NATO's secretary-general warned Thursday the alliance will not tolerate violence in Kosovo after clashes between police and ethnic Albanians protesting a U.N. plan for the province left two dead.
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said the 16,000-strong peacekeeping force in Kosovo, known as KFOR, was prepared for developments in Kosovo and issued a stark warning to radicals against using violence.
"KFOR will not tolerate any form of violence," he said. "If there are people in Kosovo or wherever they come from and they think or might think wrongly that inciting violence would be the answer, they're wrong. KFOR will prove them wrong."
His visit to Kosovo follows a weekend demonstration of about 3,000 ethnic Albanians, who broke through a security cordon and tried to march toward a government building in the provincial capital, Pristina, while protesting that the U.N. plan failed to give Kosovo outright independence.
U.N. riot police fired rubber bullets and tear gas. Two ethnic Albanian men were killed by rubber bullet wounds to the head, while another two were seriously injured. Dozens were treated for the effects of tear gas.
De Hoop Scheffer met key ethnic Albanian leaders, U.N. officials and the NATO commander in Kosovo. He also planned to tour the ethnically divided northern town of Kosovska Mitrovica, where he will meet with Serbian mayors who have rejected the U.N. plan for Kosovo's future and warned of secession of the Serb-dominated north if the province is granted independence as demanded by the ethnic Albanian majority.
Serbia's new parliament voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to reject the U.N. proposal, which would grant internationally supervised statehood to the breakaway province, a move that diminished hopes for compromise between Serbian and ethnic Albanian officials at a final round of negotiations, to start next week in Vienna, Austria. It is also means that a resolution to the dispute over Kosovo's final status will probably have to be imposed by the U.N. Security Council.
"No partition people who would like to work for partition should realize that this is not the solution and this can never be the solution," he said.
Kosovo has been run by U.N. since mid-1999 when NATO's air war halted Serb forces' crackdown on independence-seeking ethnic Albanians and forced Belgrade to relinquish control over the province, reports AP.
The ethnic Albanian leadership has welcomed the U.N. proposal, but Serbia leaders have rejected it, insisting the province remain within its territory..
NATO has pledged to maintain its troop level in Kosovo while the talks continue.
"There will be no downsizing because this period which is important, which is sensitive, needs KFOR at full strength," de Hoop Scheffer said.