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Yugoslavia: British KFOR Troops Increase Security After Threats

Prague, 16 August 2002 (RFE/RL) -- British troops serving with NATO's peacekeeping force in Kosovo tightened security today after receiving threats.

In an interview with RFE/RL, a British KFOR spokesman said soldiers are taking extra precautions. "The sentries on KFOR buildings and camps are now wearing helmets and body armor as the result of information which we have received of an increased risk to KFOR soldiers," the spokesman said.

The spokesman declined to give any further details about the threats, saying only that the heightened security measures will remain in place "for an indefinite period."

The British commander in the central part of the province, Brigadier Simon Mayall, said the threat to target KFOR was "nonspecific" and could stem from "global events as much as regional and local events."

The threats came one day after a rare outburst of violence by ethnic Albanians against United Nations police and KFOR peacekeepers in the western town of Decan. Eleven UN police officers, three KFOR peacekeepers, and more than 50 local Albanian residents were injured in the clashes.

The security forces used tear gas, rubber bullets, and clubs against several hundred stone-throwing protesters. Twenty-three people were detained, some of them minors.

UN police had granted permission for the demonstration, provided it did not block traffic. But when the protesters blocked the road to Gjakova and began throwing stones at police and peacekeepers, UNMIK spokesman Andrea Angeli said UN police and peacekeepers from Spain, Argentina, and Ukraine intervened. "The Spanish SPU [Special Police Unit] had to intervene and disperse the crowd, and they used tear gas," Angeli said.

Angeli said UN police are actively looking for one of the main organizers of the event, who was observed in the crowd.

The demonstrators were protesting the recent arrests of several former rebels of the disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army, or UCK, who are suspected of having committed serious crimes in July 1999, shortly after the arrival of NATO-led peacekeepers in the province. They were also protesting the continued detention of a former UCK commander, Daut Haradinaj, who has been in custody for two months on suspicion of murder and kidnapping. He is the brother of another former UCK commander, Ramush Haradinaj, who currently heads one of the province's leading political parties, the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK).

Ramush Haradinaj was indicted on 12 August for his role in a violent confrontation two years ago, but was released by the international prosecutor pending the outcome of the investigation.

The AAK issued a statement blaming yesterday's violence on the UN police for refusing to permit the protesters to express their views.

On 13 August, demonstrators in Podujevo in the northeast of Kosovo protested the 11 August arrest of former UCK commander Rrustem Mustafa on suspicion of murder, torture, and kidnapping.

More demonstrations are scheduled for 19 August in Pristina. At least one Pristina tabloid reacted angrily to the violent clash in Decan. "Epoke e Re" referred to what it called the "unprecedented violence and aggression against Albanians," who it says were provoked without reason. The newspaper printed a picture of Michael Steiner, the chief administrator of the UN Mission in Kosovo, with a Hitler-like moustache.

Steiner, who has been on vacation outside the province all week, has promised a sharp crackdown on the perpetrators of past and present criminal acts, regardless of their ethnic origins.

The Pristina-based nongovernmental organization the Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms (KMDLMJ), headed by the province's leading dissident, Adem Demaci, said the Decan clash constituted a violation of basic human rights and could contribute to an escalation of tensions.

Ibrahim Makolli is a leading KMDLMJ activist. He said: "The international and local Kosovo authorities need to take urgent further steps in order to take control over the situation. Otherwise, the situation can escalate and get out of control, and it could have consequences not only for Kosovar citizens but also for the international administration."

Makolli conceded, however, that the local authorities have limited competence as long as Kosovo is run by the international community as a protectorate. "In most cases, the local authorities are mere bystanders," Makolli said.

Makolli said the time has come for Kosovo President Ibrahim Rugova, Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi, and the provincial parliament to coordinate with the UN administration and KFOR attempts to prevent any escalation of the situation.

(RFE/RL's Pristina bureau chief, Arbana Vidishiqi, contributed to this story.)