Violent protests on the Iber river bridge in Mitrovica

Violent protests on the Iber river bridge in Mitrovica

IBNA Special Report

Mitrovica, June 23, 2014/Independent Balkan News Agency

By Elton Tota

Hundreds of Albanians have protested on Sunday against the barricade installed by Serbs on the Iber river bridge in the city of Mitrovica.

The protest, which was going to be a quiet one, escalated by causing wounded people and significant material damages.

The situation got out of control when a group of protesters attempted to break police cordon in order to remove the so called “Peace Park” new barricade on the bridge.

Protesters, who were holding banners such as “We don’t want a park-we want a bridge” and “Freedom of movement” in their hands, threw stones and other strong objects toward police forces and put several of their vehicles on fire.

KFOR police also backed police in order to prevent any cross ethnic clashes and escalation of the violence.

Commander of KFOR forces, Salvatore Farina, called on local authorities in the south and north of Mitrovica and all the citizens to calm down and continue the dialogue in order to solve problems through meetings and talks.

As a result of the use of strong objects by protesters, there are so far 13 wounded members of Kosovo, 10 citizens and 3 journalists from local media.

Spokesman of the police of Kosovo, Avni Zahiti said that currently, the situation in the north is quiet and work is being done in order to prevent its escalation.

He also said that besides the damages mentioned above, protesters have also burned 4 official vehicles, while police of Kosovo has managed to arrest five people.

Rexhepi: We will remove the barricade if the international community doesn’t intervene

Departing minister of Interior, Bajram Rexhepi has said that the government of Kosovo is calling on international community to put pressure on Belgrade in order to remove the barricade in Mitrovica.

“We’re also coordinating with the international factor in Kosovo, Brussels and Washington in order to put pressure on Belgrade for the removal of that barricade. Otherwise, our institutions will end up by removing it”, said Rexhepi.

Reactions have come about the situation in Mitrovica by the departing government of Kosovo and president Atifete Jahjaga, inviting the citizens to show self containment.

Through a press statement, government of Kosovo said that it’s closely following the recent situation of the reinstallation of new barricades on Iber river bridge in Mitrovica and that it has contacted all relevant factors to solve this problem.

“The government of Kosovo assures the citizens that the new barricades on Iber river bridge will be soon removed and free movement will be guaranteed based on the laws and Constitution of the Republic of Kosovo and Brussels Agreement”, reads the government’s statement.

Meanwhile, on her part, president Jahjaga declared that the problem in Mitrovica cannot be solved with violence, but only through talks and the assistance of the international community.

“Every violent attempt to resolve the situation would escalate the situation and would prevent every process of restoring normality in the city of Mitrovica and in the northern communes of the Republic of Kosovo”, said Jahjaga among others.

Rakic is threatened: We know how to fight for freedom

Mayor of northern Mitrovica, Goran Rakic, who on Sunday evening has visited the so called “Peace Park” in the north of the main Iber bridge, has invited the mayor of southern Mitrovica, Agim Bahtiri to meet with him and talk about the way the place will look like once there’s trust and once Albanian children and Serb ones play together.

He also asked the mayor of southern Mitrovica to stop with provoking declarations, which like he said, “cause bigger divisions, cause hatred on one side and fear on the other and may seriously jeopardize the situation in the city”.

He said that “Mitrovica has paid a big price for freedom and will know how to defend it should the need arise”.

“Nobody must not and doesn’t dare play games with peace, which it’s very important in these moments”, said Rakic, who has reiterated the invitation for his colleagues from the south “to be stronger than those who threaten with violence and engage in talks about the future of the city”.

The barricade on the main bridge was the biggest one installed in July of 2011, as a sign of objection against the intervention of police of Kosovo to put border crossing points between Kosovo and Serbia under control.

The replacement of the old barricade with the new barricade called “Peace Park” sparked reactions by the Albanian local residents and representatives, but also of Kosovo’s institutions.

Serbia continues to refuse the independence of Kosovo, but it has been engaged in talks for the normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia with the brokerage of the European Union. Part of the agreements reached in these talks has also been the full restoration of the freedom of movement in the north. /ibna/