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Fight in Kosovo Town Wounds Dozens

March 7, 2000

KOSOVSKA MITROVICA, Yugoslavia (AP) _ A fight between an ethnic Albanian and a Serb escalated into a street battle that wounded 16 French peacekeepers and 24 civilians Tuesday, a further sign of the deep ethnic hatred dividing Kosovo.

The violence broke out on the northern side of Kosovska Mitrovica, forcing U.N. officials to suspend attempts to register Serbs wanting to return to their homes on the southern, ethnic Albanian side of town.

According to witnesses, an ethnic Albanian identified as Luan Miftari attacked an unidentified Serb man with a crowbar in an Albanian neighborhood on the Serb-controlled side of Kosovska Mitrovica.

An Associated Press reporter saw several Serbs rush 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,″ said Lt. Matthieu Mabin, a spokesman for the French peacekeepers, who arrived after the shooting started. The French troops and police were running down a narrow side street, toward the shots, when someone threw grenades at them.

Medics scrambled to stabilize one soldier’s leg wound, as another lay on the ground moaning. Those who were not hurt in the blasts dragged injured comrades toward waiting ambulances.

``Hand grenades were thrown, we don’t know from whom or from where ... but it created very many injured, especially French soldiers,″ Mabin confirmed.

Twenty Serbs, 16 French peacekeepers and four ethnic Albanians were injured, according to Lt. Col. Patrick Chanliau, another spokesman for the French peacekeepers. A seventeenth peacekeeper was injured in a separate incident, he said, but provided no details.

Four ethnic Albanians were arrested in the shootings, said Chanliau.

The number of wounded Tuesday was the most since Oct. 12, when 33 people were wounded near the bridge that connects the ethnically divided neighborhoods.

Three miles away from the fighting, peacekeepers escorted 13 ethnic Albanians to a high-rise apartment complex in the northern part of the city, where dozens of others were repatriated last week, French peacekeepers said. Serbs have consistently protested the return of ethnic Albanians to the northern half of Kosovska Mitrovica.

By late afternoon, a rocket hit one of the buildings, slamming into the structure’s seventh floor. No injuries were reported.

The violence in Kosovska Mitrovica, located 20 miles northwest of Kosovo’s provincial capital Pristina, underlines the difficulties NATO faces in attempting to return the town to its prewar, multiethnic status.

The northern neighborhood was inhabited by about 3,000 ethnic Albanians and several hundred Serbs until unrest early last month caused everyone to flee the area.

Members of a group of about 50 ethnic Albanians, who said they fled to the southern side Tuesday, claimed Serbs had thrown grenades at their homes, moving from one Albanian house to the next to drive out residents.

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

Gen. Wesley Clark, NATO’s supreme commander in Europe, visited the NATO peacekeepers on the southern side of Kosovska Mitrovica, NATO said. The independent, Belgrade-based Beta new agency reported Clark met with local Serb leader Oliver Ivanovic while on the military base.

According to Beta, Clark promised Ivanovic he would not let ``extremists″ expel Serbs from the northern part of Kosovo.

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

http://www.nato.int/

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