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Tuesday, 22 February, 2000, 13:53 GMT
Mitrovica: Symbol of Kosovo's division

Mitrovica bridge
K-For on the bridge separating Serbs and Albanians

Mitrovica is a town cut in two, divided by the very feature around which the town was founded, the Ibar river.

Kosovo: Special Report
The Serbs' northern enclave was saved from ethnic Albanian vengeance in the summer of 1999 when K-For peacekeepers put checkpoints on bridges across the Ibar to curb looting and arson attacks.

Serbs and KFor Serbs say K-For has let them down
During the earlier Nato bombardment, Serb paramilitaries had manned their own checkpoints, refusing Albanians passage to the north and driving out many who had refused to leave their homes there.

The Ibar is now almost a northern frontier for Kosovo, a border for Serbs to hold and for Albanians to oppose under the banner of uniting Mitrovica.

Last stand

Fewer than 1,000 Albanians still live in the northern sector of a city among about 10,000 Serbs.

In 1998, there were around 95,000 Albanians and 9,500 Serbs in the town. The ethnic mix north of the river used to be about half Serb and half Albanian.

Ethnic Albanians protest in Mortovica Kosovo Albanians want to unite the town
Now the Serbs even refuse Albanians use of Mitrovica's hospital, which is in their part of town.

The Nato-led peacekeepers, who came to Kosovo to restore multi-ethnic harmony in this poisonous atmosphere, have ended up policing the de facto border.

Click here for a map of the town

Serbs see Mitrovica as their last stand against Albanian control in northern Kosovo.

They say that the heirs of the Kosovo Liberation Army, under Nato's protection, have ethnically cleansed huge tracts of the territory of its Serb inhabitants.

Ethnic Albanians, meanwhile, accuse K-For of allowing Serbs to rampage through northern Mitrovica in a continuation of the ethnic cleansing seen in the first half of 1999.

Mining centre

The confrontation here is economic as well as ethnic.

Mitrovica: Backdrop for 1999 atrocities against Albanians Mitrovica: Backdrop for 1999 atrocities against Albanians
Mitrovica is home to about 70% of the former Yugoslavia's mining resources, with the sprawling Trepca mining complex nearby housing Europe's biggest lead and zinc mines.

Analysts say that if the breakaway territory does ultimately split from Yugoslavia both sides would be keen to take the Trepca prize.

The workforce is currently dominated by Serbs.

'Battle for the north'

Although French K-For troops control the area, there is little effective civilian administration and the two communities rely on the leadership of local strongmen.

A source close to Oliver Ivanovic, the self-styled head of the Serb National Council in Mitrovica, recently described the situation as the Serbs' battle for the north.

"From the bridge in Mitrovica to the border with Serbia... It is them or us, living together is not possible," the source said.

Meanwhile Nato and many moderate Albanians have accused Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic of trying to stir up the conflict, to prove the international community has failed to fulfil its remit of protecting all the people of Kosovo, whatever their ethnic origin.

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See also:
21 Feb 00 |  Europe
In pictures: K-For confrontation
04 Feb 00 |  Europe
Analysis: What went wrong?
13 Feb 00 |  Europe
Violence flares in Kosovo town
09 Feb 00 |  Europe
K-For 'stood back' in Mitrovica
12 Feb 00 |  Europe
US soldier shot in Kosovo
04 Feb 00 |  Europe
Families flee Kosovo violence

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