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18 Mar, 2008 11:25

UN peacekeeper dies after Kosovo clashes

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 near the town.

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.

Violent clashes have left more than 60 UN and KFOR troops and 70 Serb civilians injured.

The Serbian Minister for Kosovo, Slobodan Samardzic, has appealed for calm and called for an international inquiry.

NATO and the United Nations have defended their actions but their future in this volatile region is looking increasingly unstable.

A month of independence

March 17 is a date that's becoming increasingly steeped in significance. It was a month to the day after Kosovo proclaimed independence and also the anniversary of rioting in 2004 by Kosovo Albanians that left at least 19 people dead, according to UN figures, and drove some 4,000 people, mainly Serbs, from their homes.

And now it has also become the day of the worst clashes of Kosovo's fledgling statehood since it made that unilateral declaration, which Serbia and Russia say is illegal.

For a few hours the streets of Mitrovica reverberated with gunfire. UN forces stormed the courthouse building that had been taken over days earlier by angry Serbs. At the latest count, nearly a hundred people had been injured in the clashes, among them UN and NATO personnel as well as Serb civilians.

Reaction in Ukraine

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, and say this policy contradicts national interests.

Nestor Shufrich, a deputy from Ukraine's Party of Regions and former Emergencies Minister, thinks Ukraine should consider withdrawing its forces from Kosovo.

“I think Ukraine should re-assess the presence of our peacekeepers in Kosovo. It's possible that we will recall our troops,” he said.

Aleksandr Efremov, another member of Ukraine's Party of Regions, commented on the inability of the Ukrainian authorities to work out their own position on the key issues of foreign policy.

“The death of our peacekeeper in Kosovo is further evidence that the policy carried out by the current Ukrainian government ignores national interests and is unacceptable. They do not care about the opinion of the majority of Ukrainians when they take these decisions. This leads not only to the weakening of Ukraine's position in the international arena but also to loss of life,” Efremov said.