News 18 Mar 13

Serbia Remembers Deadly Riots in Kosovo

On the ninth anniversary of the riots, Serbia’s premier asked the international community to punish the instigators and help Serbs who fled Kosovo to return to their homes.

Marija Ristic
BIRN
Belgrade

“I wish this never to happen again. Serbia with its wise policy needs to protect the interests of its people in Kosovo,” said Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic at a ceremony on Sunday evening to mark the anniversary of the deadly violence in March 2004.

“Serbia can never turn its back on Serbs in Kosovo,” Dacic said at the ceremony, which was entitled Crimes Without Punishment.

He added that it was clear that Serbs are still not protected in Kosovo and that they live in constant fear, without prospects for the future.

On March 17, 2004, hundreds of ethnic Albanian protestors clashed with Serbs and attacked their homes.

The incident was sparked by the drowning of three ethnic Albanian boys in the town of Kosovska Mitrovica and speculation in the media that they had been chased into the river by Serbs.

According to Serbian government data, 19 people were killed during the riots, 954 injured, more than 900 houses burned and 39 churches and monuments demolished. Around 4,000 Serbs left Kosovo after the violence.

The UN mission which administered Kosovo at the time estimated that about 60,000 ethnic Albanians took part in the riots. More than 100 NATO troops and UN police were injured, while 72 vehicles belonging to international forces were set on fire.

At a church service on Sunday, Serbian Patriarch Irinej echoed Dacic’s called for the Serbs to be allowed to go back to their homes.

“Our first and only condition [to continue the current EU-mediated Belgrade-Pristina talks] should be the return of all the Serbs that fled from Kosovo,” he said.

International courts in Pristina have prosecuted several people who demolished Serbian Orthodox  churches, handing down jail sentences ranging from 21 months to 16 years.

Serbs in northern Kosovo also marked the anniversary by unveiling plaques dedicated to two of the people who were killed during the violence in Kosovska Mitrovica, Jane Tucev and Borivoje Spasojevic.

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