By Harry Tamrazian in Prague
A U.S.-led brigade of multinational peace-keeping troops in the east of Kosovo, which comprises an Armenian army platoon, is involved in efforts to end violence that erupted across the breakaway Serbian region on Wednesday.
The clashes between local Albanians and Serbs, the worst since NATO and the United Nations took control in 1999, are the first major test of the 34 Armenian servicemen who arrived in Kosovo a month ago, marking Armenia’s first-ever participation in a peace-keeping operation abroad. None of them was reportedly hurt in the ethnic violence that has already left 22 people dead.
At least three of them were reportedly killed in the towns of Urosevac and Gnjilane that are located in the area controlled by the Multinational Brigade East (MNB East) of KFOR, the NATO-led peace-keeping force in Kosovo.
“The soldiers of the Multinational Brigade East were involved in the events that transpired here yesterday,” Major Chris Cole, the spokesman for the U.S.-dominated unit told RFE/RL from Urosevac. “They performed their job superbly, exhibiting great professionalism.”
Cole declined to specifically comment on the Armenians’ participation, saying that he does not want to single out any of the national contingents making up MNB East. Those also include troops from Greece, Poland, Ukraine and Lithuania.
In Yerevan, meanwhile, Deputy Defense Minister Artur Aghabekian told RFE/RL that the section of eastern Kosovo patrolled by the Armenian platoon saw “unrest” but that no one was killed or seriously injured there. Aghabekian said there were casualties in a larger area controlled by MNB East’s Greek battalion into which the Armenian platoon was incorporated.
A separate statement issued by the Defense Ministry later in the day said a “crowd of demonstrators” tried to approach a Greek-Armenian checkpoint near the village of Kacanik on Wednesday. “The peace-keeping troops and local police succeeded in halting the crowd’s advance and as a result of negotiations events did not develop further in that area,” it said.
The violence was triggered in Kosovo’s ethnically divided northern town of Mitrovica where Albanians gathered Wednesday to vent their rage at Tuesday's drowning of three boys blamed on the local Serbs. Serb homes were in flames in several villages and Serbs had to be evacuated by KFOR troops, Reuters news agency reported.
NATO on Thursday rushed troop reinforcements to Kosovo to quell the clashes that have dealt a serious blow to chances of a political settlement of the last remaining ethnic dispute in former Yugoslavia. Kosovo has been run as a UN protectorate since NATO air strikes ended the Serbian government’s crackdown on the independence-minded Albanian majority.