news 17 Jul 14

Demolition Threat Alarms North Kosovo Serbs

Kosovo minister's threat to send in bulldozers in to demolish newly erected monuments by both Albanians and Serbs in the divided town of Mitrovica has upset local Serbs.

BIRN, Radio KiM
KLA concrete construction in Suhodoll/Suvi Do
Photo: Behar Mustafa

Ksenija Bozovic, President of the local assembly in North Mitrovica, has accused Kosovo's Environment Minister, Dardan Gashi, of further raising tensions in the already tense north after Gashi on Tuesday threatened to demolish all newly erected monuments by both Kosovo Serbs and Albanians in Mitrovica.

"We may use the power of the state and the bulldozers in order to clean up those areas," Gashi said.

In the past couple of weeks, local Serbs and Albanians have marked out their respective territories in the north of Kosovo by erecting rival monuments named after their respective heroes.

Serbs have erected a "Tsar Lazar" square on the main bridge of the divided town of Mitrovica, named after a 14th-century ruler of Serbia who led the country into battle against invading Ottoman Turks in 1389.

Albanians have responded by erecting a concrete monument dedicated to the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, in the northern village of Suhodoll/Suvi Do.

They have also put up another monument, named after an Albanian hero of the Kosovo war, Adem Jashari, in the so-called Bosniak Mahala, one of the few multi-ethnic neighborhood in north Mitrovica.

Bozovic said Gashi's statement was inapropriate and did not help resolve the situation.

"Instead of going in the direction of easing tensions and putting pressure on the relevant factors to sit at the table and try resolve the issue through dialogue in Brussels, his statement has only raised tensions and led to further intimidation of the already frightened Serbs in northern Kosovo," Bozovic said on Wednesday.

Goran Rakic, mayor of North Mitrovica, called on the minister to peacefully solve the problem and not test the good will of people in the northern part of the town.

"You cannot advocate solutions by agreement and at the same time threaten with bulldozers - those are opposing things," Rakic said on Wednesday.

The main bridge over the Ibar river in Mitrovica separates what are now two municipalities: South Mitrovica, largely inhabited by Albanians, and North Mitrovica, where mostly Serbs live. For several years, a large barricade manned by local Serbs has prevented the free flow of traffic.

Last month, the barricade made of stone and sand was transformed into a “Peace Park”, but this week Serbs decided to construct a larger square on the site, named after Tsar Lazar.

Tensions in the northern divided town of Kosovo revived on June 22 when a protest organized by Albanians from the south sparked violence. Several people were injured and many vehicles burnt.

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

An April 2013 agreement between Kosovo and Serbia - which does not recognise Kosovo's independence - brought Serbs in northern Kosovo back under the overall authority of Kosovo institutions, with the offer of limited autonomy through an association of northern Serb municipalities.

Since then, Serbs in the region have participated in local and national elections held last November and in June.

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