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U.N. Turns Down Kosovo Serb Demands.

Associated Press

Sunday April 22 4:06 PM ET
By MERITA DHIMGJOKA, Associated Press Writer

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (AP) - NATO-led peacekeepers used armored personnel carriers and other vehicles on Sunday to remove three roadblocks set up by angry Serbs to protest taxes imposed recently by Kosovo's U.N. administration, but the protesters raised them again later.

The Serbs set up the barriers Saturday in the city of Kosovska Mitrovica to protest sales and excise taxes they said would drive up prices in northern Kosovo, which relies heavily on shipments from the rest of Serbia.

Serb protests began after U.N. administrators set up a new tax checkpoint a week ago on a road entering northern Kosovo, where the mostly ethnic Albanian province's remaining Serbs are concentrated.

The blockades have prevented tax collectors from reaching their posts for several days, and Serb media reported that a 62-year-old woman died after inhaling tear gas during a clash at a roadblock Thursday.

Peacekeepers removed three roadblocks Sunday evening ``in order to ensure freedom of movement,'' Maj. Antoine Bourret of the NATO-led KFOR force said by phone from Kosovska Mitrovica. U.N. spokesman Frank Benjaminson told The Associated Press the barriers were later restored.

Bourret said peacekeepers had received reports that a man was injured in one of two explosions during the operation and that it was believed the blasts were caused by stun grenades thrown by Serb protesters.

Serb news agencies said peacekeepers threw the grenades at protesters. The Beta news agency said one man was seriously injured, while Fonet, another news service, said a woman was also lightly injured.

Earlier Sunday, U.N. officials administering Kosovo rejected demands by ethnic Serbs and the Yugoslav government plans to collect taxes at the boundary with Serbia. They said the money is needed to support the province's budget.

``We are in charge of administering this place and we will not take any demands from anyone,'' U.N. spokesman Michael Keats said.

In addition to their fears about prices, Serbs in Kosovo also say the tax checkpoints suggest Kosovo is an independent state. U.N. officials say they intend to collect sales and excise taxes on goods entering Kosovo, not customs duties.

Kosovo remains a province of Serbia, the larger of two Yugoslav republics. But it has been run by the United Nations and NATO since June 1999, after the alliance's bombing of Yugoslavia forced out Serb authorities.

The NATO bombing ended former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's crackdown on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. Ethnic hostility remains intense, and a car bomb blast last week in Kosovo's capital, Pristina, killed one Serb and injured four others.

U.N. police officials said they had arrested an adult male suspect in the bombing Friday night. They did not release his name.

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