Kosovo riots kill eight after children drown

At least eight people were killed and hundreds injured yesterday in violent clashes between Serbs and ethnic Albanians in the divided Kosovo town of Kosovska Mitrovica.

At least eight people were killed and hundreds injured yesterday in violent clashes between Serbs and ethnic Albanians in the divided Kosovo town of Kosovska Mitrovica.

The clashes - the worst wave of violence in the town for more than a year - spread to every major city in Kosovo. Violence erupted after three ethnic Albanian children were reported missing the previous evening

They were allegedly chased into the Ibar river by ethnic Serbs. Derek Chapel, a UN spokesman, said the bodies of two children were recovered. The third is missing.

The northern part of Kosovska Mitrovica is home to Serbs, and the southern part is populated by ethnic Albanians. The two are separated by the Ibar river, with bridges heavily guarded by K-For, the international peace-keeping troops. Protesters in Kosovska Mitrovica yesterday hurled stones at each other. Peacekeepers fired tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades to keep the groups apart. Hundreds on both sides were wounded and taken to hospitals.

Tensions between the two communities in Kosovo have been high since the shooting of a Serb teenager on Monday in the village of Caglavica, near the provincial capital of Pristina.

Kosovo has been run by the UN and Nato-led peace-keepers since June 1999, after Nato raids forced the Serbian security forces to pull out of the province, where the forces had been cracking down on ethnic Albanians seeking independence.

The consequences of the bitter conflict continue to surface. In a landmark war crimes trial, Sasa Cvijetan, a former member of the notorious Scorpions unit of the Serbian police, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for killing 14 ethnic Albanian civilians in Kosovo in 1999.

"It was a monstrous crime," Judge Biljana Sinanovic said as she read the verdict at the District Court of Belgrade. "There is nothing worse than to shoot and kill women and children."

Cvijetan was found guilty of killing seven women and seven children, one of them aged only two, in the town of Podujevo in March 1999. After he was convicted, Cvijetan crossed himself and said: "I'm not guilty. God will judge you for convicting an innocent man."

The atrocity in Podujevo started with the Serb police unit rounding up a group of civilians with the aim of evicting them. The civilians were taken into a yard out of sight, then automatic gunfire was heard. Five people survived the massacre that wiped out nearly three families. One survivor, Saranda Bogujevci, now 19 and living in Manchester, testified in the court that Cvjetan was among the men shooting them.

Mrs Sinanovic said: "The self-controlled testimonies of survivors gave crucial evidence for this case. But Cvijetan was only one among those who committed this crime." David Ashley, of the British embassy in Belgrade, said: "This is a fair judgment. The courage of children who testified before this court was recognised." Natasa Kandic, a leading human rights activist, said the verdict "paves the way for new indictments".

It is widely expected that other members of Cvijetan's unit will soon face justice. Some have fled to the West, but some are in Serbia.

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