19/03/2004

Nato reinforcements arrive in Kosovo

As the initial deployments of additional KFOR troops arrive in the region, the Nato Council was meeting again today to re-assess the security situation in Kosovo.

In an effort to bring the outbreak of ethnic violence under control as quickly as possible, additional troops from the operational and strategic reserve were being deployed. Lead elements of a UK battalion and a French battalion were expected in area today along with four companies from SFOR.

An Italian battalion, a German battalion and a Romanian company also have lead elements on the way.

Nato said that KFOR was taking "robust action" to restore stability, and to protect all citizens of Kosovo regardless of their ethnic identity. Where necessary KFOR troops would be protecting Kosovar Serbs and other minorities from attack, as well as ethnic Albanians, and as additional resources were made available troops would help protect designated sites in Kosovo.

The Nato Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has asked political leaders in the region to refrain from statements and actions that would further heighten tensions.

The UN Security Council has condemned the large-scale inter-ethnic violence that began on Wednesday in Kosovo.

The fighting, described by the UN as the worst violence in the province since it took over its administration nearly five years ago, erupted in Mitrovica after a protest over the drowning of at least two Albanian children - the protesters blaming Serbs for the children’s deaths.

Yesterday, the UN Secretary-General confirmed that the number of known fatalities was 31 and that the situation in Mitrovica had become sufficiently serious to warrant the relocation of international staff to a safer place in the region.

The Foreign Affairs Minister of Serbia and Montenegro, Goran Svilanovic, said that the attacks were sending a signal to the Serbs that there was no life for them in the province and that they should leave.

"If urgent action was not taken, the objective of creating a multi-ethnic and democratic Kosovo would be irreversibly damaged," he warned.

Albania’s representative, deplored the tragic events as contrary to building a democratic and multi-ethnic society, said that they were indicative not of a failure of the positive engagement there, but rather of the constant policies that kept alive parallel administrative and paramilitary structures, which fed ethnic isolation and drove new waves of ethnic cleansing, aimed at dividing Kosovo."

(SP)

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