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Kosovo Serbs count on Kremlin 'saviour'

Latest update : 2008-02-25

With Russia backing Serbia and the West supporting the independence of Kosovo, memories of the cold war abound... but for the moment, the bridge of Mitrovica is not a new Berlin wall. FRANCE 24 correspondent Cyril Vanier reports from Mitrovica.

In this ethnically-divided northern Kosovo town Serbs see the Kremlin as their saviour, everybody wants to believe that the situation will change and everyone predicts violence.
   
On Saturday, as on every day since the proclamation of independence of Kosovo one week ago, at 12:44 pm (1144 GMT) there is a protest in Mitrovica.
   
It is to say that "it is not over yet," and that the UN Security Council resolution 1244 has been "violated." They maintain the resolution which ended the 1998-1999 conflict in Kosovo, by granting the province "substantial autonomy," affirmed Belgrade's sovereignty over the territory.
   
Mitrovica, where there are 80,000 Albanians in the south of the city and 20,000 Serbs in the north, has become a symbol of Kosovo's ethnic tensions.
   
Violent protests by the Serb minority forced the European Union to withdraw its staff from the city on Saturday, although except for three firecrackers thrown at Kosovo and UN police, the latest demonstration passed off peacefully.
   
Saturday's protest featured a wreath of flowers with the inscription "Thanks to Russia," testament to the importance of statements of Russian leaders to Kosovo Serbs.
   
"You have heard what Putin and Rogozin said! There could be an escalation. Russia will maybe send its troops. That is our only wish and it will not let us down," said Sava Mirkovic, a 70-year-old Kosovo Serb.
   
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday described Kosovo's independence as a "terrible precedent" that would come back to hit the West "in the face" and would have "unforeseeable consequences."
   
And Russia's newly-appointed representative to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, warned the same day that Moscow had the right to "use force" if NATO or the EU breached UN resolutions over Kosovo.
   
"We feel good hearing that. I hope that Russia will annul the declaration of independence and if it is necessary will use military means. If it is necessary we will fight. Russians should send aircraft," said 30-year-old unemployed Danilo Dimovic.
   
Serbs in Mitrovica say they realise that Belgrade is "too weak to fight alone against all," explained a young man who did not want to reveal his name.
   
To "get the land back," they expect Kosovo to serve as a pretext to a Cold War-type of conflict between Russia and the West.
   
"Only a conflict between the West and Russia will enable us to fight against the independence of Kosovo," said Rados Petrovica, a student leader.
   
Momcilo Arlov, one of the organisers of the protest, said "Russia will act. In a way they will use us, they want to set themselves up as a great power and will use Kosovo to fight against the United States."
   
Many dream to see Russian troops in the northern part of Kosovo, populated mostly by Serbs, and say they are ready to fight.
   
And while many hope for a peaceful solution and do not want a war, nearly everyone predicts there will be violence in the short or medium term.
   
Rocks and a bomb have been thrown at a court building in Mitrovica, and nearby border posts have been destroyed.
   
Many believe the likely trigger for a conflict will be Pristina trying to impose the laws of independent Kosovo in Serb-populated areas and when the EU mission, tasked to help the new independent state, is deployed as previewed.
   
"If Kosovars want to impose their laws we will fight. If the EU mission wants to deploy itself we will burn it down," Dimovic said.
   
The EU staff in the northern city have been preparing for the deployment for the 2,000-strong EU police-judicial mission in Kosovo.
   
"Serbia has given a try to dialogue but nobody wanted to take part. They (the West) reinforce the position of radical (nationalists). I fear Belgrade sending extremists to spark violence," said Arlov.

Date created : 2008-02-24

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