Eight Albanian families leave Serbian sector of Mitrovica

PRISTINA, Jul 22, 2000 -- (AFP) Eight Kosovo Albanian families have left the Serbian sector of Kosovska Mitrovica after a week of tension and violence in the divided town, a UNHCR spokeswoman said Friday.

"Between Monday evening and Wednesday, eight families or around 20 Albanians, were evacuated from their homes in the north of Mitrovica to move to the south," Paula Ghedini told a Pristina news conference.

Some of these families had been threatened by Serbs, the UN High Commission for Refugees spokeswoman said.

The south of Mitrovica is almost entirely populated by ethnic Albanians.

The latest evacuations occurred at a time of high tension in the town as Serbs in the northern half of the city mounted four days of demonstrations to protest the arrest Monday of a Serb militant accused of attacking an Albanian man and burning his car.

On Friday two Serbs suspected of having helped a woman to break into an Albanian home in the town were arrested by KFOR peacekeepers and handed over to UN police, a KFOR spokesman said.

Ghedini said that one Albanian family left after they were threatened on Monday night by a Serb couple who claimed they belonged to the Serbian National Council (SNV), a political group representing Serbian interests in Kosovo.

In Mitrovica the local SNV branch is controlled by Oliver Ivanovic, the self-declared leader of Serbs in the town and chief of the "Bridge Watchers", a security force set up to defend the Serb sector.

The Bridge Watchers, of which the Serb arrested on Monday is a member, have in the past been accused of driving Albanians from the north of the town.

Ghedini added that an 80-year-old Albanian man was beaten up on Tuesday by a group of Serbs and another Albanian family had found grenades that had been thrown into their garden.

On Thursday two billets used by officers of the United Nations' international police force based in northern Mitrovica were ransacked by protesters, UN spokeswoman Susan Manuel said.

No one was at home when the attacks took place, she said.

On Friday the situation was calm in the town, a KFOR spokesman said.

Original article