Kosovo Serbs step up protest in Mitrovica after clashes

KOSOVSKA MITROVICA, Jul 19, 2000 -- (AFP) About 1,000 Serbs massed in front of the courthouse in the northern Kosovar town of Kosovska Mitrovica Tuesday to demand the release of a member of their community, peacekeepers said.

Protesters used cars to block the 400 metre (yard) road leading between the court and the bridge which links to the two halves of the ethnically divided town, a spokesman for the KFOR multinational peacekeeping force said.

Violent clashes broke out late Monday between protesters, UN police and peackeepers following the arrest of a man accused of assaulting an ethnic Albanian and burning his car, an AFP journalist at the scene reported.

During Monday night's clashes protesters held a UN police officer hostage and threw stones and explosives. Peacekeepers responded with tear gas and UN police fired warning shots in the air, a KFOR spokesman said.

But on Tuesday, two hours after the start of the demonstration, no violence had been reported.

The suspect, who was arrested Monday at around 9:00 p.m. (1900 GMT), was to appear before the court in Mitrovica Tuesday charged with assaulting an ethnic Albanian on June 9 in the town, the spokesman said.

Four prostesters, including a 12-year-old boy, and two police officers were injured during Monday's clashes, KFOR said.

The commander of the French-led KFOR brigade stationed in Mitrovica, General Jean-Louis Sublet, was in further discussions, begun the night before, with the leader of the Serbs in northern Mitrovica, Oliver Ivanovic.

Following a series of violent clashes between the ethnic Albanian and Serbian communities in Mitrovica, the town has been effectively cut in two. The river Ibar separates the Serb-majority northern part of the town from the ethnic Albanian south.

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