London Times
Belgians reinforce French in Kosovo flashpoint

BY MICHAEL EVANS AND MARTIN FLETCHER

February 15 2000


FRENCH troops in the Kosovo flashpoint town of Mitrovica continued to be reinforced by Nato units yesterday after a weekend of violence in which two French soldiers were injured, a former KLA fighter was killed, and 46 people were arrested.

Fifty Belgian soldiers were drafted into the town in northern Kosovo, joining more than 600 French, British, Danish and Italian Nato troops who have been trying to keep ethnic Albanian and Serb inhabitants apart.

The decision to deploy more Nato troops into the area emphasised the alarm over the rising violence. United Nations officials said that international judges and prosecutors might have to be drafted into the town to handle the increasing number of court cases arising from the shootings and riots.

About 3,000 ethnic Albanians took part yesterday in the funeral of Avni Hajradine, a former Kosovo Liberation Army fighter who was shot dead by French soldiers on Sunday.

The French said they had shot a sniper. Halit Barani, head of the Albanian Human Rights Council, said that the French were "the same as the Serb soldiers".

Continuing claims from the ethnic Albanians in Mitrovica that the French troops were biased in favour of the Serbs were rigorously denied by Hubert Vedrine, the French Foreign Minister. But he told French radio: "Our objective is not to guarantee the ethnic homogeneity of Kosovo solely on an Albanian basis . . . we also have to protect the rights of the Serbs who have remained in Kosovo."

Javier Solana, the European Union security policy chief, made an appeal for more police to be sent to Kosovo, some of whom could be stationed in Mitrovica.