Rubber bullets to be banned in Kosovo after two demonstrators killed

The United Nations should shelve its policy on the use of rubber bullets and reconsider whether to authorize their use in peacekeeping missions, a U.N. prosecutor said Monday.

The recommendation came as part of an inquiry into the deaths of two ethnic Albanian demonstrators killed by rubber bullets fired from Romanian police officers serving with the U.N. in Kosovo.

The prosecutor's investigation found that the rubber bullets used during the Feb. 10 riot were 13 years past their expiry date. Manufacturers put a time limit on the use of rubber bullets as the rubber coating hardens in time, making the bullet lethal.

In Monday's report, U.N. Special Prosecutor Robert Dean suggested the world body should reassess its policy and consider whether to ban rubber bullet use for crowd control.

"A thorough review of whether to use rubber bullets on U.N. peacekeeping missions is warranted," Dean said in the report.

"In the event a decision is reached to continue with the use of rubber bullets, many aspects of rubber bullet usage should be considered," the report said.

The two demonstrators were killed during a protest by about 3,000 ethnic Albanians angry with a U.N. plan for Kosovo's future that they said fell short of their demands to grant the province full independence from Serbia. They broke through a police barricade in an attempt to reach the government building in Kosovo's capital, Pristina.

Both were struck in the head by rubber bullets.

The U.N. report said initial tests conducted by the manufacturers and commissioned by the U.N. in Kosovo indicated rubber bullets are "considerably more dangerous than anticipated."

The chief U.N. police commissioner and Kosovo's interior minister both resigned following the deaths. At the time, Dean said shootings appeared to be "unwarranted and unjustified" and that the two deaths "appear to have been unnecessary and avoidable."

Meanwhile, Romanian police officers left the U.N. mission in Kosovo despite the ongoing investigation into their role in the riot. The U.N. mission in Kosovo said it regretted their decision not to comply with the request of the U.N. headquarters for them to be available for the investigation, and appealed to Romania to cooperate in the probe.

The report also called for documenting instructions in order to avoid breakdowns in the chain of command.

Kosovo has been run by a U.N. mission since mid-1999, when NATO airstrikes halted Serb forces' crackdown on independence-seeking ethnic Albanians. Some 1,500 U.N. police officers and a 7,300-strong Kosovo police force are in charge of security.