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Kosovo: Violence Erupts In Mitrovica As Police Storm Courthouse

Kosovar Serbs throw stones at KFOR soldiers in Mitrovica (AFP) UN police have been forced to withdraw from the Serbian half of the northern Kosovar town of Mitrovica after coming under attack as they stormed a courthouse occupied by Serbs opposed to independence.

More than 20 UN police and at least eight NATO peacekeepers were wounded in grenade and gun attacks after they moved in to regain control of a UN-run tribunal that had been occupied by protesters for days.

It was the worst violence in Kosovo since the region's ethnic-Albanian leaders declared independence from Serbia on February 17.

"After the attacks with firearms and explosive devices, the Kosovo police were ordered to withdraw from the northern part of Mitrovica, so that the situation would be taken under control by KFOR forces," Kosovo police spokesman Veton Elshani told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service. "Their withdrawal was undertaken as a security measure."

Analysts and officials have long expressed concern that ethnic violence in Kosovo could spread to other parts of the volatile former Yugoslavia.

Speaking to RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service in Skopje on March 16, before the violence erupted, Macedonian President Branko Cvrenkovski said a partition of Kosovo would set a dangerous precedent in the Balkan region.

"One of the worst possible scenarios is a division of Kosovo along ethnic lines," Cvrenkovski said. "That would encourage [separatist] radical forces throughout the region. There are such forces all over the region, but they are not dominant. They have a presence in Macedonia, as well."

Tear Gas

The fighting broke out on March 17 after UN police and NATO peacekeepers stormed a court and arrested a group of about 50 Serbs who had seized the building.

Rioters hurled stones, gasoline bombs, and firecrackers as they attacked UN vehicles, managing to free 10 of the detainees in the process.

Police and peacekeepers fired tear gas and stun grenades to disperse the crowd. There were also reports of machine-gun fire and an explosion near the courthouse.

Protesters seized the court on March 14 as part of an effort to take control of law enforcement and criminal justice entities in the Serbian-dominated areas of Kosovo.

Serbs, many of them former court employees, had been protesting outside the court for three weeks. The demonstrators demanded that they be allowed to return to work nine years after they were left jobless when NATO expelled Serbian forces from Kosovo.

More than 500 mainly Ukrainian UN police were involved in the dawn raid, backed by hundreds of French troops in armored vehicles.

With additional wire reports

RFE/RL Balkan Report

RFE/RL Balkan Report


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