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Kosovar Serbs protest Kosovo's independence

Text by Clea CAULCUTT

Latest update : 2008-12-01

Kosovar Serbs took to the streets in Mitrovica today to protest against the imminent independence of Kosovo ahead of a UN Security Council meeting on the status of the Serbian province.

Over the river Ibar, a steel bridge reminds one of the growing gap between Serbs living north of the river and Albanians living south of the river. Today, Serbs in the town of Mitrovica are taking to the street to protest the talks on Wednesday at the Security Council over the independence of the Serbian province Kosovo.
At one end of the bridge, Serbians regularly gather in a café called the “Dolce Vita” with the intent of stopping Albanians from crossing the bridge, according to James Lyon, a senior Balkans expert at the International Crisis Group think-tank.
“There are two separates cities in Mitrovica, Serbs in the North and Albanians in the South. Though the Serbs officially retreated in 1999, the Serbs in Mitrovica very efficiently created parallel institutions. For instance, almost all the members of the Kosovar police service in the north are Serbian and work in direct relation with authorities in Belgrade,” Lyon says.
“If the Serbs wanted to, they could flip a switch tomorrow and not be part of Kosovo. Life for the Serbs would carry on as if nothing had happened,” Lyon says.
On Tuesday, Serbs march through the northern part of the town, where they have more freedom of movement, Oliver Ivanovic, a prominent leader of ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo, told FRANCE 24. The rally, organized by the Serb National Council is held under the motto, "No to the illegal EU mission circumventing UN resolution, No to independent Kosovo, a huge Yes to Kosovo as part of Serbia and Serbs as full-fledged citizens of Serbia".
Several thousand people have gathered in the Shumadia Square in town. Heavy police presence is reported at the site.
So far Belgrade has rejected the prospect of independence for Kosovo, saying the province is a historic Serbian heartland, even though it has an overwhelmingly ethnic Albanian population. Kosovo's Albanian leaders meanwhile say talks with Belgrade are pointless and have pledged to make a unilateral declaration of independence within weeks.
“The Serbs are still being intimidated”
In Mitrovica, Serbs are worried about the fate of those living south of the river Ibar if Kosovo breaks away from Serbia.  “Serbs in the enclaves are afraid, first of all for their life. They are not free to let their kids go to school without an escort. They have no power, no water, no jobs and today they are very concerned for their future. They fear their life will be made more miserable,” says Ivanovic.
Hundreds of Serbs disappeared in the years that followed the end of the war in 1995, according Marc Sémo, a journalist at French daily “Libération”. “Today, the killings have stopped but the Serbs are still being intimidated,” he says.
As independence looms, “the departure of Serbs accelerates,” according to Lyon, though Serbia remains attached to a land that is home to their Orthodox church and hundreds of monasteries. 
Albanians though cannot forget how Slobodan Milosevic started stripping Kosovo of its relative autonomy in the 1990’s. About 10,000 civilians, mostly Albanians, were killed during clashes against Serb forces which followed.
Little hope hanging on talks
Ivanovic has little hope for the demonstrations. “Everybody knows what the Albanians think, everybody knows what the Serbs think, these gatherings won’t change people’s minds and only serve to create expectations which are difficult to meet,” he says.
And he has little for the UN security talks. « There will be no debate, no discussion during the UN Council meeting. The troika will meet, present their reports. There will be a lot of comment but not much action,” says Ivanovic.
Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, who will address Wednesday's meeting, on Monday vowed to push for more talks with Albanian separatists to reach a compromise that would exclude Kosovo's independence.
Kosovo has been run by the UN since NATO bombed Serbia in 1999 to end a crackdown on separatist ethnic Albanians, and the province's Albanian majority has been impatient for independence ever since.
EU officials and experts believe that Kosovo's leaders will announce next month their intention to declare independence, and then break away by May in with the approval of its EU and US allies.
In Mitrovica, the last hope for Serbs hangs on Russian President Vladimir Putin – whose portrait has popped up all over the town – and on Russia’s opposition to the independence of Kosovo, says Sémo.

Date created : 2007-12-18