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Kosovar Serbs Block Key Bridge On Way To Border

The bridge in Mitrovica has been a flashpoint in Kosovo
The bridge in Mitrovica has been a flashpoint in Kosovo
MITROVICA -- Serbs have blocked the main bridge connecting the southern (Albanian) and northern (Serb) parts of Kosovo one day before the deployment of Kosovar police and customs officials at two border crossings with Serbia, RFE/RL's Balkan Service reports.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in Pristina on September 15 that NATO-led KFOR peacekeepers will maintain security in the case of violence in the deployment, as they did in July after rioting Serbs prevented Kosovar officials from taking over the border crossings.
One Kosovar Albanian police officer was killed in those clashes, after which KFOR took control of the crossings.
Kosovar Serbs reject Kosovo's independence, and Belgrade has backed them in their attempts to prevent the Kosovo authorities from establishing control in the north.
Kosovar Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said in an RFE/RL interview on September 14 that law and order will be imposed in the north and "criminal structures" rooted out.
The bridge in Mitrovica -- which was rebuilt to link the town's separate ethnic communities after NATO's 11-week war in 1999 that drove Serbian forces out of Kosovo -- was closed after several piles of gravel were dumped on the Serbian side around midnight on September 14.
Another bridge -- at the eastern entrance to the Serbian part of Mitrovica -- was blocked earlier in the week, as was a road leading to the border crossings.
Several dozen Serbs gathered at the Mitrovica bridge on September 14 night, but later dispersed. No other incidents were reported.
Members of NATO's KFOR peacekeeping force -- and the EU's EULEX mission to maintain law and order -- patrolled the southern Albanian side today.
Rasmussen said last month's violence was "bad for the image of Kosovo, and a clear setback for the progress achieved."
He added: "It is the mandate of KFOR to maintain a safe and secure environment, which also implies that KFOR has to take action if this safe and secure environment is endangered."