NY Times
Nato questions Czech soldiers

March 19, 2000


PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (AP) -- NATO attempted Sunday to find out how seven of its peacekeepers strayed across Kosovo's administrative boundary between the province and the rest of Serbia.

NATO questioned the Czech soldiers Sunday, a day after Serb authorities detained them for eight hours.

The Czechs, who are assigned to a reconnaissance unit, strayed across the ill-defined boundary near Podujevo in northeastern Kosovo. The men were held in Serbia proper, British Flight Lt. Neville Clayton said.

Clayton and other NATO spokesmen refused to reveal the exact circumstances of the detention.

NATO sources confirmed, however, that the soldiers lost their way, an embarrassing mistake at a time in which tensions along the border are intense.

The peacekeepers weren't able to take their armored personnel carrier with them when they left Serbia proper Saturday. It broke down, and NATO sent troops Sunday to get it back across the border.

The Czech news agency CTK said the soldiers were traveling in a BMP-2 armored vehicle equipped with satellite navigation and night vision.

NATO peacekeepers, meanwhile, announced that 1,200 French and Italian infantry are being sent to Kosovo, mainly to the city of Kosovska Mitrovica, where NATO and U.N. efforts to end ethnic divisions have resulted in violence and dozens of injuries. The exact date of their arrival was not released.

Britain said it planned to send 170 troops and two helicopters to Kosovo to engage in surveillance and intelligence work, amid growing concerns over the stability of the former Yugoslav province.

A top Yugoslav army general warned Sunday that any escalation or spillover of violence from Kosovo into the rest of Serbia could jeopardize NATO peacekeepers. "For now, the Yugoslav Army is not mobilizing troops," Lt. Gen. Nebojsa Pavkovic told the Belgrade daily Vecernje Novosti.

Opponents of President Slobodan Milosevic protested in two southern Serbian cities Sunday against the state crackdown on their local-owned, opposition-run media. Several thousand gathered for the second day in Kraljevo and about 1,000 gathered for the fourth day in Pirot.



Original article