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Monday, August 23, 1999 Published at 16:32 GMT 17:32 UK


World: Europe

Kosovo protesters keep Russians out

Demonstrators say the Russians are not welcome

Thousands of ethnic Albanians have prevented Russian peacekeeping troops from entering the southern Kosovan town of Orahovac.

Kosovo: Special Report
The Russians are supposed to be taking over from Dutch and German peacekeepers in the town, but local people supported by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) blocked the road to stop them from entering.

Russian commander General Georgy Shpak said his men would try again on Tuesday.


The BBC's Duncan Kennedy: No sign how the stand-off could be resolved
The protesters say the Russian troops will inevitably favour the town's Serb population.

They allege Russian mercenaries fought alongside the Serbs during the war and committed war crimes.

Roadblock

Monday's demonstration outside the town of Orahovac extended for 6km, with lorries, tractors and cars blocking the road.

Russian troops, travelling in armoured vehicles in groups of no more than 15, tried three times to persuade the Albanians to let them in, but each time they were turned away.


[ image: K-For: Confident Russian troops will protect both communities]
K-For: Confident Russian troops will protect both communities
"We have proof against Russians and what they have done here," one Kosovo Albanian man told Colonel Andrey Serdukov, Deputy Commander of Russian forces in Kosovo.

Colonel Serdukov told the Kosovo Albanians there was an international agreement that the Russians would take over the patrolling of Orahovac, and that they should sit down and discuss how to achieve this.

Not welcome

Local KLA officer Brigadier Izmet Tara told the BBC his soldiers would not organise anti-Russian demonstrations but would supervise them and would protect protesters from the Russians in case of any trouble.

Until now, security in the town has been managed by Dutch troops from the Nato-led peacekeeping force, K-For, who have been supervising the handover of weapons from the local community.


[ image:  ]
However, many Serbs have refused to surrender their arms saying they fear reprisals from the Albanian population. K-For has warned the Serbs they face arrest if they fail to give up unauthorised weapons.

The original deadline for the weapons handover was extended from midnight on Saturday because of the large number in circulation.

Many of those Serbs who have handed in their weapons say they now have no choice but to pack up and leave.

Heavy fighting

Orahovac was the scene of heavy fighting between Serbs forces and the KLA last year and many Albanian residents say they saw Russian mercenaries fighting alongside the Serbs.


[ image: Dutch peacekeepers have been supervising the weapons handover]
Dutch peacekeepers have been supervising the weapons handover
BBC correspondent Paul Wood says Albanians throughout Kosovo make similar accusations and Russian peacekeepers have been deployed elsewhere in the face of similar hostility.

K-For headquarters in the Kosovo capital Pristina says the Russians will assume control of the region gradually, probably over a two-week period.

A statement added that K-For had full confidence in the Russians carrying out the peacekeeping mission whatever the strength of local feeling.

"We don't make a distinction between the ethnic background of troops," a spokesman said. "We are under a single chain of command."

On Sunday, the UN administrator for Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner, said the possibility of regrouping Serbs still living in the province would be raised at Wednesday's meeting of the Transitional Council, the body aimed at bringing all sides together for talks on the province's future.

Splitting Kosovo

Mr Kouchner was responding to a proposal put to the council by Serb representative Momcilio Trajkovic to split Kosovo into three cantons, which he said would maintain its multi-ethnic character.

"I'm not in favour of 'cantonisation', but I consider it is a real and difficult question if we can't manage to protect the Serbs properly," Mr Kouchner said.

The provincial branch of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party in Kosovo has rejected the idea saying it would condemn the remaining Serbs to a ghetto.



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