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Violence Erupts Again In Divided Kosovo Town

The city of Mitrovica
MITROVICA, Kosovo (Reuters) -- Two explosions and violent protests rocked the flashpoint town of Mitrovica, destroying cars and damaging property in the latest bout of unrest triggered when a Serbian teenager was hurt in a fight.

Six people were injured by one of the blasts late on January 2. Police said the first explosion destroyed seven cars near a cafe bar in the Serbian-dominated part of Mitrovica.

Angry Serbs then set two Albanian shops alight, and as fire fighters rushed to put out the blazes, a second explosive device detonated.

"Three firemen and three other people were brought to hospital for treatment. Their condition is stable," said Marko Jaksic, the Serbian director of Mitrovica hospital.

Police gave no details as to the cause of the explosions, the second of which occurred in Bosnjacka Mahala, an isolated mainly ethnic-Albanian community that sits on the Serb side of the divided city of Mitrovica.

NATO troops and the European Union police (EULEX) stepped up their presence and armored vehicles were patrolling the area.

"Now, NATO and EULEX have taken the situation under control," said Besim Hoti, a Kosovar police spokesman in Mitrovica.

Ethnic tensions in Mitrovica remain high after a Serbian teenager was hurt by two knife-wielding Albanian teenagers on December 30, which prompted hundreds of Serbian protesters to burn down several Albanian shops and to damage cars with Kosovar license plates. The two Albanians assailants were arrested.

Mitrovica has been a flashpoint between the Albanian majority and Serbian minority since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in February 2008. Some 20,000 Serbs live in north Mitrovica but they refuse to deal with Kosovo institutions and see Serbia's Belgrade as their capital.

The Serbian minority in Kosovo of about 120,000 among 2 million Albanians rejects Kosovo's secession from Serbia, which occurred nine years after a NATO bombing campaign against a rump Yugoslavia halted the killing and expulsion of civilians from the region.