NATO on High Alert in Kosovo

KOSOVSKA MITROVICA, Serbia-Montenegro -- NATO-led peacekeepers in full riot gear erected barricades, set up checkpoints and parked armored personnel carriers at strategic locations Sunday to prevent unrest at the funerals for two ethnic Albanian boys whose drowning deaths sparked violence in Kosovo.

Thousands of people were expected to attend the funerals Sunday in the village of Cabra, 40 kilometers north of the capital, Pristina.

NATO-led troops set up checkpoints every 15 kilometers along the main road leading to the village -- and warned that people would be turned away.

Italian peacekeepers placed armored personnel carriers on a hill overlooking the tiny hamlet to supervise the funeral procession.

The deaths of the boys triggered days of rioting, looting and arson by ethnic Albanians against Serbs. The unrest left 28 dead, 600 injured and 3,600 homeless.

The United Nations, which has run the province since the end of the war in 1999, promised not to be deterred by the actions of a few in its efforts to bring about a democratic and multiethnic society.

"This was a setback," said Harri Holkeri, the chief UN administrator here. "But this is not the end."

The violence underscored the divisions polarizing Kosovo's mostly Muslim ethnic Albanians, who want independence, and Orthodox Christian Serbs, a minority in Kosovo, who consider the province their ancient homeland and want it to remain part of Serbia-Montenegro.

International condemnation of the violence induced local ethnic Albanian leaders to speak out against the turmoil and call for a halt to the rioting. Kosovo's government also set up a fund to repair the 110 homes and 16 churches destroyed by the ethnic Albanian mobs.

The unrest began Wednesday after the boys drowned in an incident blamed on the Serb minority in Cabra. The village is just outside Kosovska Mitrovica, the tense and ethnically divided city where the riots started.

Authorities overwhelmed by the rioting and lawlessness have been unable to investigate the incident and verify claims by a 13-year-old survivor, Fitim Veseli, that a group of Serbs with a dog chased the children into the Ibar River.

Divers were still searching for the body of Fitim's 9-year-old brother, Florim, who has been missing since the incident.

The families of the two dead children collected their bodies at the morgue in Kosovska Mitrovica and took them to the local mosque for the ceremonial washing before burial. As the body bags were unzipped, Fali Deliu wept and placed a trembling hand on the forehead of his nephew, Egzon, 12.

"Unfortunately their deaths brought more deaths to Kosovo and this has made our pain greater," Deliu said. "Let's hope these are the last ones."

NATO bolstered its 18,500-member peacekeeping force with reinforcements from Austria, Britain, Denmark, Germany, France, Italy and the United States. The reinforced units fanned out throughout the province to stem the worst escalation here since the war.