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Friday, September 10, 1999 Published at 16:29 GMT 17:29 UK

World: Europe

French troops attacked in Mitrovica

Ethnic Albanians have long demanded access to the Serbian part of Mitrovica

Some 300 Kosovo Albanians have attacked French K-For troops on a bridge separating Serbs and Albanians in the town of Mitrovica, the French news agency AFP reported.

Four explosions were heard on the bridge during the clashes, but the cause was not immediately known.

Kosovo: Special Report
Just before the violence erupted a demonstration leader, Visar Proja, told AFP: "The French are against us. They are protecting the Serbs."

The incident follows clashes on Thursday, when three people were shot after up to 1,000 ethnic Albanians tried to enter the Serbian quarter.

On Albanian was reported dead and nine others injured, including one who said he was shot by the French.

He was in hospital with chest injuries. K-For could not confirm the fatality.

Fifteen French soldiers and police were injured trying to separate the crowds in Thursday's incident.

[ image: The protests often come to a violent end]
The protests often come to a violent end
Of the 15 French injured, five soldiers were wounded by an exploding hand grenade, and the others by stones thrown by the two sides, a K-For spokesman said. None of the injuries were critical.

The trouble began earlier on Thursday when ethnic Albanian refugees tried to resettle in the northern part of the city.

They said that Serbs there set fire to the tents the refugees were using while their houses were being repaired.

On Thursday evening, hundreds of ethnic Albanian protesters gathered at the city's main bridge and tried to cross into the Serb quarters.

Most were stopped by a line of French K-For peacekeeping troops, but a small group managed to wade across the river and make it to the Serbian side.

Fear and rumours

Nato officers have long believed that Belgrade has been steadily sending members of some of the most feared Serb paramilitary groups to Mitrovica - a development they fear could put the international peace mission there in serious jeopardy.

[ image: French troops still guard the controversial crossing]
French troops still guard the controversial crossing
There have also been consistent rumours, widely believed on the Albanian side, that the Serbs have been stockpiling weapons in a warehouse, ready to be used in case of serious trouble.

Kosovska Mitrovica is split into Serb and Albanian sectors, divided by the Ibar River.

Hundreds of ethnic Albanians have demonstrated sporadically over the past two months, demanding the right to return to their homes in the Serb sector.

French peacekeepers patrolling the region have prevented most from doing so, fearing bloodshed.

Minority Serbs still in Kosovo blame the Kosovo Liberation Army for the rash of attacks on them since Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic accepted Western peace terms and pulled his troops out of the province after Nato bombing ended in June.

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