Police have broken up a protest by ethnic Albanians against the blockade by ethnic Serbs of the main bridge in Mitrovica in northern Kosovo. The town has often seen tension between the two ethnic groups.
There were conflicting reports of just how the trouble in Mitrovica started on Sunday. The DPA news agency reports that several hundred ethnic-Albanians had tried to physically take down the barrier created by Serbs who live on the other side of the Ibar River.
Reuters said several hundred Abanians were simply protesting against the Serbs' closure of the bridge for the past three years, when some of them began lobbing rocks at Kosovo police officers. The news agency also cited one of its local reporters who said Polish special police units, who are part of a European Union mission, opened fire with rubber bullets to break up the demonstration. These were backed up by US soldiers from NATO's KFOR peacekeeping force in Kosovo.
The AFP news agency reported that local police had used tear gas to prevent the protesters from crossing over to the Serb side of town. Some of the demonstrators responded by setting on fire several vehicles, including two Kosovo police cars and two from the European Union rule of law mission, EULEX.
Barrier removed, then replaced
Sunday's clashes were the latest incident in a strange turn of events in the city in which ethnic Albanians live on the southern side of the Ibar River, while the Serbs live on the northern side.
On Wednesday, a barrier made of earth and concrete block, which was erected by Serbs to keep out Albanians in 2011, was bulldozed away. Just hours later ethnic Serbs installed a new barrier made up of a line of planted pots with small fir trees, something which the local Serb mayor described as a "peace park."
Many of the 40,000 ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo opposed a European Union-brokered deal reached last year meant to normalize ties between Serbia and its former southern province. The EU rewarded Serbia, which still doesn't recognize Kosovo's independence, by opening accession talks.
Kosovo, which unilaterally declared its independence in 2008, has been recognized by more than 100 countries, including most EU member states.
pfd/jm (Reuters, dpa, AFP)