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Monday, 14 August, 2000, 11:26 GMT 12:26 UK
Serbs and Nato clash in Mitrovica
Mitrovica clashes
A Serb man with a rock faces British K-For soldiers
UN peacekeeping troops in Kosovo have clashed with crowds of Serbs in the divided town of Mitrovica.

At least four people have been injured after troops fired plastic bullets and teargas while taking over a factory complex to the north of the city.

International peace-keeping troops from K-For moved into the Serb part of Mitrovica to take over a lead-smelting factory which UN officials said was emitting 200 times the permitted amount of lead.

Over 500 British, Danish, and French troops backed up by helicopters and armoured vehicles took part in the dawn operation, which met resistance from local Serbs arriving for work.

Serbs have promised more demonstrations against the takeover of the plant, but have also accused the Yugoslav government of selling the plant without getting any guarantees about its future.

Mitrovica has seen repeated violence between ethnic Albanians and is the only remaining large urban concentration of Serbs in Kosovo.

Dawn operation

A crowd gathered around the site's main entrance as K-For went in, clashing with French police.

K-For troops in Mitrovica
K-For troops guard approach to the plant

As more workers arrived the crowd became increasingly violent, throwing stones and attacking interpreters working for K-For soldiers.

Some British soldiers are reported to have been injured, when their group of around 40 troops was trapped between two crowds of Serbs.

The crowds began throwing bricks, rocks and pieces of wood at the soldiers.

K-For spokesman Colonel Henry Aussavy said that a French squadron replaced the British troops at the gate of the plant.

The colonel said the operation faced further resistance inside the plant, where a group of 30 to 40 engineers had locked themselves inside an administration building, refusing to leave or help UN experts shut down the smelter.

Pretext

Mitrovica's Serb leader, Oliver Ivanovic, has said the health scare was a ruse used by the UN to take over the mining complex, which has remained dominated Kosovo Serbs.

"The takeover was a direct result of ethnic Albanian pressure on Nato troops," Mr Ivanovic said.

K-For arrest Kosovo Albanina protester
K-For has struggled to control ehtnic violence in Mitrovica
The town is divided between a Serb enclave on the north side of the River Ibar and an Albanian one to the south.

The BBC's Nicholas Wood reports from Mitrovica that speculation about an operation to take over the plant has been rife over the last two weeks.

Some UN sources say the take over is part of a broader security operation to gain control of the Mitrovica region, and in a separate incident UN police closed down a Serb radio station in the north of the town.

Main Serb employers

The smelter is part of the vast Trepca mining complex, a collection of about 40 mines that produce gold, silver, lead, zinc and cadmium.

Trepca is the main source of employment for Serbs in Mitrovica.

Trepca plant in Mitrovica
The UN says the smeliting plant is causing massive pollution
The Yugoslav authorities say that 2,000 Serbs work at the plant, although UN officials say only a few hundred Albanians and a few Serbs work there.

The head of the UN mission in Kosovo, Dr Bernard Kouchner, has announced the factory is now going to be run by an international consortium. An $11m investment package has also been announced.

The factory's current director, who had been in Belgrade, has been denied access to Kosovo and some of his staff have been arrested.

Control of Trepca's revenues have been disputed between Serbs and Kosovo's ethnic Albanian population.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Terry Stiastny
"Serb workers blocked their way and scuffles broke out"
Serb leader in Mitrovica, Oliver Ivanovitch
"We are concerned about the future of the factory"
See also:

14 Aug 00 | UK
19 Jul 00 | Europe
09 Jun 00 | Europe
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