The commander of peacekeeping troops in Kosovo on Saturday expressed fury over an ethnic Albanian attack on a NATO-protected Serbian convoy last week and said he had taken action against officers responsible.
Gen. Klaus Reinhardt of Germany, who took command of the NATO-led peacekeeping force three weeks ago, also appealed for Serbs still in Kosovo to stay and for others outside the Serbian province to return.
He said his troops would do everything possible to protect them, adding that one of his main goals was to build trust between the Serbian and majority Albanian communities in Kosovo.
“You should know that I was furious to see what happened,” Reinhardt said of the incident in the western town of Pec on Wednesday, when an estimated 1,500 ethnic Albanians attacked a NATO-protected convoy of Serbs leaving nearby Orahovac for Montenegro.
The convoy originally was to have consisted of four buses, but some Serbs insisted on bringing their cars, and Reinhardt said it had been a mistake not to create two convoys or increase the North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces guarding the group.
About 20 Serbian civilian cars that became separated from the main convoy made a wrong turn into the center of Pec, where they were stopped by a huge crowd in town for market day.
Eighteen Serbs were beaten, including some children who suffered serious injuries. The cars, including one belonging to the United Nations refugee agency, were burned, and the Serbs had to be rescued by Italian police who helped them to the safety of a police building.
“I was very happy to see how fast and how professionally our Italian friends reacted once the situation blew up,” Reinhardt said at his first news conference since taking over the peacekeeping force, known as KFOR.
“But everything else was not done according to my ideas, and I have taken some prompt consequences and, I tell you, I don’t believe that a thing like this will happen again,” he said.
Reinhardt declined to give details of any disciplinary actions but said: “Some of the measures I have taken I wouldn’t have liked to be exposed to if I were one of those people.”
Wednesday’s attack on the 155 Serbs traveling from Orahovac to Montenegro was the worst such incident involving a humanitarian convoy since NATO and the United Nations took control of Kosovo from Yugoslav authorities in June.
“What I detest so much is this lack of tolerance,” Reinhardt said. “Because, if you see those poor Serbs leaving the country with the rest of their stuff in the car, why attack them?
“We have to get some change in the mental process. As long as we don’t get this I cannot do enough--I only can tread water.”