Police killed in Kosovo

3 U.N.

Shootout among officers may have been sparked by quarrel over U.S. in Iraq

April 18, 2004|By AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

KOSOVSKA MITROVICA, Serbia-Montenegro - Three United Nations police officers - two Americans and a Jordanian - were killed yesterday in Kosovo during a shootout apparently sparked by a quarrel among the officers over the conflict in Iraq, U.N. officials and sources said.

U.N. police spokesman Neeraj Singh said 11 other officers had been injured in the mid-afternoon clash. All were stationed at a prison in Kosovska Mitrovica, he said.

"A shooting incident involving international police officers took place in the detention center in Kosovska Mitrovica," said Singh in Pristina, the capital of the U.N.-run Serbian province. "Three international officers, two from the United States and one from Jordan, have died, and another 11 have been injured. Some are in serious condition."

Singh said the incident took place as the American officers, two Turks and one Austrian were finishing their induction training and leaving the detention center.

"They were leaving in three vehicles, and the convoy was fired upon by at least one out of five Jordanians that were on guard. The Jordanian attacker was killed as well as two American female officers in an exchange of fire," Singh said.

The other four Jordanian guards were being questioned by investigators, Singh said. He said police believed that there was no contact between the victims before the shooting.

But an unidentified U.S. officer described the incident as a clash over the U.S. role in Iraq.

"Everything started when the Middle Eastern guys told the American police officers that the U.S. has occupied Iraq like every other country," the officer said. "The Americans were [angered] by these accusations.

"Suddenly one Jordanian started shooting."

Other sources close to the U.N. mission said the incident was the result of a dispute between Middle Eastern and U.S. officers serving in the same international force.

More than 3,000 international police serve as part of the U.N. mission in the province and are responsible for maintaining law and order.

Mission head Harri Holkeri expressed grief over the killings.

"I am deeply shocked and dismayed at the unfortunate death of dedicated professionals who have come such a great distance to help Kosovo on its road to the future," Holkeri said.

Kosovo has been a U.N. protectorate since 1999, when NATO jets bombed Serbian forces to end a crackdown on the province's separatist ethnic Albanian majority. A NATO-led peacekeeping force also has nearly 20,000 peacekeepers in the province, which remains deeply divided.

Yesterday's shootings bring to five the number of deaths of U.N. police officers while on duty in Kosovo.

Last month, on the eve of the fifth anniversary of NATO's bombing campaign against Serbia, a U.N. officer from Ghana was killed, along with a local colleague, in a shootout with unknown gunmen.

In August, a policeman from India was fatally shot in northern Kosovo.

Kosovska Mitrovica is a powder-keg town rife with tension after rioting March 17 that spiraled into province-wide violence in which 19 people were killed and more than 900 others injured.

Reports that Serbs had killed three ethnic Albanian children by pushing them into a river in town triggered angry Albanian mobs and attacks on Serbs.

In three days of unrest - the worst the province had seen since it came under U.N. and NATO control in 1999 - 30 Orthodox churches were destroyed, and more than 3,600 Serbs and other non-Albanians were left homeless.

NATO rushed reinforcements to Kosovo, and the international community has since sought to bolster reconciliation and improve administration of the province.

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