CEOL - Kosovo Serbs free compatriot from UN police station

PRISTINA, Dec 13, 1999 -- (AFP) A mob of up to 100 Serbs invaded a police station in northern Kosovo and set free one of their compatriots, the second such incident this month, a spokesman for the U.N. police here said Sunday.

The attack came just days before the U.N. interim administration Kosovo (UNMIK) and international peacekeepers of the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) plan to unveil a new package to combat widespread post-war violence in the Serbian province.

The crowd surrounded the police station in the predominantly Serb village of Zubin Potok, some 18 miles (30 kilometers) west of the northern town of Kosovska Mitrovica, last Wednesday, after blocking the road to the town, spokesman Dmitri Kaportsev said.

They then forced their way into the building and freed the Serb man, who had been arrested on a warrant issued in Mitrovica.

The station's nine international police officers called for help from the KFOR, who arrived later and cleared the roadblock, Kaportsev said.

"Crowd control is definitely a problem here," said Kaportsev. "If you use weapons you don't know how many guns the crowd has."

No damage or injuries were sustained in the incident, but nobody has been arrested in connection with it. Police are also looking for the freed prisoner, Kaportsev added.

He said a similar incident occurred on December 3 in Gracanica, a Serb village on the southern outskirts of the provincial capital Pristina.

Some 100 people encircled the police station there demanding the release of a Serb arrested earlier in a bar brawl. A scuffle broke out and one international officer was slighly injured.

The Serb man was freed despite the arrival of a platoon of Swedish peacekeeping troops, Kaportsev said.

The incidents underline the difficulties international police here face. UNMIK head Bernard Kouchner has asked for up to 6,000 police but has so far only received 1,800.

Police also lack crowd control equipment such as riot shields, helmets, water cannon and tear gas, said Kaportsev. Two companies of Indian special police are expected to arrive here soon but difficulties remain, Kaportsev said.

In one of the most serious incidents recently, a Serb man was pulled from his car and shot dead in front of a crowd of 2,000 ethnic Albanians while his wife and mother-in-law were seriously assaulted during Albanian festivities late last month.

UN police arrived at the scene but were blocked by an aggressive crowd.

Kouchner and KFOR commander General Klaus Reinhardt are due to reveal a new package of law enforcement measures Monday to counter the almost daily attacks, kidnappings, arson and robberies.

The action plan will involve increased KFOR foot patrols in sensitive areas, a KFOR official said.

The move is seen as a step backwards -- albeit necessary in the circumstance -- by some western observers, who point out that KFOR was due to hand over policing duties to civilian officers.

Kaportsev said the measure would allow UN police to send out patrols with just one international officer accompanied by a local police recruit, rather than the current two, effectively doubling the number of patrols.

The new plan will also feature drafting in up to 600 ethnic Albanian former policemen, UNMIK sources said, as well as 150 new judges and prosecutors to implement an overhauled legal code designed to be acceptable to both Albanians and Serbs.

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