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Thursday, 2 March, 2000, 17:08 GMT
Violence erupts at new Mitrovica bridge
K-For soldiers and ethnic Albanian in heavy rain
K-For soldiers check an ethnic Albanian's papers
Trouble has broken out at a new footbridge opened by Nato-led peacekeepers on Thursday in the divided Kosovo town of Mitrovica.

The K-For soldiers built the bridge over the river Ibar to allow ethnic Albanians to return to three high-rise apartment blocks in the Serb-dominated north of the town.

However stone-throwing Serbs forced back the first two Albanians who tried to cross.

Serbs were angry because Albanians are returning to their homes while Serb villages will soon be empty because of Albanian pressure

Oliver Ivanovic
The men retreated as they came under attack from a crowd of more than 100 Serbs, mainly women.

French and Canadian troops rushed to the area, but made no arrests.

K-For troops then strung barbed wire in front of the apartment blocks and took up guard positions.

Symbolic step

United Nations officials said they would not abandon plans to resettle up to 120 families who fled Serb vigilante attacks.

Forty-three families were due to return to their homes on Thursday, UN spokeswoman Kirsten Haupt said.

The UN regional administrator, Mario Morcone, said it would be an important symbolic step towards reuniting a town torn apart by ethnic violence.

K-For peacekeeper near barbed wire
Peacekeepers have struggled to contain the violence
"We want the Albanian families who lived in the three towers to live again in their flats, and we also want the Serbs who lived in two towers in front of this building to return," Mr Morcone told a news conference.

Serb community leader Oliver Ivanovic expressed regret at the incident.

But he said: "Serbs were angry because Albanians are returning to their homes while two Serb villages in the area will soon be empty because people have to move because of Albanian pressure."

He was due to meet the chief UN administrator, Bernard Kouchner, later in the day. Mr Kouchner was also due to have talks with K-For and UN officials, and other local leaders.

Russian soldier dies

Simmering tensions throughout the province have boiled over in recent days.

A Russian peacekeeper shot in Srbica on Tuesday has died of his injuries. The soldier, whose name was not released, was shot after attackers stole his gun.

On Wednesday, angry Serbs surrounded a platoon of US soldiers for six hours in a small village in eastern Kosovo, insisting that they hand over a Serb suspect detained in a weapons search.

The crowd eventually dispersed, and the soldiers left with the suspect.

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See also:

04 Feb 00 |  Europe
Analysis: What went wrong?
23 Feb 00 |  Europe
UN seeks Mitrovica solution
24 Jun 99 |  Europe
Mitrovica: A divided town
12 Nov 99 |  Europe
Q & A: Counting Kosovo's dead
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