Reinforcements of NATO peacekeepers are arriving in Kosovo, but there is still sporadic violence and looting across the ethnically divided province. Ethnic Albanians have set Serb homes and churches on fire, and Serbian nationalists have retaliated by torching mosques. The violence started earlier this week in Mitrovice, when ethnic Albanians blamed Serbs for the drowning of two children.
British soldiers forming part of NATO's peacekeeping contingent are being deployed at strategic points to help secure what has become a tentative calm.
The pause in the violence came as NATO troops evacuated ethnic Serbs from their homes in the majority Albanian southern half of Kosovo. Behind them, their homes were torched and looted by crowds of Albanians, who burned what they could not carry away.
In one village, just south of the ethnically divided northern town of Mitrovice, looters from Kosovo's mostly Muslim Albanian community dragged the pigs of local Serb farmers into a fire, burning them alive. Others hitched dogs belonging to Serbs to their cars, dragging them until they collapsed in the road.
The displaced Serbs are now being sheltered in NATO military bases around Kosovo, in conditions the U.N. refugee agency said it viewed with extreme concern.
In Mitrovice itself, where the current rash of violence broke out on Wednesday, NATO forces shot dead a man they said was a sniper. Serbs said the man was an Albanian who had been firing on Serbs for several hours.
One other Serbian community, in the village of Caglavica near Kosovo's capital Pristina, was surrounded by a NATO ring of armored vehicles in an attempt to ward off attack. A U.N. spokesman said the people were afraid of what would happen when the NATO troops left.
Otherwise, he said, the situation remained tense, but had generally calmed down since earlier in the week, when at least 30 people were killed in clashes.
The current violence in the worst since 1999, when NATO forced the retreat of Serbian forces brutally suppressing an independence movement led by Kosovo's majority ethnic Albanians. Many Kosovo Serbs left at that time, and those who remained in the province have lived uneasily alongside Albanians ever since.