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18 Mar, 2008 23:30

NATO tightens grip on northern Kosovo

NATO has placed the Kosovo town of Mitrovica under de facto military law after a UN peacekeeper from Ukraine died of injuries sustained during Monday's clashes with protesters. Another Polish peacekeeper is in a critical condition.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the violence was not unexpected.  He made the comments during his meeting with U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, and Defense Secretary, Robert Gates.

“We believe that the unilateral declaration of independence by Pristina is inadmissible and it's a gross violation of international law. We had warned that this step would inevitably have negative consequences. And it's actually happened . It's very difficult to drive all those who do not want to live in an illegally proclaimed state within the framework of this state. You know that in long years following 1999, the rights of the minorities, especially Serbs in Kosovo were not provided for. I'm talking about their security and the right of movement. Therefore we could see a very bad scenario when minoritites will feel alien in their own country,” Lavrov said.

UN police and NATO-led troops clashed with Serb protesters on the streets of Mitrovica in Kosovo. The security forces were evicting Serb demonstrators from the UN courthouse they'd occupied since Friday in protest against Kosovo's secession from Serbia.

Following violent clashes with Serb protesters, the UN temporarily withdrew police staff leaving NATO-led KFOR troops to deal with the trouble.

NATO troops secured a hostile area after rioting Serbs forced the withdrawal of UN personnel. Kosovo police say rocks and petrol bombs were thrown at police cars in the process.

House-by-house searches for weapons were conducted overnight throughout Mitrovica. NATO says they managed to obtain a number of arns and will continue the searches.

NATO command has asked for reinforcements – a request that has been received favourably by NATO’s North-Atlantic council.  The body is holding an emergency meeting on Wednesday.

At the same time, NATO claims it has been listening in on the radio conversations between local Serbs and police units in Belgrade. These conversations suggest that violence has been orchestrated from Belgrade.

NATO also says the Serbian army has taken up positions near the Kosovo border. However, it is hard to say whether these units are undergoing training or are preparing for something more critical.

Violent clashes have left more than 60 UN and KFOR troops and 70 Serb civilians injured in the last few days. The two most seriously injured Serb demonstrators from yesterday's violence are reported to be in a critical condition. One of them is in coma.

Serbian President Boris Tadich has accused the UN of excessive use of force.

Following the death of the Ukrainian peacekeeper, members of the Ukrainian opposition Party of Regions have criticised the government for sending peacekeeping troops to the region, saying the policy contradicts national interests.

Giving details of the soldier’s death, Ukraine’s Interior Minister Yaroslav Mazurkevich said he was demanding an inquiry into the incident.

“Igor Kinnel died during surgery. He was born in 1982 and began his career in the Interior Ministry in 2000. Like most of the boys who took part in the operation he got shrapnel wounds. Many others are suffering from contusions, concussion of the brain and injuries to their arms and legs,” he said.