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Albanian Women Circle Kosovo City

March 8, 2000

KOSOVSKA MITROVICA, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Tens of thousands of ethnic Albanian women circled downtown Kosovska Mitrovica today, appealing to the international community to unite Kosovo’s ethnically divided city, which erupted in violence a day earlier.

An early morning explosion in the northern section sent a shock through the city that had barely settled down after 20 Serbs, 16 French peacekeepers and four ethnic Albanians were injured in a violent firefight Tuesday.

The blast turned out to be a harmless explosion in a ruined house that caused no injuries. ``It was nothing,″ said Lt. Matthieu Mabin, spokesman for the French peacekeepers.

In their march through the southern side of Kosovska Mitrovica, women clutched photographs of missing sons, nephews and husbands, who they say are held in prisons in Serbia. Kosovo Albanians say there will never be peace in this southern Serb province unless there is a full accounting of the men.

The women walked to the edge of the barbed wire stretched across the main bridge over the Ibar river that splits the city in half, only to turn sharply in front of Swedish peacekeepers blocking any further progress.

Betullahe Beqiri clutched a photo of her missing son but couldn’t bring herself to say his name.

``He’s married, he has a 3-month-old son,″ she said, as the picture shook in her hand. ``He’s never even seen him.″

Another 5,000 people, led by Kosovo’s most famous former prisoner, Adem Demaci, held a similar march through downtown Pristina, the provincial capital 20 miles southeast.

Also today, U.N. officials continued registering Serbs to return to their homes on the southern, predominantly ethnic Albanian side of the city. The process was halted Tuesday, after attackers shot into a crowd during a fight, which escalated into a firefight involving the peacekeepers.

Up to five Serbs came to the registration office today, but it was not clear whether all of them wanted to return to the two secured buildings.

``I don’t think that we’ll return,″ said Rade Spasojevic. ``Especially because we don’t want to live in a ghetto surrounded by tanks and barbed wire.″

French peacekeepers also began distributing food to ethnic Albanian families who recently returned to three high-rise apartment buildings on the Serb-controlled side of the river. The inhabitants are unable to go out shopping for food.

The violence in Kosovska Mitrovica underlines the difficulties NATO faces in attempting to return the town to its prewar, multiethnic status.

Tuesday’s fight broke out on the Serb-controlled northern side when an ethnic Albanian identified as Luan Miftari attacked an unidentified Serb man with a crowbar, witnesses said.

Several Serbs rushed to help the injured man, while others went after Miftari. In the crush, an ethnic Albanian opened fire from the backyard of a nearby house, seriously wounding one Serb.

``That created panic,″ Mabin said Tuesday. He arrived on the scene on foot, backed by armored vehicles.

The French headed down a narrow side street, as grenade blasts rang out, injuring several peacekeepers.

Four ethnic Albanians have been arrested.

Kosovo is a province of Serbia, Yugoslavia’s dominant republic. NATO-led peacekeepers moved into Kosovo last June, after a 78-day bombing campaign that ended a yearlong Serb crackdown on ethnic Albanians there.

In Sofia, Bulgaria, a leader of the Kosovo Serb minority said today that ``Albanian extremists″ are an obstacle to lasting peace. Momcilo Trajkovic, who leads the moderate Serb National Council, called for democratic reforms in Yugoslavia and urged the international community to protect Kosovo Serbs from what he called ``ethnic cleansing.″


On the Net: Kosovo Peacekeepers: http://www.kforonline.com


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