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Serbs, Albanians Clash in Kosovo

September 10, 1999

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Kosovo Serbs and Albanians clashed in the ethnically tense town of Kosovska Mitrovica, injuring 15 French soldiers and police trying to separate them, NATO officials said today. Town residents said one Albanian was killed and three injured.

NATO spokesmen said the clash occurred late Thursday, drawing in French peacekeepers and police who tried to separate the two ethnic groups. Of the 15 injured, five soldiers were wounded by an exploding hand grenade, and the others by stones thrown by the two sides, said Maj. Ole Irgens, a spokesman for the peacekeepers. He said none of the injuries were critical.

Several ethnic Albanian residents of Kosovska Mitrovica, who spoke on the phone on condition of anonymity, said one Albanian died and three were injured in the clash. Irgens said those reports were being checked today.

Northwest of Pristina, Kosovo’s capital, the town has figured prominently over the past months as an example of the ethnic hatreds blocking international efforts to establish normality in Kosovo in the wake of a Serb crackdown and prolonged NATO bombing of Yugoslavia to force a pullout of Serb troops.

Kosovska Mitrovica is split into Serb and Albanian sectors, divided by the Ibar River. Hundreds of ethnic Albanians have demonstrated sporadically over the past two months, demanding the right to return to their homes in the Serb sector. French peacekeepers patrolling the region have prevented most from doing so, fearing bloodshed otherwise.

Like previous confrontations, Thursday’s clash began with crowds of Serbs and Albanians forming on the two ends of the bridge over the Ibar. The violence was sure to fuel ethnic tensions and lead to further retributory bloodshed.

Minority Serbs still in Kosovo blame the Kosovo Liberation Army for the rash of attacks on their ethnic group since Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic accepted Western peace terms and pulled his troops out of the province after NATO bombing ended in June.

On Thursday, NATO announced that eight KLA members had been arrested in the western city of Djakovica in an apartment where peacekeepers found a machine gun, ammunition, 30 cluster bombs, two 85-mm anti-tank weapons and several anti-personnel mines.

KLA leaders deny wrongdoing, as they push to establish authority in a Kosovo administered by the United Nations and policed by NATO, so as to be in a dominant position once the international presence ends.

The KLA’s military leader, Gen. Agim Ceku said Thursday his organization, which is to disarm and disband by Sept. 19, had won the right not only to transform into a civilian corps but to play a role in all other governmental institutions in Kosovo, including a defense unit of at least 5,000 members to respond to natural disasters and ``defend (Albanians) from aggression.″

``The basis for this is the contribution that the KLA made to the war, a contribution which has to be respected by the international community,″ he said.

Russia, however, has expressed opposition to any plan that falls short of the complete disarmament and disbanding of the former rebel army.

A NATO military officer said Thursday that peacekeepers were working to establish a ``Kosovo Corps″ to operate after the Sept. 19 demilitarization deadline.

NATO spokesman Lt. Col. Robin Clifford said that although the Kosovo Corps would be a ``civil organization,″ it ``will have military structures, which means they will be uniformed public services.″

He added that the tasks which the Kosovo Corps would perform, however, ``are yet to be discussed.″

In Moscow, the ITAR-Tass quoted unidentified Foreign Ministry sources as saying Russia would raise objections during the upcoming session of the U.N. General Assembly and would insist on ``the army’s disarmament and the elimination of the stocks of weapons.″

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