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Saturday, 5 February, 2000, 01:48 GMT
Spotlight on UN's Kosovo task

Albanian youths throw stones at French troops through a cloud of teargas

By Nick Wood in Kosovo

Dozens of Albanian families are fleeing their homes in the Kosovan town of Mitrovica following an outbreak violence in the divided city.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees says it has been taking in a steady flow of families after five people were killed and about 30 injured in separate incidents in the north of the city.

The violence erupted on Thursday night after a grenade was thrown into a cafe in the mainly Serb north of the city. Mitrovica has been divided into two separate Serb and Albanian halves since the end of the Nato's bombing campaign last summer.

Plastic explosives

In what appear to have been a series of well-organised reprisals five Albanians were killed and many others told to leave their homes.

Forty-four-year old mother, Fatmia, decided to leave her apartment with her two children on Friday afternoon. "During the night, we heard shooting in the next door apartments," she said. "A group of about 50 or 60 Serbs were going around the flats beating people and shooting. They were organised, with hand-held Motorola radios."

A spokeswomen for the UNHCR says there have also been reports of plastic explosives used to blow open apartment doors.

The attacks seem to have had the desired effect.

At least 21 families, accompanied by K-For military escorts travelled across the bridges dividing the city on Friday.

About 150 soldiers block the main bridge in Mitrovica
Brenda Belton, an worker with the aid group ADRA, has had the responsibility of finding places for families to stay. "We're expecting more to come," she said. "We don't know what the situation is exactly at the moment, but the families are coming all the time."

K-For has now imposed a curfew in the city for at least the next three nights, lasting from 8pm local time to five in the morning.

French troops guarding the bridges between the two communities came under attack from angry Albanian youths throwing stones and other missiles. Five soldiers were treated for minor injuries.

The violence is being described as the worst the city has seen since UN troops entered the province. It also follows a sharp increase in tension in the region as a whole.

On Wednesday two Serbs were killed in a rocket attack on a UN bus. The coach was part of regular service carrying Serbs to villages west of Mitrovica.

Increasingly difficult

Paula Ghedini, a spokeswoman for the UNHCR in Pristina, said these latest attacks will have an impact on minority groups through out the province.

"Because of the bus attack on Wednesday evening we had to stop all eight of our bus lines through out the Kosovo province, which means there are now isolated communities that are completely cut off," she said.

"This does not just affect Serbs and Roma. We still have groups of Albanians minorities living amongst groups of Serbs and Roma. So if we are talking about the protection of minorities it's becoming increasingly difficult no matter what the ethnicity is."

While it is not clear who has been responsible for the attacks, they could have an impact on the UN's attempts to set up a new administration in the province.

The UN Secretary General's Special Representative Bernard Kouchner was hoping to include Serbs in a new power sharing structure that will help run Kosovo until elections next autumn.

The local Serbian leadership has so far refused to join. This week's sharp escalation in violence may not help towards settling such a deal.

Mr Kouchner who currently in Japan, has now cut short his visit to return to the province.

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See also:
04 Feb 00 |  Europe
Seven dead as violence flares
04 Feb 00 |  Europe
Analysis: What went wrong?
24 Jun 99 |  Europe
Mitrovica: A divided town

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