Monday, January 5, 2009

Security increased after Kosovo blasts

PRISTINA, Kosovo-Serbs set fire to two ethnic Albanian-owned shops in the tense town of Mitrovica on Saturday and six firefighters were injured by an explosion while fighting the blaze. NATO and the European Union responded by ordering more troops to the area of northern Kosovo. It was the second such deployment order this week regarding Mitrovica, and it highlighted the challenge that security forces face in preventing ethnic violence in the new country of Kosovo, where ethnic Albanians are a majority and Serbs a minority.

Kosovo's international observers hope to prevent such violence from escalating as the EU begins supervising police operations in Kosovo. French Brig. Gen. Michel Yakovleff, who supervises Mitrovica, said earlier this month that NATO's Kosovo force would not hesitate to act if the EU mission is challenged.

The EU police mission said in a statement Saturday that the latest deployment order was designed to "show its determination" to quell any violence in Kosovo. It began in Mitrovia early Saturday when a mob of angry Serbs gathered following an explosion that damaged eight cars there. The two shops were then set on fire, leading to another explosion. The causes of both blasts were being investigated, police said. President Fatmir Sejdiu condemned the violence and said Kosovo's institutions will "not allow such acts to endanger" the country's future.

Just days ago NATO sent troops to Mitrovica to end riots that followed the arrest of two ethnic Albanians suspected of stabbing a Serb man. Mitrovica has often been the scene of clashes between ethnic Albanians and Serbs. In a separate incident, Kosovo's police said Saturday they were searching for an unidentified gunmen who fired 11 rounds at a Serb's house in eastern Kosovo. Many Serbs bitterly reject Kosovo's declaration of independence, which was issued in February.

Some Albanians fear concessions made to Kosovo's Serbs, such as giving control over police, customs and justice matters, will lead to the country's split along ethnic lines. Serbs treat the EU mission with suspicion since most countries in the EU have recognized Kosovo as an independent state.

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