Page last updated at 18:33 GMT, Monday, 26 April 2010 19:33 UK

Kosovan Serbs' anger as mobile phone networks are cut

Mark Lowen
BBC News, Belgrade

Stock picture of mobile phone
Minority Serbs in Kosovo use mobiles provided by Serbian companies

Thousands of Serbs in Kosovo have protested after the Kosovan authorities dismantled two Serbian mobile phone networks operating in the territory.

The move comes as Pristina attempts to assert control over all Kosovo, including enclaves where the Serbian minority remains loyal to Belgrade.

Kosovo's telephone network mirrors the political row over its status.

The latest development has led to protests by thousands of people in Serb enclaves across Kosovo.

Kosovo has had its own mobile phone providers for several years. Since 2008, when it unilaterally declared independence from Serbia, management of the networks has passed from the UN to Kosovan authorities.

But the minority Serb population there still uses mobiles provided by Serbian companies, using a different prefix. Many still refuse to accept what they see as Kosovo's illegal secession.

Now the Kosovan government has dismantled two Serbian networks - state-run Telekom Srbija and the Serbian branch of the Norwegian firm Telenor, leading to protests in Kosovo's Serb enclaves.

Volatile situation

Authorities in Belgrade say the move is deliberately creating tensions, calling it a form of ethnic cleansing.

The Kosovan government spokesman has responded by telling the BBC that it was a justified act against illegally licensed firms.

Kosovan networks have offered connection to those affected, the spokesman said.

Since the dismantling began, two Kosovan antennas in the Serb-dominated North have been blown up with explosives in what appears to be an act of revenge. Pristina calls it a criminal act.

This all comes as the Kosovan government begins a renewed push to assert control over the whole of the territory, with a strategy of removing structures in the far north still loyal to Belgrade.

It has met with serious resistance, both among Kosovan Serbs and the Serbian government. A delicate calm remains in Kosovo, but this latest row shows how fragile the situation remains.

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