Monday, March 17, 2008

UN Forces Attacked In Kosovo

Telegraph - Kosovo is undergoing its worst violence since independence, with Serbs in the north of the new country attacking NATO and United Nations forces with grenades and automatic gunfire.

Dozens of UN police and NATO troops, mostly from Poland and France, are being treated in military hospitals after coming under fire in the town of Mitrovica. No deaths are reported so far.

UN forces have now been ordered to withdraw entirely from the Serb dominated northern half of Mitrovica, as the grip of Kosovo's ethnic-Albanian government on Serb areas of the country grows ever weaker. "After attacks with explosive devices suspected to be hand grenades, and firearms, the police are ordered to withdraw from the north of Mitrovica," a UN police statement said.

The wounded police were part of an dawn raid on a Mitrovica courthouse which had been occupied for days by Serb demonstrators, who bitterly resent Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia last month.

Negotiations for a peaceful end to the sit-in broke down over the weekend, and large numbers of UN police, backed by NATO soldiers, surrounded the building early this morning

They arrested more than 50 of the demonstrators, but the situation quickly turned violent as explosives were detonated outside the courthouse and in its courtyard.

"This morning when the people who were blocking the court building were being led out, stones were hurled in the direction of UN forces," said Polish national police spokesman Mariusz Sokolowski. "Then the policemen were pelted with grenades and probably homemade explosive devices. There are also reports of shots being fired in their direction."

As some of the prisoners were driven away, Serb crowds surrounded the UN police vehicles, forcing them open and freeing some of those arrested inside the courthouse.

"Police stormed into the building this morning around 5:20 am," said Dragoljub Drazevic. "They handcuffed us, searched the offices and put us in a police van.

"When we were coming out of the compound, the van I was in was stopped by Serbs who trashed it and freed us."

French NATO forces also confirmed that automatic gunfire was trained on soldiers participating in the operation.

Amid escalating violence the UN gave the order for police to withdraw, with NATO troops assuming control in the region.

The confrontation marks the worst violence to have hit Kosovo since it declared independence exactly a month ago.