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Serbs Accused of Planning Clashes

September 13, 1999

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Two days of clashes in a divided Kosovo town appear to be deliberate attempts by Serbs to destabilize the security situation, a spokesman for international peacekeepers said today.

The recent disturbances in Kosovska Mitrovica ``seemed to have been carefully orchestrated,″ said Maj. Ole Irgens, spokesman for the NATO-led Kosovo Force.

Rioting Thursday and Friday killed one ethnic Albanian and injured 184 ethnic Albanians, Serbs and French peacekeepers. The ethnic Albanians had been demanding free access to the Serb-controlled north bank of the Ibar River.

``These incidents and reports are taken very seriously, and will be followed up resolutely by all KFOR forces,″ Irgens said, using the acronym for the peacekeeping force.

Despite the unrest, Britain’s Prince Charles arrived for a morale-boosting visit to British troops in central Kosovo. He met with soldiers from the Irish Guards, the Gurkhas and members of the Royal Military Police.

Gen. Wesley Clark, NATO’s top commander in Europe, was meeting this afternoon with Russian peacekeepers to discuss the military situation in Kosovo.

Irgens said NATO-led peacekeepers have received several unconfirmed reports that groups of Serb fighters, some of them in uniform, have been spotted in the province.

He cited an incident last week in which three Serbs were shot to death by Russian forces trying to break up an ethnic clash. The Russians had opened fire after the Serbs ignored an order to stop beating two wounded ethnic Albanians and started shooting at the Russians, NATO said.

One of the Serbs who was killed wore a military uniform, Irgens said.

He also denied Serb media speculation that Yugoslav forces would return to Kosovo next week, following the demilitarization of the Kosovo Liberation Army.

The rebel force is scheduled to demilitarize by Sept. 19, and United Nations and NATO officials are developing plans to turn the ethnic Albanian organization into a lightly armed, uniformed civil emergency corps.

As the deadline approaches, Serbia is increasing criticism of the plans to reform the force, rather than disbanding it completely.

U.N. and NATO officials consider the reform crucial to bringing peace and stability to Kosovo, because senior KLA figures have expressed strong opposition to a complete disbanding of their organization, which had been at the forefront of the 18-month war against Yugoslav army troops and Serbian police.

But the Serbs argue that the plan will perpetuate the KLA as a military organization. Russia, Serbia’s ally, is also opposed and has signaled it will oppose the plan in the U.N. Security Council.

Lt. Gen. Vladimir Lazarevic, the Yugoslav army general formerly in charge of Serb troops in Kosovo, claimed that the KLA is acquiring new, powerful weapons instead of disarming.

``They have returned some antiquated, ... weapons but obtained, under KFOR guidance, new, heavy weaponry.″

Irgens said NATO forces detained two men for throwing grenades Sunday in the American-led sector of Gnjilane, injuring a Serb.

Peacekeepers found a Serb man with a gunshot wound in his chest Sunday in Kosovska Mitrovica. The man was hospitalized. And three Serbs were detained near Kosovska Mitrovica for possessing weapons and grenades.

The head of the NATO-led peacekeeping force, Britain’s Gen. Mike Jackson, said in an interview published today that the violence in Kosovo could not be quelled unless civilians take over responsibilities from NATO troops.

``I fear that soldiers are now more and more policemen,″ Jackson told The New York Times. ``They are a sticking plaster on the wound that is due to the continuing desire for revenge.″

Jackson, who has led the force since it entered the province in June, ends his tour in Kosovo on Oct. 8 and will hand over his command to Gen. Klaus Reinhardt of Germany.

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