MITROVICA, Yugoslavia, Dec 16, 1999 -- (Reuters) U.N. staff switched on the festive lights of a seasonal fir tree in the center of a bridge dividing this Kosovo town on Wednesday, to cheers from Albanians at one end and jeers from Serbs at the other.
U.N. mission head in the flashpoint town Staffan de Mistura, turning on the electricity, insisted the "millennium tree" symbolized the effort to heal the ethnic divide in Kosovo, but the ceremony starkly illustrated how wide the rift remains.
De Mistura was feted by hundreds of children at the Albanian end of the barbed-wire strewn bridge, which is guarded by French peacekeeping troops, but beat a hasty retreat from the Serb end after briefly trying to speak to a hostile group of men there.
Chanting "Kosovo is Serbia", they jeered and let off firecrackers to drown out his words.
U.N. officials said they had not called the fir a "Christmas Tree" because of the presence in the town of Moslem Albanians as well as Orthodox Christian Serbs.
"It is for anyone who wants to look at it. It is not Serb, not Albanian," De Mistura said, calling it a "symbol of hope".
The lighting up of the tree also marked the completion of a new six mile (10 kilometer) power line in the area by U.N. authorities and French national power company Electricite de France.
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