- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 5, 2000

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia Kosovar Serbs angry over the arrest of a Serb for illegal weapons possession clashed yesterday with NATO peacekeepers, leaving 11 Americans and one Pole injured, the U.S. military said.
The independent Yugoslav news agency Beta said 14 Serbs were also hurt, including 10 who were struck by rubber bullets fired in an attempt to break up a Serbian crowd.
However, the U.S. military said it could not confirm the number of Serbs injured in the melee reportedly involving shoving, clubs, dogs and rubber bullets which began yesterday in a southeastern mountain region near the Macedonian border.
At the Pentagon, spokesman Air Force Lt. Col. Vic Warzinski said the most serious injury to U.S. troops in the incident was a broken hand. A U.S. military spokesman in Kosovo, Capt. Russell Berg, said the other injuries were contusions and abrasions.
Col. Warzinski said the confrontation lasted about eight hours before the crowd of Serbs who confronted a U.S. unit was dispersed and the U.S. and Polish troops left the scene.
It was the first major incident between Serbs and NATO peacekeepers since a tense situation in the enclave of Kosovska Mitrovica calmed down last month. The NATO force is devoted largely to policing and disarming militants, as well as reconstruction efforts.
But nine months after NATO's 78-day bombing campaign forced an end to the Serbian crackdown in Kosovo, and the pullout of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's forces, new violence in the region has thwarted efforts by NATO and Kosovo's U.N. administration to establish normalcy in the Serbian province.
According to a U.S. statement, the trouble started when American military police and Polish soldiers of the 18th Air Assault Battalion seized two hand grenades in a Serbian house in the village of Sevce, about 40 miles south of Pristina.
About 150 Serbs surrounded the house and refused to allow the troops to leave.
Beta said several thousand Serbs from four villages in southern Kosovo set up the barricades after peacekeepers detained a Serbian man in Sevce and took him to Camp Bondsteel, the main U.S. base in Kosovo.
According to the Beta report, Serbs from the villages of Gotovusa, Jazince, Sevce and Strpce massed near roadblocks set up by Polish troops serving in the American sector, demanding that the man be released.
U.S. troops later brought him back to the barricade in an attempt to ease the tension, saying he would be released in 48 hours under normal procedure, according to Beta.
Beta said, however, that several women attempted to wrest the man from the soldiers. The peacekeepers then released attack dogs to try to disperse the crowd. The villagers responded with clubs and dogs of their own, Beta said.
Beta said four Serbs and one peacekeeper were injured at Sevce and 10 Serbs were injured by rubber bullets fired at the barricade.
"Reinforcement units were sent to assist in dispersing the crowd," the U.S. statement said. "Currently, 11 U.S. soldiers, one Polish soldier, and one translator have been treated for non-life threatening injuries. The number of injured civilians has not been confirmed."
The statement gave no further details and no indication whether the injuries occurred at the house or the roadblock.
An estimated 10,000 Serbs live in the mountain area near the border, making it the second-largest concentration of Serbs in Kosovo after Kosovska Mitrovica.

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