblocks outside Jazince to stop a crowd of about 300 Serbs from joining the demonstration, the U.S. Army said.
In Pristina, a KFOR spokesman, Lieutenant Commander Philip Anido, said four Serbian civilians were hurt in the clashes, which involved 220 troops.
The official Yugoslav news agency, Tanjug, accused the U.S. contingent of provoking the clashes. The Polish troops and UN police officers had behaved correctly, it said, ''but the American soldiers deliberately provoked the clash and provoked an escalation in the violence.''
An independent Yugoslav news agency, Beta, said late Tuesday that four Serbs were hurt in clashes with U.S. troops at Sevce and another dozen wounded by rubber bullets at Jacinze.
General Klaus Reinhardt, the KFOR commander, expressed his ''great disappointment that the angry crowd in Sevce chose to confront violently KFOR peacekeepers,'' Commander Anido said.
The violence had been brought under control by 8 P.M. Tuesday after talks between KFOR commanders and local community leaders, Commander Anido added.
Two U.S. soldiers were hurt in February during clashes with Serbs in the northern sector of Mitrovica after a weapons search in the predominantly Serbian part of the divided town.
Serb crowds have carried out similar protests in the past against U.S. troops trying to make arrests, including another six-hour standoff in a village near the town of Gjilane last month.
The clashes Tuesday followed a split in the leadership of the province's Serbian population, with the Mitrovica representatives opposing a decision by other leaders to join a UN-sponsored joint administration for Kosovo.