09 July 2007

Police raid offices of protest group after clashes leave two dead in Kosovo

Associated Press, Monday, February 12, 2007 6:25 AM


PRISTINA, Serbia-Police have raided the offices of a protest group after two people were killed and two were seriously injured in weekend clashes during a demonstration against a U.N. plan on the province's future, the force said Monday.


Officers searched offices of the Self-Determination group in several towns across Kosovo and arrested three people who tried to prevent the searches, as part of an investigation into Saturday's violent protest, said police spokesman Veton Elshani.


During the demonstration, U.N. riot police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at thousands of ethnic Albanians who had broken through a security cordon and tried to march toward a government building in Pristina, the provincial capital.


Some 3,000 protesters demonstrated against the U.N. plan on Kosovo's future status, which they say stops short of granting the province independence. Kosovo's ethnic Albanians demand full independence from Serbia, while the U.N. plan calls for internationally supervised self-rule.


Police said they seized computers, CDs, documents and computer equipment in the simultaneous searches on Sunday evening.


Meanwhile, funerals for the two people killed, Man Balaj, 30 and Arben Xheladini, 35, were to be held later Monday. No details were released on the cause of death and NATO-led peacekeepers said an investigation was being conducted to determine the circumstances of their deaths.


Kosovo's Prime Minister Agim Ceku on Saturday implied that the fault could lie with aggressive security at the protest, saying that "the death of two citizens is enough of an indication that could lead to the conclusion that there has been excessive use of force."


Two other people remained in serious condition after being injured in the clashes. About 70 protesters sought medical assistance, mainly for the effects of tear gas.


Ethnic Albanian leaders and Western diplomats called for calm on Monday, fearing further violence, while dozens of ethnic Albanians lit candles to pay tribute to the victims.


Kosovo has been run by the U.N. since mid-1999, when NATO launched an air war to halt a crackdown by Serb forces on ethnic Albanian separatists. Chief U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari presented a plan for the future status of the province 10 days ago, spelling out conditions for self-rule, including a flag, anthem, army, constitution and the right to apply for membership in international organizations. Kosovo's Serb minority would have a high degree of control over its own affairs.


But some ethnic Albanians, who insist on full independence, said it did not go far enough. Serbs, who consider Kosovo the heartland of their nation, rejected the plan as ceding too much to the ethnic Albanian majority. The minority has warned of secession in the north of the province, where most Serbs in the province now live, if the plan goes ahead.


The plan needs approval by the U.N. Security Council to come into force, and ethnic Albanian and Serbian officials are to discuss the proposal on Feb. 21.


Kosovo is one of the poorest regions in Europe, with a high unemployment rate and a young population.