Grenade thrown into Serb cafe

By Elena Becatoros

4 February 2000

Hundreds of angry Albanians stoned French military vehicles in the Kosovar town of Mitrovica on Friday and blocked them from crossing into the Serb area following grenade attacks against two Serb cafes which injured about 20 people.

Grenades were thrown at two Serb cafes late Thursday after three ethnic Albanians were killed in separate incidents in the Serb–controlled area of this ethnically divided city in northwestern Kosovo, NATO peacekeepers said.

The incidents set off a night of violence in which crowds of angry Serbs and ethnic Albanians faced off against one another on opposite sides of the two bridges across the Ibar River, which divides the city into hostile ethnic camps.

French military spokesman Fabrice Turco said scuffles and rock–throwing incidents persisted until early Friday. Two U.N. vehicles were set on fire in the Serb–controlled north bank, Turco said.

French troops evacuated a group of non–governmental organization workers from northern Kosovska Mitrovica overnight, he added.

Tensions were running high Friday morning. Up to 500 ethnic Albanians milled around the southern end of the main bridge, angry over what they claimed was the NATO failure to protect relatives living on the Serb side.

Albanian youths pelted French military vehicles with stones and blocked two French tanks from crossing over to the northern side. Scattered gunshots and one small explosion could be heard coming from the northern district.

Bajram Rexhepi, the mayor of the Albanian district, said he would impose a three–day nighttime curfew to allow tempers to cool.

In Belgrade, Serbia's state–run Tanjug news agency said the attacks on Serb cafes "revolted" the Serbs in Kosovska Mitrovica and caused riots lasting into early hours Friday, with machine–gun fire and detonations shaking the northern, Serb–run section of the divided city.

Serbs and Albanians were shooting at each other, Tanjug said, citing local sources as saying there were dead and injured on both sides. There was no NATO confirmation.

The two Albanian men were shot dead at 9 p.m. (2000 GMT). Half an hour later, a grenade was thrown into a Serb cafe, wounding between 10 and 15 clients, a NATO spokesman, Lt.Col Henning Philipp, said.

An ethnic Albanian woman was shot dead at 10 p.m. (2100 GMT), and another grenade was thrown into another Serb cafe shortly afterwards, again wounding about 10 customers, he added.

A Kosovo Serb representative said the latest attacks were part of "continued attempts by ethnic Albanian terrorists to cleanse Kosovo of Serbs."

"The attitude by the United Nations mission here only encourages more crime," the representative, Jovica Jovanovic said, urging the peacekeepers to "replace empty words with definitive action against the horrific crime rate."

In a separate earlier incident, a Russian peacekeeper was shot in the shoulder while escorting Serb children from school to their homes in the village of Beri Vojce, Philipp said.

The soldier was transported to a Russian military hospital in the town of Kamenica, and later to another Russian military hospital in Kosovo Polje, a few kilometers (miles) southwest of Pristina.

The incidents came after a rocket attack on a UNHCR bus carrying Serb civilians on Wednesday left two Serbs dead and three injured.