NY Times
Serb bus blown up by mine in Mitrovica

By STEVEN ERLANGER

February 28, 2000


KOSOVSKA MITROVICA (Reuters) - A Serb bus was blown up on Monday when it struck an anti-tank mine placed on a heavily traveled road in the tense Kosovo city of Mitrovica, French KFOR peacekeepers said.

Lieutenant-Colonel Patrick Chanliau said the bus was empty except for its driver when it hit the mine near a Muslim cemetery in the Serb side of the town. There were no injuries.

Chanliau said the explosion, which completely destroyed the vehicle, had not been an accident.

"It is clear to us that this mine was not there yesterday," he said. "It is a road that is used frequently so we would have to say that it was deliberate."

Both KFOR and Serb traffic used the road, he said.

An official of the company operating the bus said it was a regular line. "It takes kids to school in the morning and brings workers home at night."

The official said apart from the driver there was also a ticket taker on the bus. The official Yugoslav Tanjug news agency reported there were two people in the vehicle, and that none of them was injured.

Chanliau said French forces who make up the bulk of the KFOR peacekeepers in Mitrovica were still investigating the explosion.

He could not say if there was any link between the blast and the second anniversary on Monday of a fight between Serbs and KLA guerrillas in Likoshan, 22 miles west of the provincial capital Pristina, a key date in the ethnic violence that has ravaged Kosovo.

ALBANIAN CEREMONY

Former KLA rebels were expected to hold a ceremony in Likoshan to commemorate the battle in which 24 Albanians and nine Serb policemen were killed.

KFOR peacekeepers were also on guard for any disturbance in Mitrovica, the city divided between Serbs in the north and Albanians in the south.

Chanliau said that during routine weapons searches on Sunday French forces had recovered several arms near a monument to miners on top of a hill in the northern part of Mitrovica.

He said the cache included two Ak 47s, an automatic pistol, a hunting rifle and seven detonators. But otherwise Mitrovica, scene of ethnic violence three times this month, was calm.

"We cannot be too optimistic but we should not be too pessimistic. For the moment the city is calm," he said.

At a police station of the U.N. civilian police in the southern part of the city, officers said that recent reinforcements sent to help calm the situation in Mitrovica had almost tripled the number of police there.

"It's like Christmas," said officer Chip Duncan, adding the number of police had risen to 98 from 35 from various countries.

Duncan said that their impact might not be felt immediately on the streets of the rundown mining city because the officers would have to find their way around.

Albanian newspapers reported that some Albanian families who had left northern Mitrovica during the recent violence had returned to their homes on a one-by-one basis that was not part of an organized U.N. and KFOR plan to return some 70 families.

U.N. and KFOR officials said they were unaware of the returns and could not comment.




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