NATO, UN warn Serbs after deadly Mitrovica riots

Other News Materials 18 March 2008 19:16 (UTC +04:00)

(dpa) - Following riots which left a UN policeman dead and dozens injured, NATO peacekeepers and UN administrators on Tuesday warned Serbs to end violent attacks on soldiers and police or face a "determined" response.

"Our soldiers came under direct fire ... we will not tolerate that any more," the NATO peacekeeping mission (KFOR) commander, General Xavier Bout de Marnhac, told a press conference in Pristina.

"Don't put us in (a) position to show our determination in response to violence," he said in a message to Serbs, who stoned, firebombed and shot at KFOR troops and UN police in the hotspot town of Mitrovica.

A Ukrainian policeman, aged 25, one of 63 international soldiers and police injured in the riot, died Monday night, UN police and Kiev said on Tuesday.

KFOR spokesman Jean Luc Cotard said most of the injuries were inflicted by hand grenades in a "deliberate assault on our soldiers ... with the aim of killing."

Nearly 100 protesters were also injured, two of them critically, in riots in the northern, Serb-dominated area.

The riots were not the first, but represented the worst spate of violence since Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Belgrade a month ago.

UNMIK deputy head, Larry Rossin, said the riots, as well as earlier "actions" by Serbs, were orchestrated, and warned the unnamed organizers that they would face murder and attempted murder charges.

"We know who they are, but can't say yet in the interest of the investigation," Rossin told reporters. "We will not tolerate this kind of violence ... it is totally unacceptable."

The UN police was ordered out of northern Mitrovica, leaving it to KFOR, reinforced with 400 troops, to control the situation.

The UN administration has been struggling to impose control in the northernmost 20 per cent of Kosovo's territory in which Serbs are the majority. Elsewhere in Kosovo, ethnic Albanians are vastly dominant.

Serbia runs parallel structures of authority in northern Kosovo, with the northern section of Mitrovica the hub of economic and political life in the enclave.

Belgrade has instructed the Serbs there to boycott and ignore international and Kosovo authorities and has even condoned violent protests launched since Kosovo split from Serbia.

Serbian officials blamed KFOR and UNMIK for the violence Monday, saying it was triggered by their retaking of a Mitrovica courthouse which protesters forcibly occupied on Friday.

Mitrovica was mostly quiet Tuesday, though a group of young Serbs pelted a French KFOR convoy with stones. Contrary to some reports, the soldiers did not respond, spokesman Etienne Du Fayet told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.