Saturday, July 14, 2007

Reuters: Kosovo police trade shots with "uniformed" gunmen

PRISTINA, July 14 (Reuters) - Police in the breakaway Serbian province of Kosovo were fired at on Saturday when they went to check reports from villagers that uniformed men with weapons had been spotted on a mountainside.

They fired back but no injuries were reported, police said.

Police and troops of the NATO-led peacekeeping mission were searching the area, in northwestern Kosovo near the village of Radisheve, well south of the internal border with Serbia proper. Local sources saw NATO helicopters overhead.

"Kosovo police received a call that some local people, while they were cutting wood, saw some armed men in uniform," police spokesman Besim Hoti told Reuters. "Police went to investigate and someone started shooting at them."

Local sources said the men were wearing Serbian police uniforms -- a distinctive blue camouflage. This could not be immediately confirmed. Rural Kosovo has seen a number of shooting incidents in the past years over illegal wood-felling by villagers.

Radisheve lies between ethnic Albanian and Serb municipalities in the tense north of Kosovo, one of the many areas where NATO's KFOR patrols maintain a close watch to prevent ethnic violence between the two communities.

Unease is growing among Kosovo's 90 percent Albanian majority over further delays in a U.N. plan, backed by the West, which would lead the province to independence under European Union supervision.

Russia, supporting Serbia's total refusal to consider independence, has blocked the process by threatening to use its U.N. Security Council veto. Serbia has ruled out any change to its borders but has no plan to reintegrate Kosovo's two million Albanians into the country's political life.

Kosovo has been run by the United Nations for the past eight years. In June 1999, Serb forces were forced to withdraw following 11 weeks of NATO bombing aimed at stopping their brutal crackdown on an Albanian guerrilla insurgency in which between 7,500 and 12,000 Albanian civilians were killed and 800,000 expelled.

(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; writing by Douglas Hamilton; editing by Richard Williams))

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