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Feature 20 Jun 14

'Park' on Bridge Causes Confusion in Divided Mitrovica

Serbs and Albanians in divided Mitrovica in northern Kosovo are eyeing the new 'peace park' set on the main bridge of the town, wondering what it means for the future.

Valerie Hopkins, Edona Peci
BIRN
Mitrovica
 
             "Peace Park" in Mitrovica/ Photo: Valerie Hopkins  

Serbs and Albanians in Mitrovica are eyeing the new barricade that has gone up in town, replacing the huge concrete and rock structure cleared away suddenly this week.

While the old containers have been removed, cars still cannot cross the bridge because of a new “Peace Park” that Serbs have planted in the centre, composed largely of conifers in pots.

“Yesterday the barricade was removed and another was put up. This is not a Peace Park it is a Park of Division,” Emine Peci, an Albanian from the Kodra e Trimave [Hill of the Braves] quarter in the northern part of the town said.

Serbs in the town erected the barricade on the bridge three years ago in a protest against of Kosovo police and customs on the contested border with Serbia.

Mitrovica residents on both sides came to look at the changes on the bridge, as local Serbs laid sand and mulch with a view to planting flowers and erecting pots there.

The new barricade has caused uncertainty among Albanians who ask themselves whether they will be able to get to the northern side of town more easily once again.

Rushid Rushiti, came with several of his friends to gape at the as-yet unplanted mud pit.

“For five or six years we worked together now, having meetings, giving documents, and I crossed frequently,” Rushiti, 49, told BIRN. “Now I can cross the bridge, but to go further? I’m not sure.”

The Serbs who dominate the northern part of town believe it is their right to "mark" their territory however they wish.

"Do you watch Animal Planet? You can see that any animal knows how to mark his territory, and we can't even do that?” Dimitri a middle-aged Serb from the north told BIRN.

“This is a game being played by Serbia, not decided here. This is dictated by what Europe tells Serbia and Serbia then does here," he added.

If the barricade was removed totally, it would mean "a mass exodus of the people who live here”, he added.

It is still unclear who gave the order to remove the original concrete barricade, and who owns the machinery that was used to remove it.

North Mitrovica Mayor Goran Rakic told Kosovo's RTK2 that it was not his decision to remove the barricade, nor was it his decision to plant the “peace park.”

He described the decision to destroy the barricade as a “citizens' initiative”.

North Mitrovica Municipal Assembly leader Ksenija Bozovic said she was not informed about any plan to remove the barricade.

She said she believed it must have been organized and planned as the municipality of North Mitrovica does not have the equipment needed to remove all of the cement and stones

“I have lots of questions about this,” Bozovic told BIRN.

“Why did they do it at night, why did they have to do it now? People are scared, and there is not enough trust built between both sides yet. To say that this was a citizen initiative is wrong, because the people are not behind this,” she said.

But, the new barricade angered officials in Pristina.

Hashim Thaci, the outgoing prime minister decribed the transformed barricade as "a shameful act".

"This embarrassing and dangerous game, but above all illegal is unacceptable to the values of our democratic society and state", Thaci said in a press release issued on Thursday.

"Those that are responsible for these illegal actions will face the law sooner or later. Freedom of movement is a fundamental right and cannot be violated by anyone", he said.

Since the conflict in Kosovo ended in the late 1990s, the north of the country has been beyond the Kosovo government's control while Serbia has continued to finance local security, judicial, health and educational institutions.

Kosovo declared independence in 2008 but Serbia refuses to recognize it. However, both sides are now conducting an EU-facilitated dialogue aiming to "normalize" relations.

On April 19, 2013, authorities in Pristina and Belgrade adopted a draft agreement, which mainly concerned the position of Serbs in the north.

Under the agreement, an Association of Serbian Municipalities with broad powers is to be set up, including the four Serb-run northern municipalities of North Mitrovica, Leposavic, Zvecan and Zubin Potok.

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