In the worst violence Kosovo has seen since the end of the war, seven Albanians were killed and at least nine wounded during a night of violence that began Thursday when about 500 people rampaged through the streets, bursting into apartments, firing guns and throwing grenades.
The fierce fighting had subsided by daybreak Friday, but a tension hung over this divided city as angry crowds of Serbs and Albanians gathered on either side of a central bridge that separates their communities.
Peacekeeping forces ordered the crowds to stay off the streets from 8 p.m. until 5 a.m. as part of a curfew that was to last for the next three days.
The violence erupted just a day after a bus ambush killed two Serbs and wounded several others. U.N. police said they had no doubt that these latest attacks were in retaliation for the attack on the bus. They said Serbs were trying to force Albanians living among them out of the Serbian section of the town.
The bus attack led Serbs to complain that the French soldiers in KFOR, the NATO-led peacekeeping troops, were not doing enough to protect people. And that criticism only increased Friday as Serbs and Albanians accused each other of causing the violence, with each saying the peacekeeping forces were ineffective.
The dissatisfaction with French troops caused another spurt of violence in the middle of the day when a crowd of mostly young men threw stones and bottles at the troops when they appeared at one of two bridges that span the Ibar River, which runs through the heart of this industrial city 30 miles northwest of Kosovo's provincial capital, Pristina.
The French peacekeepers, who guard the two bridges to keep the groups apart to avoid violence, were forced to lob percussion grenades and tear gas to end the protest.
Four or five French soldiers were injured, including one with a broken arm.
Armed members of the Kosovo Protection Corps, made up of former ethnic Albanian rebels, later appeared and calmed the crowd. Many of the estimated 4,000 ethnic Albanians living on the Serb side fled to the Albanian district Thursday night and early Friday, said Paula Ghedini, spokeswoman for the refugee agency. The agency suspended operations in the Serb area and sent its three foreign staffers to the Albanian side.
In Thursday night's violence, a 13-year-old and her mother were among the wounded at a Moroccan military hospital on the Albanian side of the city. And a 16-year-old died of his wounds in the hospital overnight, said a colonel in charge of the troops.
"People were walking the streets with weapons, there were explosions. Then the crowd went berserk," said an American police officer, Jim Brackett, on duty outside an apartment building that was attacked. "They torched U.N. cars, they smashed one of ours. There were six burning cars on the street, a house burning down there," he said.
Police worked until 5 a.m. evacuating the most vulnerable Albanians as well as some international aid workers, Brackett said.
One of the earliest attacks during the night occurred at a Serbian cafe where an explosion wounded 14 ethnic Serbs.
In Belgrade, Serbia's state-run Tanjug news agency said the attacks on Serb cafes "revolted" the Serbs in Kosovska Mitrovica. Serbs and Albanians were shooting at each other, Tanjug said, citing local sources.
A Kosovo Serb representative, Jovica Jovanovic, said the attacks were part of "continued attempts by ethnic Albanian terrorists to cleanse Kosovo of Serbs."
"The attitude by the United Nations mission here only encourages more crime," Jovanovic said.
Despite the presence of NATO peacekeepers in Kosovo, violence is still common. Ethnic Albanians often stage revenge attacks against Serbs for the 18-month crackdown by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.
On Oct. 15, more than 100 people were injured in a two-hour melee in Kosovska Mitrovica, which includes the largest enclave of Serbs remaining in Kosovo. Ten days before, one Serb was killed and 26 other people, mostly French and U.N. police, were injured in an ethnic riot on the outskirts of town.