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3/24/04 - VIOLENCE IN KOSOVO - 2004-03-25

Serious violence flared up recently in Kosovo. Some twenty-eight people were killed, and more than six hundred were wounded. Hundreds of Serbian homes and dozens of churches were destroyed. In Serbia, violent demonstrators set fire to two mosques before police restored order.

The fighting, the worst since 1999, occurred after the shooting of a Serbian youth in Caglavica on March 15th and the deaths of three ethnic Albanian youths, who drowned in a river in Mitrovica on March 16th. Rumors circulated blaming Serbs, who were accused of chasing the boys into the river. The United Nations Mission in Kosovo is investigating.

U.S. State Department deputy spokeman Adam Ereli called on Kosovo’s political leaders to urge their constituents to refrain from violence. “All parties,” he said, “have a responsibility to end violence as a means for settling political disputes.”

From the start, K-FOR, the NATO-led international force responsible for maintaining security in Kosovo, has worked to stabilize the situation. Over three-thousand troops from the U.S. and other NATO nations have joined the nearly eighteen-thousand troops already on the ground to ensure that the violence is contained.

In recent days, officials in Pristina and Belgrade have called for a return to calm. An investigation is underway to apprehend those responsible for the violence, and several people have been arrested. Kosovar leaders have pledged assistance to rebuild sites that were damaged during the violence. Mursel Ibrahimi of Mitrovica’s municipal assembly, said “the future of Kosovo belongs to those who forgive, not to those who hate.”

The time has come for the people of Kosovo to think carefully about what kind of future they want -- one filled with hatred and violence or one that accepts modern European standards and leads to integration with the rest of Europe.