Kosovo PM Condemns 'Flower Blockade' in Flashpoint Town
Kosovo's prime minister called on Thursday for the removal of a blockade of flower pots on a bridge linking ethnic Albanians and Serbs in the flashpoint town of Mitrovica.
The pots were placed across the bridge by Serbs from the northern part of the divided town a day earlier, replacing an already existing barricade of earth and concrete.
That barricade, erected by Serbs in 2011, came to symbolize the community's angry refusal to merge with the rest of Kosovo following its declaration of independence in 2008.
Prime Minister Hashim Thaci condemned what he called a "dangerous and illegal game" and said that "sooner or later" those responsible would face justice.
"Freedom of movement is a fundamental right and it cannot be violated by anyone. Therefore, I call local leaders of the Serb community to be reasonable and remove this barrier," he said in a statement.
Early on Wednesday, a bulldozer was brought in to shift the unsightly pile of earth and concrete blocks that lay across the main bridge over the Ibar river in Mitrovica.
The river separates the ethnic Albanians in the southern half of the town from ethnic Serbs in the north.
For a while, vehicle traffic moved freely across the bridge, but it was once again blocked in the afternoon when workers showed up to place a series of flower boxes containing small fir trees across the span.
The mayor of the Serbian part of the town, Goran Rakic, said the space on the bridge would eventually be turned into a "peace park".
Rakic said on Wednesday that the bridge would still be blocked to traffic, and only pedestrians would be able to cross the bridge.
"I did not make the decision on my own. Following consultations with Belgrade I spoke to the mayor of southern Mitrovica and it was decided to have a peace park on the bridge," he told Agence France Presse.
In April 2013, Serbia and Kosovo signed an EU-sponsored deal to normalize ties.
Many of the 40,000 ethnic Serbs of north Kosovo had strongly resisted the deal, refusing to recognize the government in Pristina and accusing Belgrade of betrayal.
But left with few options, they grudgingly took part in Kosovo parliamentary elections for the first time earlier this month.
Serbia still does not recognize Kosovo's independence but implicitly agreed to accept the Pristina government's authority over the territory in return for the opening of EU accession talks.
There are a total of 120,000 ethnic Serbs living throughout Kosovo, a country of 1.6 million, but most are scattered in small communities away from the border.
Kosovo's independence has been recognized by more than 100 countries, including the United States and most of the European Union's 28 member states.