- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 18, 2004

BRUSSELS — NATO sent up to 1,000 additional soldiers to Kosovo yesterday to help clamp down on the worst violence since the 1999 war, which it warned could reverse warming relations in the tinderbox region.

On the ground, the commander of NATO’s peacekeepers gave his troops the green light to use force to quell the violence, while the United States, Britain and Italy agreed to dispatch new forces into the U.N.-run southern Serbian province.

Even as the reinforcements were dispatched, about 35 soldiers were wounded, according to a spokesman for Kosovo Force, James Moran, who gave no details on how the soldiers were hurt or their nationality.

In Brussels, NATO’s North Atlantic Council (NAC), meeting in special session, expressed confidence that the extra troops added to the 17,000-member Kosovo Force could cope with the crisis.

The White House called yesterday for an end to the violence and said President Bush met with his national-security team to monitor the situation.

“We continue to call on all groups to end the violence and refrain from violence,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters on Air Force One as Mr. Bush flew to Fort Campbell, Ky.

The NAC, the alliance’s top decision-making body, said the violence “threatens to undermine the progress that has recently been achieved in beginning a political dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade.”

“NATO members call upon leaders in the region to take concrete action to restore peace and security,” it added, noting, “Allies expressed their full confidence in [Kosovo Force’s] ability to help restore order in Kosovo.”

Two days of clashes between Serbs and ethnic Albanians — Kosovo’s worst unrest in five years — have left 22 dead and 500 injured, after a report that three Albanian children drowned after being chased by Serbs into a river.

A NATO spokesman said that two troop companies — one U.S. and one Italian unit from neighboring Bosnia — were being dispatched.

In London, a British defense ministry spokesman said it was rushing 750 additional troops to Kosovo, adding that the troops could be on the ground within four days.

The 12th Mechanized Brigade of the British army is headquartered in the Kosovo provincial capital Pristina, with units that include the Staffordshire Regiment, Royal Engineers and Royal Military Police.

The NATO spokesman said the reinforcements amounted to “up to 1,000” additional troops and dismissed an earlier assertion by a NATO source that “nearly 2,000” additional troops could be deployed in the coming days.

“I haven’t heard any discussion that may lead to that high level,” said the spokesman.

Meanwhile in Pristina, Kosovo Force commander Gen. Holger Kammerhoff approved the use of force to quell the violence.

“I have given to the commanders the authority to use proportional force necessary to ensure the safety of our soldiers, to protect the innocent people of Kosovo and re-establish freedom of movement of all of Kosovo,” he said.

In Brussels, officials played down the sense of crisis.

“It’s perfectly normal. It’s a routine thing. We don’t go anywhere without having the plans in our pockets,” said one spokeswoman.

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