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14 U.N. officers wounded in riot by Serbs in Kosovo

Monday, April 8, 2002

Associated Press WriterKOSOVSKA MITROVICA, Yugoslavia (AP) -- Fourteen U.N. police officers were wounded Monday as they tried to quell a riot by hundreds of Serbs, a U.N. spokesman said.

The clash was the most serious incident in months in Kosovska Mitrovica, a troubled, ethnically divided town in northern Kosovo.

"With the angry crowd throwing stones at the U.N. police, it all escalated into a riot with gunfire and explosions directed at U.N. police officers," said Barry Fletcher, a spokesman for U.N. police.

The rioting began when U.N. police arrested Slavoljub Jovic-Pagi, a leader of a hardline group known as the "bridge guards," said Marko Jaksic, a leader in the Mitrovica Serb community.

The guards, a group of armed men, have in the past tried to prevent ethnic Albanians and Serbs from crossing a bridge that divides the city between the two rival ethnic communities.

Andrea Angeli, a spokesman for the U.N. Mission in Kosovo, confirmed Jovic-Pagi's arrest. He said 14 U.N. police officers were injured by shrapnel and rocks thrown at them, and one of them was in serious condition.

Jaksic said two civilians suffered wounds from bullets "apparently fired by riot police." One of them, Srdjan Spasojevic, was in critical condition with a gunshot wound in the neck, he added.

Jaksic, a hospital director, said at least 10 other people "with light injuries and suffocation symptoms" had been admitted to his hospital.

Angeli, however, did not mention any other injuries apart from those in police ranks.

Earlier, Fletcher said the unrest began when a hostile crowd of at least 500 people formed after police had stopped a Serb man. It was unclear why police stopped the man.

Jaksic said Jovic-Pagi had tried to discuss security in Mitrovica with U.N. police when he was arrested. Locals, frustrated by the arrest, then began rioting.

A crowd of Serbs were barricading the main street that leads to the bridge connecting the city's two parts. NATO troops, supported by U.N. police in riot gear, had lined up about 50 yards from the barricade.

U.N. police and NATO troops were blocking the bridge separating the ethnic Albanian and the Serb parts of the city. Armored vehicles carrying police officers in riot gear were lined up on the Ibar River's southern, ethnic Albanian side.


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