UN police wounded by grenades as they try to quell Kosovo unrest

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Fourteen police officers with the United Nations were wounded yesterday trying to quell the most serious rioting at a Kosovo flashpoint in several months.

The clashes were in the divided town of Kosovska Mitrovica, in northern Kosovo, where the Serb majority has clashed repeatedly with the town's ethnic Albanian community. The unrest began when UN police arrested Slavoljub Jovic-Pagi, a leader of a hardline Serbian group known as the "bridge guards", who have in the past attempted to prevent Albanians from crossing from one sector of the town into another. Violence broke out after a crowd of about 500 people gathered.

Barry Fletcher, a spokesman for the UN police, said: "With the angry crowd throwing stones at the UN police, it all escalated into a riot with gunfire and explosions directed at UN police officers."

In addition to the UN police, several civilians were reported to have been injured.According to Serb representatives, two civilians were wounded by bullets "apparently fired by riot police".

They said that Mr Jovic-Pagi had tried to discuss security in Mitrovica with UN police and was arrested.

Last night, Nato troops, backed by UN police in riot gear, were still facing crowds of Serbs who were barricading the bridge. The Nato forces were concentrated on the southern Albanian side of the Ibar river.

Separately yesterday, there was a fresh sign that leading Yugoslav suspects indicted by the UN war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia could soon join former president Slobodan Milosevic in The Hague.

Hardliners in Montenegro, the junior partner in the Yugoslav federation, had been totally opposed to the extraditions but agreed on condition that only those already indicted by the tribunal could be handed over.

Serbia's Justice Minister, Vladan Batic, said that despite the "dubious" demand by Montenegro, "it is acceptable".

The decision could lead to adoption of a much-debated law in Belgrade that would allow the extraditions to go forward, pending discussion tomorrow in the federal parliament. The United States has threatened to withhold tens of millions of dollars in much- needed aid and American support in international organisations such as the World Bank if the suspects remain at large. The American Congress gave Yugoslavia until 31 March to co-operate.