Reuters, June 20, 2005
Serbs and Albanians stone cars in north Kosovo town
MITROVICA, Serbia and Montenegro (Reuters) - Serbs and Albanians in the north Kosovo town of Mitrovica briefly clashed on Sunday as protesting Serbs blocked a main bridge for a seventh day, witnesses said.
Serbs lobbed stones at a car approaching from the direction of three tower blocks housing ethnic Albanians in the mainly Serb north of the town, breaking windows and forcing the car back.
A group of ethnic Albanians retaliated by stoning two Serb cars near the same tower blocks. It was not clear if anyone was injured.
U.N. officials in the town were not immediately available for comment but witnesses said around 500 Serbs had since gathered.
U.N. police intervened and closed the bridge as planned after one hour. "Things have calmed down now," said one witness.
It was the first serious incident since U.N. police on Monday opened the main bridge to civilian vehicles for the first time since the 1998-99 war and the division of the town at the river into mainly Serb and Albanian sides.
It was due to reopen for one hour in the afternoon under a plan to increase access until cars can cross non-stop from mid-July.
Serbs are reluctant to see ethnic Albanians return in large numbers to north Mitrovica, which they see as their last urban stronghold in a province where 90 percent of the 2 million people are ethnic Albanians.
Kosovo is governed by the United Nations but negotiations are due to being later this year on whether it becomes independent or remains nominally part of Serbia.
Up to 180,000 Serbs fled Kosovo after NATO carried out a 78-day bombing operation to drive out Serb forces accused of atrocities against Albanian civilians in fighting separatist rebels.
Mitrovica has since seen some of the worst violence. Clashes there in March last year sparked Kosovo-wide Albanian riots in which 19 people were killed and 800 homes of Serbs and other minorities destroyed.
NATO peacekeepers and U.N. police have relaxed security on the bridge over the past three months and handed control on June 6 to multi-ethnic units of the Kosovo police service.
A U.N. envoy began an assessment last week to determine whether Kosovo has made enough progress on security and minority rights for "final status" negotiations to begin, probably in September.