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Friday October 20, 2000

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U.S. troops pelted in Bosnia

By The Associated Press

BRCKO, Bosnia-Herzegovina - Bosnian Serb students blocked U.S. peacekeepers from patrolling through this ethnically tense town and pelted their vehicles with eggs yesterday in a third day of protests demanding that Muslims leave.

More than 1,000 young Bosnian Serbs - high school and college students, most in their late teens - gathered in the center of town, chanting the name of indicted war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic and cursing Bosnian Muslims.

Protests began Tuesday after a group of Bosnian Serb students beat up a Bosnian Muslim student last week. Serb and Muslim students share high school buildings but attend classes in two shifts. After the beating, Muslims demanded better security and the Bosnian Serbs began agitating for separate schools.

A multinational unit of elite Bosnian riot police, commanded by the NATO-peacekeeping force, was sent into town yesterday after local police appeared to have lost control. The crowd shoved its way through a police cordon and entered the town hall to present demands to municipal authorities who later met to discuss how to resolve the situation.

"There will be no compromise over the demands," one of the Bosnian Serb students, Srebrenko Savic, told reporters. Police prevented several protesters from removing a Bosnian flag from the town hall.

U.S. troops from a NATO base on the edge of town manned roadblocks yesterday, checking vehicles entering Brcko for weapons and explosives. An American convoy of about a dozen Humvees was unable to pass through the streets because of the crowd.

The U.S. troops parked their vehicles, which were pelted with eggs and bananas.

Demonstrators on three previous days smashed Muslim-owned houses or businesses with stones.

Local police requested and received reinforcements from both parts of ethnically divided Bosnia. In addition, special units of NATO-led riot police made of Italian carabinieri, also arrived in Brcko.

"We condemn the acts of violence which have occurred in the past couple of days. We do expect that some arrests will occur," Douglas Coffman, spokesman for the U.N. police force that monitors and supervises the local police in Bosnia, said.

"These students should really go back to school and let their elected politicians try to resolve the problems," Coffman said.

Local residents said agitators from Bosnian Serb extremist parties exploited the tensions, urging students to expand their demands to include an end to the multiethnic character and administration of the town.

Brcko long has been considered one of the most serious potential flashpoints in Bosnia-Herzegovina since the Dayton peace agreement ended the country's 3 1/2 year ethnic war in 1995.

Bosnian Serbs overran the town during the war and expelled Muslim and Croat residents. The Dayton peace conference failed to resolve who would control the town.

Last year, the international overseers who effectively govern Bosnia decreed that Brcko would be under multiethnic administration. The deal angered both Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Muslims who insisted on exclusive control.