Soldiers held after brawls

Nato disputes Macedonian claims over drunken clashes in Skopje

Konstantin Testorides

Thursday April 13, 2000

Skopje, Macedonia - As many as 30 US soldiers on leave from Kosovo were taken into custody in the Macedonian capital Skopje yesterday after drunken clashes with local police, the country's interior ministry claimed.

Both Nato and the US military confirmed there had been three separate incidents involving American troops in Skopje but insisted that only five servicemen had been temporarily detained by Macedonian police. They were later turned over to US military authorities.

One US military source suggested that in at least two of the clashes the US soldiers had not initiated violence but had reacted after being provoked. In one incident, according to an official, "an American soldier was spat on by a Macedonian; the soldier reacted to that and was detained by Macedonian police".

In another incident, two American soldiers tried to prevent a Macedonian from stealing the belongings of one of the them. In the third incident, "four soldiers at a restaurant were in some type of verbal altercation with the staff at the restaurant and possibly police". All four soldiers were detained, the official confirmed.

"The Macedonians elected to not exercise legal jurisdiction on the soldiers and return them to US military authorities," he said, dismissing the report of 30 soldiers being detained as a "fabrication".

But a Macedonian interior ministry statement said the soldiers, members of Nato-led peacekeeping troops, had been detained in connection with "indecent behaviour, violation of public order, harassment of citizens and a fight involving a policeman". Some were drunk, the statement said.

Speaking in Skopje for K-For, the peacekeeping force in Kosovo, Captain Andreas Reinecke said the force "deeply regretted" the incidents. A US sergeant who was involved said the trouble had started because the Americans were drunk and loud. "Everyone went out, and the fight started," the sergeant said.

Macedonia serves as the main staging post for international peacekeepers travelling into and out of Kosovo.

• Serbian police yesterday blamed foreign intelligence services for an explosion that damaged a branch of the ruling Socialist party in Belgrade.

Colonel Milenko Ercic, head of the Serbian capital's criminal police, said the blast on Tuesday night had been a terrorist act designed to create chaos before an opposition rally on Friday against the Yugoslav president, Slobodan Milosevic.

Opposition leaders denied any involvement in the blast and said the explosion had been a set-up by the state, which was trying to raise tension in the lead-up the rally.

Original article