French troops intervened Wednesday when ethnic Albanians and Serbs clashed during a march between two bitterly divided neighborhoods in a northern Kosovo town.
Despite the tensions in Kosovska Mitrovica, a NATO spokesman insisted that the ethnic violence that has plagued the peacekeeping mission in Kosovo since it began more than three weeks ago is decreasing.
About 5,000 ethnic Albanians--accompanied by a large, well-armed force of French soldiers and police--marched across a bridge into the Serbian sector of the town. The ethnic Albanians flashed victory signs and chanted "Albania! Albania!" and other slogans in support of the Kosovo Liberation Army.
Serbs and ethnic Albanians threw stones at each other and burned flags, but more serious violence was avoided in the hourlong march. The French troops stood between the two sides, in some cases surrounding women to protect them.
The troops arrested six people during the march, but it was not known if they were Serbs or ethnic Albanians, NATO officials said.
Kosovska Mitrovica has come to symbolize Kosovo's ethnic divide: The city is in effect partitioned between ethnic Albanians on one side of the Ibar River, Serbs on the other, and a disputed bridge between them. NATO and the United Nations have been trying to broker talks between the two sides.
In past weeks, French peacekeepers have barred ethnic Albanians from carrying out marches across the bridge and from crossing to homes they have on the Serbian side. They evidently assented to Wednesday's march.
NATO has struggled to restrain returning ethnic Albanian refugees from taking revenge on Serbs. About 80,000 Serbs, fearing reprisal attacks, have fled the province since the alliance's air war on Yugoslavia ended.
Lt. Cmdr. Louis Garneau, the spokesman for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization peacekeeping force, condemned scattered acts of ethnic violence in Kosovo but said violence overall was easing.
* LIMITS TO AIR MIGHT: As shown in Iraq and Yugoslavia, air power alone cannot oust "rogue" leaders. A11