NATO Sends Reinforcements To Kosovo | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 18.03.2004
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NATO Sends Reinforcements To Kosovo

A day after Serbs and ethnic Albanians clashed in Kosovo, the United States and Britain revealed they would send reinforcements to bolster the NATO force struggling to restore calm in the region.


U.S. forces are on their way to bolster the KFOR contingent in Kosovo after Wednesday's violence.

The United States and Britain are sending extra troops to Kosovo as part of the NATO effort to quell unrest in the mainly ethnic Albanian Serbian province, where violence has killed 22 people in the past 24 hours.

"We are continuing to monitor the situation closely. We are working with NATO to deploy additional forces as a precaution. One U.S. company is en route as part of a 350-strong NATO force," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters traveling to Kentucky with U.S. President George W. Bush. "We continue to call on all groups to end the violence and refrain from violence."

Britain also dispatched a force of 750 rapid reaction troops to Kosovo as NATO officials revealed that up to 1,000 extra soldiers could be dispatched to Kosovo to bolster its 17,000 strong force after it emerged that 35 NATO troops had been injured in the violence.

NATO's top military commander in Europe, U.S. General James Jones, expressed concern about the flare-up. "I call on the leaders of both sides of the conflict to take decisive action to control immediately their citizens and return to the rule of law," he said, describing the extra troop deployments as a "prudent reinforcement."

Violence flared on Wednesday as the UN-administered Serbian province of Kosovo became embroiled in some of the worst outpourings of violence between ethnic Albanians and Serbs in three years.

The conflict broke out early Wednesday morning amid reports that Serbs in a village near Kosovska Mitrovica set a dog on a group of ethnic Albanian boys, forcing them to flee into an icy river where they drowned. After authorities recovered the bodies, Kosovo-Albanians and Serbs faced off against each other near a bridge over the Ibar River that divides the city -- long a flashpoint of ethnic tensions -- and traded insults, threw rocks and charged at each other several times before gunfire broke out.

NATO-led peacekeepers and Rumanian special police units in riot gear moved in, firing tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades to stop ethnic Albanians from rushing across the bridge toward the Serb side of the city.

Official reports said six ethnic Albanians and two Serbs were killed in the clash in Kosovska Mitrovica. Seven police officers and 11 French KFOR soldiers were also injured.

Flashpoint of ethnic tensions

Unruhen in Kosovo Polizist

A Kosovo police officer stands guard near damaged cars and apartments in a mainly Serb neighborhood in the Kosovo capital Pristina.

With emotions running high in the volatile region, the conflict quickly fanned out, spilling over into other towns where Serb homes, churches and cars were set on fire as ethnic Albanians sought revenge.

In the central Kosovo town of Lipljan, four Serbs were killed late Wednesday and three others died in the eastern town of Gnjilane as NATO and UN troops struggled to stop the violence. But during the course of the day, events became too much for the international peacekeepers to contain as ethnic Albanians rushed KFOR checkpoints established to protect Serb enclaves, and UN vehicles were reportedly torched in the capital Pristina, according to Beta news agency. Several medieval Serb Orthodox churches and monasteries were also allegedly set ablaze in central and eastern Kosovo.

Serbs demand retaliation

Unruhen in Kosovo eine Moschee brennt

Protesters celebrate in front of a burning mosque after a fire set by protesters took hold in the southern Serbian town of Nis.

Meanwhile in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia-Montenegro, demonstrators set the city's 17th century mosque on fire after clashing with police trying to guard the building. The angry mob demanded that the Serbian government act to protect their Orthodox Christian kin from attacks by the primarily Muslim Kosovo-Albanians. A second mosque was torched in the southern Serbian town of Nis.

News reports from Belgrade said more than 10,000 people rallied outside the Serbian government building blocking main streets in the city center. Chanting, "We'll go to Kosovo" and "Serbia rise up," they demanded their leadership take action.

Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica of Serbia, to which Kosovo belongs, appealed to his countrymen for an end to the violence and condemned what he called Albanian terrorism. "The events ... demonstrate the true nature of Albanian separatism, its violent and terrorist character," he said after an emergency cabinet meeting.

NATO and UN respond

In Brussels, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer called on both Serbs and ethnic Albanians to remain calm. "I urge all ethnic communities in Kosovska Mitrovica and in the rest of Kosovo to avoid further escalation, to act with calm and to refrain from demonstrations and roadblocks," he said in a statement.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan urged all parties to halt the violence, "which jeopardizes the stability of Kosovo and the security of all its people." International troops have been in the region since 1999 when 78 days of NATO bombing forced Serbia to end its crackdown on separatists from Kosovo's ethnic Albanians and brought an end to the conflict. There are currently 17,000 KFOR troops and 10,000 UN and local police patrolling the province. Despite their significant presence, ethnic violence has repeatedly erupted, but Wednesday's outpouring was the bloodiest in the last three years and demonstrated the failure of international efforts to squelch ethnic hatreds and set the province on the path of reconciliation.

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