NATO Smashes Kosovo Roadblocks

NATO troops on Thursday smashed through three roadblocks set up by Serbs in Kosovo to protest tax collection checkpoints established by the United Nations, but Serbs said they erected new blockades nearby.

Serb media in Belgrade reported that a 62-year-old woman died en route to a hospital after inhaling tear gas thrown by NATO troops and that a man lost a hand when he picked up a stun grenade and tried to throw it back at peacekeepers. NATO officials said they could not confirm either casualty.

The roadblocks were destroyed "to re-establish freedom of movement for all people of Kosovo," said squadron leader Roy Brown, a spokesman for the peacekeepers.

Roadblocks were removed near the towns of Zvecan, Zupce and Loziste, French 1st Lt. Francis Megerlin said. He said they were hampering "freedom of movement and maneuvering" by the NATO-led peacekeepers and U.N. officials administering the province.

In Zupce, peacekeepers used tear gas to disperse stone-throwing crowds. In Zvecan, one Serb was detained.

NATO used several armored vehicles, two bulldozers and a truck to remove the blockades, Serb-language media in the northern industrial city of Kosovska Mitrovica reported.

After they were torn down, Serbs set off sirens that wailed through the Serb-held part of the ethnically divided city. The sirens were intended to summon residents to man the barricades.

Serb media reported new roadblocks were set up near where the others were dismantled, and traffic was at a standstill.

"We have to persevere," Serb leader Marko Jaksic told Belgrade radio station B-92. "We won't let them separate us from our state, Serbia."

Megerlin said any roadblocks would be removed. "They have the right to protest peacefully, but we will remove any roadblocks which hamper our operations," he said.

Serbs are incensed because the province's U.N. administrators set up a new tax collection checkpoint Sunday on a road into northern Kosovo, where the province's remaining Serbs are concentrated. The checkpoints are used to collect taxes on goods being shipped into the province.

Serbs charge the new checkpoint will drive up prices in the northern region of Kosovo, which relies heavily on shipments from Serbia proper. They also argue the checkpoints suggest Kosovo is an independent state — something they reject.

U.N. officials argue the tax revenue is needed to provide basic services and warn northern Kosovo could face shortages of food and other supplies if the roadblocks remain.

Kosovo is a province of Serbia — the larger of two republics that make up Yugoslavia — although most of its majority ethnic Albanian population wants independence. It has been run by the United Nations and NATO since June 1999, after the alliance's bombing of Yugoslavia forced out Serb authorities.

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