CEOL - Kosovars march against violent crime

PRISTINA, Serbia, Dec 18, 1999 -- (Reuters) About 1,000 people marched through Kosovo's capital Pristina on Friday evening to protest against a wave of violent crime which an understaffed U.N. police force has failed to quell.

Bringing traffic to a halt along Pristina's main street, they carried candles as symbols of hope through a city plunged into darkness by one of its regular power cuts.

Six months since NATO-led troops occupied Kosovo and U.N. officials launched a civil reconstruction mission, the province's murder rate has fallen. But women in Pristina say they do not dare walk the streets after dark after a recent spate of reports of attempted kidnappings of young women.

"We used to be able to go out at night. In the last month we hear that people are being taken away," said female student Valdete Rexhebegay, one of the marchers.

International officials have played down the kidnapping stories, saying few incidents have been reported to them and suggesting panic and rumor has exaggerated them.

General Klaus Reinhardt, commander of the KFOR military peacekeeping force, joined the march briefly. He commands some 50,000 soldiers, but the police force set up by the civilian U.N. mission in Kosovo numbers only some 1,800 expatriate officers plus a small number of new Kosovar recruits.

U.N. mission chief Bernard Kouchner complained angrily on Thursday that foreign powers had failed to send promised funds and officers for the planned 6,000-strong police force, calling the shortfall "ridiculous and a scandal".

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