Two people died overnight of injuries sustained in clashes in Kosovo on Saturday between police and ethnic Albanian protesters, UN police said.
They were among four people seriously wounded when United Nations and Kosovo police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse hundreds of Albanians protesting a UN plan they say falls short of full independence for the Serbian province.
Police opened fire when protesters tried to break through a barricade around parliament in the capital Pristina.
"It is totally regrettable that two lives were lost as a result of wanton breach of security at the government buildings," the head of UN police in Kosovo, Stephen Curtis, said in a statement yesterday.
"The demonstrators at the government buildings compelled the police to take defensive measures to restore order," he said.
The violence on Saturday underscored Western fears of mass unrest if a decision on the Albanian majority's demand for independence does not come soon. Fifteen people were arrested.
A UN plan unveiled this month would, if adopted by the UN Security Council, set the territory on the path to statehood, eight years after NATO bombings drove out Serb forces and the United Nations took control.
But some among Kosovo's 90-percent ethnic Albanian majority are angry at the plan's provisions for a powerful European overseer and self-government for the 100,000 remaining Serbs.
The protesters called for an independence referendum and rejected talks with Serbia, which in 1998-99 fought a two-year war with Albanian rebels.
Serbia opposes the amputation of its medieval heartland, but the Albanians living there reject any return to Serb rule and are impatient to end eight years of UN-imposed limbo.
Washington and the European Union back the blueprint drafted by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari.
UN veto holder Russia, however, repeated on Saturday that it would only back a solution that was also acceptable to fellow-Orthodox nation Serbia.
"If we see that one of the parties is not happy with the proposed solution, we should not support that decision," Russian President Vladimir Putin said at a conference in Munich.
Ahtisaari has invited Serbia and the Kosovo Albanians to a final round of talks in Vienna from February 21 and hopes to present the plan to the UN Security Council in late March.
The West has already delayed the process twice to avoid radicalizing Serbia. Ahtisaari said on Friday he saw no chance of the two sides agreeing, "even if I negotiated all my life".
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer warned against security gaps in Kosovo during a sensitive transfer of policing tasks this year.
The United Nations has been reducing its UNMIK police force in Kosovo which is due to be replaced later this year by EU police. Several NATO nations also want to start winding down the alliance's separate 16,000-plus peace force there.
"It is important that under all circumstances there should be an adequate police force, be it UNMIK or part of the EU mission," de Hoop Scheffer told a small group of reporters on the margins of a security conference in Munich.
"It is important we don't see gaps. Because if there were gaps, that would immediately have consequences for KFOR," he said of the NATO Kosovo Force (KFOR).
Source: China Daily/Agencies