Serbs angry over the arrest of a Serb for illegal weapons possession clashed Tuesday with NATO peacekeepers in Kosovo, injuring 11 Americans, one Pole and a translator, the U.S. military said.
The independent Yugoslav news agency Beta said 14 Serbs were also hurt, including 10 who were struck by rubber bullets fired in an attempt to break up a Serbian crowd.
However, the U.S. military said it could not confirm the number of Serbs injured in the melee--reportedly involving shoving, clubs, dogs and rubber bullets--that began Tuesday in a mountain region near the Macedonian border.
At the Pentagon, spokesman Vic Warzinski, an Air Force lieutenant colonel, said the most serious injury to U.S. troops in the incident was a broken hand. A U.S. military spokesman in Kosovo, Capt. Russell Berg, said the other injuries were bruises and scrapes.
Warzinski said the confrontation lasted about eight hours before the crowd of Serbs who confronted a U.S. unit was dispersed and the U.S. and Polish troops left the scene.
According to a U.S. statement, the trouble started when American military police and Polish soldiers of the 18th Air Assault Battalion seized two hand grenades in a Serbian house in the village of Sevce, about 40 miles south of Pristina. Pristina is the capital of Kosovo, which is a province of Serbia, the dominant Yugoslav republic.
About 150 Serbs surrounded the house, the statement said, and refused to allow the troops to leave.
Beta said several thousand Serbs from four villages in southern Kosovo set up a barricade after peacekeepers detained a Serbian man in Sevce and took him to Camp Bondsteel, the main U.S. base in Kosovo.
According to the Beta report, Serbs from the villages of Gotovusa, Jazince, Sevce and Strpce massed near roadblocks set up by Polish troops serving in the American sector, demanding that the man be released.
U.S. troops later brought him back to the barricade in an attempt to ease the tension, saying he would be released in 48 hours under normal procedure, according to Beta.
Beta said, however, that several women attempted to wrest the man from the soldiers. The peacekeepers then released attack dogs to try to disperse the crowd. The villagers responded with clubs and dogs of their own, Beta said.
Beta said four Serbs and one peacekeeper were injured at Sevce and that 10 Serbs were injured by rubber bullets fired at the barricade.
“Reinforcement units were sent to assist in dispersing the crowd,” the U.S. statement said. “Currently, 11 U.S. soldiers, one Polish soldier and one translator have been treated for non-life-threatening injuries. The number of injured civilians has not been confirmed.”