A company of U.S. infantry soldiers from Bosnia and Herzegovina is among
hundreds of NATO troops sent to Kosovo to counter outbreaks of ethnic violence.
The decision to deploy more troops to the U.N.-administered province of
Serbia-Montenegro came after several days of riots, including attacks on U.N.
police and international peacekeepers.
On Thursday afternoon, about 100 soldiers from the Minnesota National Guard's
34th Infantry Division and Italian carabinieri paramilitary police left Bosnia
for Kosovo, said Lt. Col. Maurizio De Giorgi, a NATO spokesman in Naples,
British military officials pledged a battalion of British troops from Bosnia
and the United Kingdom, about 750 soldiers, who could begin arriving by the
weekend, he added.
Meanwhile, violence that began Monday spread to several cities across Kosovo.
As of Thursday afternoon, 31 people had been killed and hundreds injured,
according to The Associated Press.
Among the injured were 35 Kosovo Force troops who were attempting to stem the
violence, said Lt. Col. James Moran, a KFOR spokesman, adding that none of the
injuries was life-threatening. The wounded soldiers were from France, Poland,
Denmark and Greece, he said.
While the situation had calmed significantly by Thursday, Moran said a
resurgence of violence was expected.
At a protest in Gjilane, where U.S. troops are based at Camp Monteith, one
man was killed and 30 others were injured, police said. Several cars, including
U.N. vehicles, were damaged and set on fire. Eight houses were set ablaze,
Some U.S. troops took fire and dodged grenades, bombs and bricks, Brig. Gen.
Rick Erlandson, the U.S. commander in Kosovo, said in a press statement.
"This was from the very people whose environment we help keep safe and
secure," he said. "The progress made here has been tarnished. It is my hope
that it has not been unalterably changed."
Troops will respond with force to stop lawbreakers, he said. He called on
local leaders to condemn the attacks and work toward peace.
In Mitrovica, police found the bodies of two children who drowned, the
apparent cause of riots in that city, said Tracy Becker, a U.N. police
spokeswoman. Another child is missing, she said.
On Thursday, police in Mitrovica pushed back crowds using tear gas, said
Becker, a police officer from North Carolina.
Becker called the violence "the worst since 1999." That was the year U.S.-led
peacekeepers occupied Kosovo following a 78-day air campaign that drove Serbian
forces from the province.
She said French soldiers moved into to help U.N. police, but more military
help is needed. Several officers were injured, including Becker, who was hit
with several rocks, she said as bomb blasts echoed in the distance.
Adm. Gregory Johnson, commander of NATO's southern forces, flew to Kosovo on
Thursday to assess the situation and meet with Harry Holkeri, a top U.N.
administrator, and Lt. Gen. Holger Kammerhoff, commander of KFOR, said Navy
Capt. Jeff Gradeck, Johnson's spokesman.
The deployment is similar to a quick reaction force known in NATO circles as
the "Over the Horizon" package. During several training exercises, NATO troops
from outside the Balkans deployed to bolster forces in Bosnia and Kosovo —
preparing for just this kind of emergency. This is the first time that the NATO
troops deployed from other countries to help in a real situation. The last
reinforcement exercise was in late August and September last year.
In this case, however, many of the reinforcements are deploying to Kosovo
from neighboring Bosnia, NATO officials said.
The National Guardsmen flew from Bosnia on two C-130 aircraft with weapons,
ammunition and riot control gear, said Maj. Jarrod Krull, a spokesman for the
Guard's 34th Infantry Division. The U.S. contingent in Kosovo is also under the
command of the 34th Infantry.
Another U.S. company was on a one-hour standby, but was not deployed
Thursday, Krull said. Because of a scheduled troops rotation, twice as many
U.S. troops are in Bosnia and the infantry deployment to Kosovo should not
affect the mission in Bosnia.
— Reporter Ivana Avramovic in Bosnia contributed to this report.
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