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NATO Beefs Up Forces in Kosovo After 17 Die in Ethnic Riots

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 18, 2004 – Seventeen Kosovars have been killed in the worst outbreak of ethnic violence in that province since NATO forces arrived in 1999, NATO officials said.

A company of U.S. soldiers now assigned to the stabilization force in Bosnia is moving to Kosovo to beef up NATO forces in the area. Another two companies are standing by, said a NATO spokesman.

Six people were killed in Mitrovica, three in Lipljan, three in Caglavica, two in Urosevac, one in Pec, one in Gnjilane and one in the Kosovar capital of Pristina. The rioting reportedly began in Mitrovica, when ethnic Albanians gathered to protest the drowning of three ethnic Albanian boys Tuesday. A survivor said Serbs had chased the boys into the river.

Rioting quickly spread to other cities in Kosovo and to the Serb capital of Belgrade. News reports said more than 300 people were injured in the clashes.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer condemned the attacks and expressed concern for French peacekeepers in the country, some of whom were seriously injured in the rioting.

"A special duty also falls on the political leaders of all ethnic communities in Kosovo to stop the spiral of senseless violence, Scheffer said during a speech in Prague, Czech Republic. "I have called on all concerned, both in Belgrade and Pristina, to do the utmost to prevent further escalation. All ethnic communities must act with calm and restraint."

Army Brig. Gen. Rick Erlandson, commander of the Multinational Brigade East at Camp Bondsteel, called the rioting reprehensible. "My soldiers will immediately and forcefully stop anyone who violates the rule of law," Erlandson said in a statement. "Our actions have always been founded on the spirit of impartiality, and we will react to any group that stands out as they did yesterday."

Scheffer said only extremists can gain from continued violence.

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NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer

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