BERLIN, Nov 18 (Reuters) - A broadcaster said on Thursday that German intelligence knew in advance that ethnic Albanians in Kosovo were planning violence in March that Western officials have said took them by surprise.
The anti-Serb riots, the worst violence in the Serbian province since the 1999 Kosovo war, left 19 people dead and many injured. Hundreds of homes were set ablaze.
German broadcaster ZDF said intelligence services intercepted conversations three weeks before the clashes broke out in which an ethnic Albanian discussed with an accomplice preparations for attacks on minority Serbs.
Citing intelligence service documents and unidentified sources, it said the man was also a paid informant of Germany's foreign intelligence service (BND).
A BND spokeswoman declined comment on the report.
The United Nations and NATO, partners in a peace mission for the past five years since allied bombing drove Serb forces out, said at the time the scale, speed and intensity of the mid-March violence took them by surprise.
Western officials have said the rioting was clearly orchestrated and directed by Albanian extremists in the province, whose majority Albanians demand full independence from Serbia.
Thousands of ethnic Albanians attacked Serb enclaves and churches as well as NATO peacekeepers and U.N. police.
Serbs outside Kosovo responded with attacks on a mosque in the Serbian capital Belgrade and another in the southern town of Nis. Most ethnic Albanians in Kosovo are Muslims, while Serbs are Orthodox Christians.
ZDF said its reporters had spoken to the ethnic Albanian informant, who told them: "Similar trouble could break out again at any time. It just needs a spark. We are in a position ... to put 30,000 guerrilla fighters into action."
Kosovo, a landlocked Serbian province of two million people, has been under U.N. administration since June 1999 after an 11-week NATO bombing campaign to halt Serbian repression of ethnic Albanians.