NY Times
Serbs nurse rage after attack in Kosovo city

By CARLOTTA GALL

February 10, 2000


MITROVICA, Kosovo, Feb. 9 -- United Nations police officers apprehended a man here today who was slashing the tires of their cars and who lashed out at one policeman, injuring his eye, a spokesman for the peacekeepers said. It was a minor incident compared with the violence of last week, but it reflected the continuing tension and anger of Serbs living on the north side of the city.

Five days after some of the worst violence that troops have seen in eight months of peacekeeping, many Serbs are still cursing and threatening foreigners in the street.

A number of Serbs in Mitrovica, including more than a dozen interviewed on the street in recent days, do not appear to have altered their views since the war against NATO and the arrival of a NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo. A large percentage of them attribute everything bad that has happened to the Albanians.

As many as 10,000 Serbs live in the north part of this divided city, and almost a third of them are refugees from other parts of Kosovo. They possess a readiness to take things into their own hands and a measure of organization not found among Serbs living in the isolated enclaves around Kosovo where they are far more vulnerable to attack.

The Serbs of Mitrovica see themselves as defending the only viable outpost of Serbian control in Kosovo against the Albanian majority. They are bolstered by an almost ethnically pure Serbian area stretching north behind them to the boundary with the rest of Serbia. This provides them with a direct, safe land connection. With an estimated population of 50,000 Serbs, the area represents 50 percent of the total left in Kosovo -- the largest concentration in the province.

All of the dozen or so interviewed said the Serbian mobs that rampaged through Mitrovica on Thursday night, intimidating Albanians and leaving eight dead, were reacting to the grenade attack on a Serbian cafe that wounded 15 young people.

"At that moment people remembered everything," said Oliver Ivanovic, president of the Serbian National Council and an acknowledged leader of the Serbian community. "The 20 Serbs killed in the area in the last seven months; the 28 people kidnapped and disappeared -- everyone has a reason to be angry. It was very difficult to control them." Mr. Ivanovic was on the streets Thursday night.

A history teacher, Dragoljub Radenkovic, who fled his home in Vucitrn, a town about six miles southeast of Mitrovica that is now wholly populated by Albanians, says people are revolted. "For eight months journalists have only been writing about Serbs being killed," he said. "In eight months you never saw the Serbs killing Albanians. There was a lot pent-up inside people and it exploded."

Among the Serbs, Mr. Ivanovic, a sophisticated, English-speaking businessman, who has become the main connection with the international peacekeepers and administrators in the region, was alone in acknowledging his people's recent crimes.

"Very bad things happened," he said. "I cannot support that, but just ask that you understand it. I was feeling very angry too that night." Other Serbs, including his deputy, Vuko Antonijevic, appeared to applaud the crowd's actions that night.

"I want to thank you for what you did," Mr. Antonijevic told a rally of 2,000 people on Monday. "You showed how much you love your city and how you can defend it against Islamic terrorism. You showed in the best way what is the Serbian answer for attacks on Serbian youth in coffee bars."

Another speaker, Milan Ivanovic, a doctor from Mitrovica's hospital, ranted against the NATO-led peacekeepers and United Nations officials for allowing Albanians to persecute the remaining Serbian population in Kosovo. "They are killing Serbs, they are putting Serbs in concentration camps in Kosovo and in Albania, and they are doing it in the presence of the United Nations mission," he said.

Ordinary Serbs in the street repeated similar accusations, defending the expulsions of Albanians from their midst. "They did the same to us," said Smiljana Milosevic, whose grocery store backs up to the cafe, Le Bel Ami, where the grenade attack occurred. She said the Albanians still living on the north side, now under heavy protection of peacekeeping troops, should leave, "because there are no Serbs on the other side."

But when asked how the violence could be resolved, most Serbs appeared unsure. Some said the curfew currently in force was good and improved their security. Others said the curfew had left them vulnerable and unable to defend themselves.

Many say they cannot rely on the peacekeepers and United Nations police officers for security, and must therefore provide their own. "We are just defending ourselves, with our bare hands," said the storekeeper, Ms. Milosevic.

The Serbs have a fairly well-organized defense here that is loyal to Mr. Ivanovic. It is made up mostly of tough young men who carry walkie-talkies and guard the bridge, inspecting Albanians who cross from the south side to the north. Whether the young men played a role in the violence is not known.

Mr. Ivanovic says his organization is opposed to expelling all the Albanians from the north side of the city in order to make it all Serbian, because that would invite more attacks from Albanians. He is also against the partition of the Serb-dominated region from the rest of Kosovo.




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