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Plan To Resettle Albanians Scrapped

March 4, 2000

KOSOVSKA MITROVICA, Yugoslavia (AP) _ French peacekeepers abandoned plans to move more ethnic Albanians to the north side of this divided town today, a day after the effort prompted violent protests by Serbs.

U.N. spokesman Peter Biro said no Albanian families would be returned to their homes on the Serb side of the Ibar River today, but the United Nations was planning to return Serb families to the Albanian side as early as next week.

``This is a first step to making the city more open,″ Biro said. ``It is important to show that we are determined to keep the city open.″

Such a move is also likely to inflame already tense feelings in Kosovska Mitrovica.

The city, 20 miles northwest of Kosovo’s provincial capital, Pristina, has been the scene of repeated ethnic unrest in recent weeks, resulting in several deaths and dozens of injuries.

French and Greek soldiers today were securing three apartment buildings where 41 ethnic Albanians were brought Friday by Danish troops in armored vehicles that forded the Ibar River, after a failed attempt to get the people across using a footbridge.

Some Serbs living in the same complex were moving out today. It was not immediately clear how many.

More violence was reported near Kosovska Mitrovica and on Kosovo’s boundary with Serbia, where gunfire was heard overnight.

On Friday, peacekeepers used tear gas and stun grenades to break through a crowd of Serbs protesting in front of the apartment complex, which the Albanians earlier had to flee because of ethnic violence.

Hasan Jashari, who returned to his home aboard an armored personnel carrier, told reporters today: ``I would rather die here than be in someone else’s house. ... There is room and work for all of us″ in Mitrovica.

Paula Ghedini, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Pristina, criticized the move to return ethnic Albanians to their homes, saying the situation was too tense for their return.

Meanwhile, sustained gunfire was heard for about two hours after midnight in the area of Dobrosin, an ethnic Albanian village inside Serbia at Kosovo’s boundary. Some 180 people in about 20 vehicles were reported to have fled into Kosovo.

Lt. Cmdr. Philip Anido, a NATO spokesman, said the gunfire was believed to be a shootout between armed Albanian extremists and Serbian local police authorized to maintain order in the area.

There are fears that the southern Serbian region could be the scene of renewed fighting similar to violence in Kosovo last year, which led to NATO attacks against Yugoslavia. Already, hundreds of ethnic Albanians are fleeing to Kosovo.

On Friday, Serb protesters, determined to prevent the resettlement in Kosovska Mitrovica, marched through the city to the three high-rises and tried to push their way through a cordon of NATO troops and U.N. police.

Soldiers fired tear gas and stun grenades during two separate standoffs. Five French peacekeepers were injured, said French Gen. Pierre de Saqui de Sannes. Nine Serbs also were treated for injuries, hospital authorities said.

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