Kosovo Serbs replace barricade with flower pots

AP News
Posted: Jun 18, 2014 11:16 AM
Kosovo Serbs replace barricade with flower pots

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Kosovo Serbs used trucks and bulldozers early Wednesday to dismantle a roadblock in the tense city of Mitrovica that they put up almost three years ago to stop ethnic Albanians from extending authority over the Serb-run north. But shortly after, large flower pots were placed in the same spot to keep the bridge closed for traffic.

The development dealt a blow to hopes that relations between the majority ethnic Albanians and minority Serbs were improving. The overnight tearing down of the barricade was hailed by both Kosovo and international officials.

It wasn't immediately clear if the dismantling was met by resistance from Serb hardliners in the north, or if the flower pots were part of the original plan.

The hard-line mayor of Serb-run Mitrovica North, Goran Rakic told reporters he took the decision to build "a peace park" where the barrier stood.

"Bridges around the world are built to connect people, but this one has unfortunately in time become the symbol of division and inability of normal and peaceful coexistence between Serbs and Albanians," Rakic was quoted by local media to have said at the site.

The removal of the barricade followed meetings between Kosovo Serb leaders and international officials in Kosovo, including several meetings with the top NATO commander in Kosovo, Italian Maj. Gen. Salvatore Farina.

Serbia rejects Kosovo's 2008 secession but the EU has conditioned the country's eventual membership in the bloc on settling its dispute with Kosovo's ethnic Albanians.

Last month the mayors of four Serb municipalities in the north went for the first time to the headquarters of the force — known as KFOR — in the capital Pristina to meet Farina, who commands some 5,000 peacekeepers in Kosovo. Serbs in Kosovo consider NATO peacekeepers as aggressors and say the 1999 bombing campaign against Serbia paved the way for Kosovo's 2008 secession. The two sides have often clashed in Kosovo's north with injuries on both sides.

Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci welcomed the removal of the roadblock and pledged financial support for the Serb-dominated region that has stagnated amid wrangling for control between Belgrade and Pristina.


Zvezdan Djukanovic contributed from Mitrovica