Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
PRISTINA/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)– A tense calm returned Sunday, January 4, to Kosovo’s second largest and most ethnically devided town of Mitrovica, following clashes between Serbs and ethnic Albanians in which at least six people were injured.
Troops of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and European police increased patrols in and around Kosovo’s volatile northern town.
The EU police mission said in a statement that the latest deployment order was designed to “show its determination” to quell any violence in Kosovo.
Since late Friday, January 2, there were violent protests followed by two huge explosions that rocked Mitrovica, destroying cars and damaging properties. Police and fire fighters rushed to the scene as the first blast destroyed at least seven cars near a bar in the town’s Serb district. Security officials said Serbs then set two Albanian shops alight.
But as a fire brigade arrived to put out these blazes, a second explosive device apparently detonated, hampering efforts to secure the area, witnesses said. At least half a dozen people, including fire fighters, were reportedly injured.
The Western military alliance NATO and EU police stepped up their presence around Mitrovica, and armoured vehicles were seen patrolling the streets.
The latest clashes came after a Serb teenager was reportedly hurt by two knife-wielding Albanians on Tuesday, who were later detained. That incident prompted hundreds of Serbs to burn down several Albanian shops and to damage cars with Kosovo license plates.
Observers say the latest violence also reflects deep rooted divisions between the Serb minority of 120,000 people, and the two-million strong ethnic Albanian community of Kosovo.
Serbs are angry that Kosovo’s government declared the territory independent from neighboring Serbia, last year. Kosovo’s secession in February occurred nearly a decade after NATO bombings ended a Serbian military crackdown on independence supporting ethnic Albanians.
However many Serbian civilians have also been forced to flee, including Christians, following attacks by revenge seeking Albanian fighters against homes as well as Serbian Orthodox churches, monasteries and other Orthodox cemeteries, several rights groups have confirmed.
Friday’s fighting underscored Western concern that Mitrovica will become once again a flashpoint of ethnic fighting, and attacks against Western peacekeepers. The town was already the scene of deadly clashes in March between Serbs and international forces.
However Kosovo’s President, Fatmir Sejdiu condemned the latest violence and said Kosovo’s institutions will “not allow such acts to endanger” the country’s future. (Part of this BosNewsLife News story also airs on its affiliate network Voice of America (VOA). http://www.voanews.com. BosNewsLife NEWS WATCH is a regular look at key news developments impacting the Church and/or compassionate professionals)