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Ethnic Albanians Seek Relatives

March 8, 2000

KOSOVSKA MITROVICA, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Thousands of ethnic Albanian women clutching photographs of missing relatives marched Wednesday to demand the release of prisoners allegedly held in Serbia and an end to violence in Kosovo’s most volatile city.

The silent protest on the city’s south side was a poignant contrast to the clash Tuesday between Serbs and ethnic Albanians in the northern, Serb-dominated side of the divided city. Twenty Serbs, four Albanians and 16 French peacekeepers were wounded in that incident.

But patience with the efforts of NATO-led peacekeepers and U.N. officials, aimed at returning the city to its prewar multiethnic state, is running low among both ethnic Albanians and Serbs, who live on either side of the Ibar River.

``The process is going so slowly, the Serbs are managing to stop it,″ said Mehribane Mustafa, a protester whose 21-year-old nephew is unaccounted for. ``The Serbs are managing to stop the process of peace.″

The protest focused on ethnic Albanians’ claim that many men and women were kidnapped as Serb and Yugoslav forces pulled out of the province in June.

An early morning blast sent a shock through the city, which was otherwise calm Wednesday. It turned out to be a harmless explosion in a ruined house that caused no injuries.

Meanwhile, U.N. officials continued Wednesday to register Serbs who want to return to their homes on the southern side of Kosovska Mitrovica.

The process was halted Tuesday after shots were fired during a fist-fight between an Albanian and a Serb, escalating the incident into a firefight involving French peacekeepers.

Four ethnic Albanians have been arrested in connection with the shootings, said Lt. Col. Patrick Chanliau.

Five Serbs showed up at the registration office Wednesday, but it was not clear whether all of them wanted to return.

``I don’t think that we’ll return,″ said one, Rade Spasojevic.

``Especially because we don’t want to live in a ghetto surrounded by tanks and barbed wire,″ he said, referring to security around the two buildings where the Serbs are supposed to return in the Albanian-controlled part of Mitrovica.

There were no official reports on how many Serbs actually registered.

French peacekeepers also began distributing food to ethnic Albanian families who recently returned to their homes in three high-rise apartment buildings on the Serb-controlled side of the river, because they are unable to go out shopping.

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.

Speaking in Kosovo’s capital, Pristina, Christopher Patten, the European Union’s commissioner for external relations, criticized the violence in Kovoska Mitrovica.

``We recognize very well the bitterness, the anxiety, the pain caused by years of brutality in Kosovo,″ he said. ``But none of that would justify ever, either targeting the minorities in Kosovo ... (or) attacks on those come here to keep the peace,″ he added.

The EU has spent about $360 million on Kosovo in the last year, more than half of the total of $600 million spent in the whole of the western Balkans, he said.

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

http://www.nato.int

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