News 22 Jun 14

Protest Turns Violent in Divided Kosovo Town

Kosovo Albanians, angered over new barricades erected by Serbs on a main bridge in ethnically divided Mitrovica, clashed with police on Sunday.

Edona Peci

The protest against Serb barricades erected on Mitrovica’s main bridge turned violent as Kosovo Albanians threw stones and torched cars, prompting police to respond with tear gas.

Kosovo police, who were backed up by EU officers, said 13 officers and 21 protesters were injured in what began as a peaceful demonstration in the ethnically divided town.

Two journalists were also injured during the protest, BIRN's journalist Behar Mustafa and Kajtaz Gecaj from the daily newspaper Zeri.

The protest started at 3 p.m. and descended into violence less than a hour later.

Some protesters burned Serbian flags and shouted “KLA, KLA, KLA”, referring to the Kosovo Liberation Army, which waged an insurgency against Serbia during the late 1990s.

The several hundred protesters gathered in response to two barricades set up by Serbs during the weekend. Earlier in the week, Serbs initially removed a huge barricade made of sand and stones, but replaced it with sand and mulch which they called the “Peace Park”.

Mitrovica’s main bridge separates what are now two municipalities: South Mitrovica, largely inhabited by Albanians, and North Mitrovica, where mostly Serbs live.

Kosovo’s President, Atifete Jahjaga, called for calm in Mitrovica.

"Any attempt to find solutions by using violence will escalate the situation and will hinder any process of normalizing Mitrovica and the municipalities in the north of Kosovo,” Jahjaga said.

The protest and the events of the past week have underscored underlying tensions between Kosovo Albanians and Serbs that persist despite successful EU-facilitated talks, which have made strides in normalizing relations between Kosovo and Serbia.

The EU Foreign Affairs Representative, Catherine Ashton, also condemned the violence describing it as “unacceptable”.

“Solution needs to be found together with due respect to previous agreements, including on freedom of movement. Unilateral steps do not contribute to normalisation and lasting security”, Maja Kocijancic, Ashton’s spokesperson told BIRN.

An April 2013 agreement brought Serbs in northern Kosovo under the authority of Kosovo’s institutions, with limited autonomy through an association of municipalities.

Since then limited numbers of Serbs have participated in the local and national elections of November and June.

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