LA Times
Kosovo Serbs accuse peacekeepers of favoritism

Protesters contend that NATO seeks to oust them even as rival Albanians are getting special treatment. Milosevic jeered.


Saturday, February 26, 2000

KOSOVSKA MITROVICA, Yugoslavia--On the north side of the Ibar River, beyond the coils of razor wire, armored NATO vehicles and troops, the isolation makes a perfect breeding ground for Serbs' paranoia.

Bernard Kouchner, the man running Kosovo under a U.N. mandate, doesn't venture into the northern part of this divided city, and most Serbs take that as yet more proof that they are victims of a grand conspiracy to destroy them.

As about 3,000 Serbian protesters gathered here Friday, Zorica Zivkovic wondered why Kouchner couldn't come to their peaceful demonstration. After all, he helicoptered in Monday to address ethnic Albanians after violent clashes with peacekeeping troops.

"Why is it that Kouchner talked to Albanians the very morning that they had their demonstration and says, 'My dear friends'?" Zivkovic, 53, asked through a translator. "Why doesn't he come here and say that? It means that only Albanians are his friends."

Like many of northern Kosovska Mitrovica's Serbs, Zivkovic is a refugee of the continuing violence in this separatist province. Ethnic Albanians burned down her house in nearby Vucitrn, she said, so she lives in a brother-in-law's home with her children and grandchildren.

"Every night we [Serbs] have our children kidnapped or beaten or whatever," Zivkovic said. "We are in real danger here. Not the Albanians."

The NATO-led peacekeeping mission's credibility suffered a blow this week when the alliance's military commander, U.S. Gen. Wesley K. Clark, complained that some unidentified countries had weakened the Kosovo force by pulling out troops and refusing to send others into the most dangerous areas.

At a meeting in Brussels on Friday, diplomats on NATO's policymaking body, the North Atlantic Council, agreed that Clark's complaints needed attention and that contingents should be brought back up to their full numbers.

Yet NATO Secretary-General George Robertson said the number of troops now in Kosovo is sufficient. The alliance ordered its military committee to study the request for more peacekeepers and report back, probably next week. Clark had asked for about 2,000 more troops, but it wasn't clear whether the forces offered Friday by France, Italy, Spain and Britain would fulfill Clark's request.

About 30,000 troops from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's 19 member countries are in Kosovo, along with 7,400 from other countries. The U.S. contingent is the largest, about 5,500 troops.

NATO's ruling council stressed that the peacekeeping force must be evenhanded, but both Serbs and ethnic Albanians believe that different countries' soldiers are biased against them.

Ethnic Albanians accuse French and Russian peacekeepers of protecting Serbian war criminals. The Serbian minority is convinced that U.S., British, German and other contingents are in league with ethnic Albanians trying to break Kosovo away as a separate state. Kosovo is a province of Serbia, the dominant Yugoslav republic.

Oliver Ivanovic, a moderate voice among Serbian leaders in northern Kosovska Mitrovica, said several times during interviews this week that he wants Clark to visit the district to see for himself whether war criminals and paramilitary groups roam the streets.

On Sunday, U.S. soldiers were forced to retreat under a hail of stones, bricks and snowballs when they tried to perform weapon searches in Serbian areas. But Ivanovic said he would provide Clark with local guards if the general wanted them as a guarantee of his safety.

"We need contact with the U.S.A.," Ivanovic said.

Many of the Serbs at Friday's protest weren't so kind toward Americans: "This is not Texas. Yankee go home," declared one of 15 placards, all written in English for the benefit of foreign viewers.

NATO has blamed Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic for stirring up trouble in northern Kosovska Mitrovica, but Milosevic was widely jeered at Friday's rally.

Vuk Antonijevic, president of the Serb National Council, which has regular contact with U.N. officials in Kosovo, drew the loudest cheers from the crowd when he attacked both Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who has blamed Milosevic for the unrest, and the Yugoslav leader in the same breath.

"In order to expel us easier from here, they are using dirty methods, and Milosevic is behind all of this," Antonijevic said. "We do not belong to Milosevic. We are only the ones who dared to stay here.

"He was making deals with Richard Holbrooke, and while they enjoyed their conversations, they didn't ask us anything," he said.

Serbs are angry that the West doesn't appear to care about an estimated 250,000 Kosovo Serb and other minority refugees now living in Serbia proper but is moving quickly to bring 1,600 ethnic Albanians back to their homes in northern Kosovska Mitrovica.

The U.N. refugee agency has interviewed at least 75 Kosovo Albanian families forced from their homes in the north over recent weeks to see what they would need to feel safe enough to return.

France has said that it will send as many as 700 more soldiers to improve security in northern Kosovska Mitrovica. Ethnic Albanians, however, claim that French soldiers did too little to help them during Serbian rampages, and they still don't trust the French.

John Palmer, a U.S. protection officer with the U.N. refugee agency, said after interviewing families Friday that he couldn't tell how soon ethnic Albanians would be willing to go back to the north.

Original article