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Kosovo clashes raise fresh concerns -

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Kosovo clashes raise fresh concerns

The World Today - Tuesday, 18 March , 2008 12:30:00

Reporter: Barney Porter

ELEANOR HALL: Violence has again flared in Kosovo, which last month declared its independence from
Serbia.

At least 30, UN police and NATO troops were injured in clashes in the town of Mitrovica,
highlighting the risk of Kosovo dividing along ethnic lines.

The violence - the worst since the independence declaration - has also raised concerns about the
effectiveness of the European Union police mission as Barney Porter reports.

BARNEY PORTER: Serb protesters have been trying to take control of local institutions run by the UN
since the end of Kosovo's war in 1999, but they've increased their efforts since Kosovo declared
independence.

Crowds, including many court officials, have been gathering daily at Mitrovica's courthouse, to
prevent international and ethnic Albanian judges from returning to work.

The latest violence began when UN police had stormed the courthouse just before dawn, local time,
to arrest dozens of Serbs who'd occupied it since the weekend.

As the police left the building with the arrested demonstrators, they were met by other protesters
who pelted them with rocks, petrol bombs and hand grenades.

(Sound of rockets and gunfire)

Some demonstrators fired guns at the international forces.

Police used tear gas to disperse them and several UN vehicles were set alight.

Some reports say more than 60 UN and NATO forces and 70 protesters were injured in the clashes -
the worst since Kosovo's 90 per cent Albanian majority declared independence from Serbia on
February the 17th.

Serb judge Nikola Kabasic was among the protesters.

NIKOLA KABASIC: We blame UNMIK leadership because a few days ago we called them for a discussion,
for an agreement. We don't want the violence. We don't want trouble. We think that UNMIK police
overreacted in this case in Mitrovica.

BARNEY PORTER: Alexander Ivanko is a spokesman for the UN mission in Kosovo, or UNMIK.

He denies the UN troops overreacted.

ALEXANDER IVANKO: There was no tear gas used by UNMIK police. It was only used by KFOR. There was
no lethal force used although UNMIK police and KFOR were attacked not only with bottles and stones
but also with grenades and there was gun fire. Weapons were fired at UNMIK police.

We have four seriously injured as a result of that and about 40 people lightly injured so this was
not an overreaction by UNMIK. This was a violent attack against the United Nations and KFOR in
north Mitrovica.

BARNEY PORTER: Northern Kosovo has a 40,000 strong Serb population divided from the mainly ethnic
Albanian south by the Ibar River, which passes through Mitrovica.

While the UN forces have since withdrawn from the Serb populated section of the town, the NATO-led
KFOR peacekeepers have remained.

NATO spokesman, James Appathurai, has condemned the violence.

JAMES APPATHURAI: The rioters who threw stones then threw molotov cocktails then threw grenades;
then it seems used automatic weapons are in clear violation of the law, clear violation of UN
Security Council resolution 1244.

BARNEY PORTER: Kosovo has been under UN control since 1999, when NATO launched an air war to stop a
Serbian crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists.

Kosovo's recent declaration of independence has been recognised by many Western countries, but
Serbia still considers the territory it's historic and religious heartland, and says the
declaration is illegal under international law.

It's backed by its traditional ally, Russia and the Russian Foreign Minister, Vitaly Churkin, has
also commentated on this latest incident.

VITALY CHURKIN: We have serious questions about the wisdom of arranging this military operation
early in the morning. There was, as far as we know, a possibility of continued discussions to
resolve this matter without the use of force and so our call for UNMIK and KFOR is to exercise
prudence and restraint and not to rush in and use force.

BARNEY PORTER: Meanwhile the Serb President, Boris Tadic, has warned UN and NATO forces against any
excessive reaction that could spark a further escalation.

And the violence suggests the NATO and UN mission in Kosovo is far from over.

ELEANOR HALL: Barney Porter.