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Kosovar Serbs Burn Albanian Shops In Flashpoint Town

MITROVICA, Kosovo (Reuters) -- Hundreds of Kosovar Serbs destroyed several Albanian shops in the flashpoint town of Mitrovica after a Serbian teenager was injured in a street fight.

Serbs gathered on the spot where the boy was hurt by two knife-wielding Albanian teenagers, setting several shops on fire and destroying cars with Kosovar license plates.

Besim Hoti, a Kosovar police spokesman in Mitrovica, said no one was injured in the incidents that followed the fight. The quarrel occurred in Bosnjacka Mahala, an isolated, mainly ethnic-Albanian community that sits on the Serbian side of the divided city of Mitrovica.

NATO peacekeepers stepped up their presence in the area. Witnesses said that armored vehicles blocked traffic across the two bridges over the Ibar River dividing the Serbian-held north and the Albanian-held south of Mitrovica. Helicopters were also seen flying overhead.

"We don't know what was the cause of the fight," Hoti said, adding that two Albanian teenagers had been arrested while a Serb was taken to a hospital.

Tensions remain high between the ethnic-Albanian majority and Serbian minority since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in February, nine years after a NATO bombing campaign halted the killings of civilians.

The Serbian minority of some 120,000 people among 2 million Albanians rejects Kosovo's secession from Serbia.

Some 20,000 Serbs live in north Mitrovica. They refuse to deal with Kosovar institutions and see Belgrade as their capital.