KFOR commander condemns ethnic clashes in northern Kosovo

BELGRADE, December 17 (Itar-Tass) -- KFOR Commander Klaus Reinhardt on Friday condemned attempts at destabilising the situation in the northern Kosovo town of Kosovska Mitrovica and called on both Serbs and ethnic Albanians to be more tolerant.

The town, which is divided by the Ibar River between warring Albanian and Serb communities, was the scene of fierce ethnic clashes on Thursday. Two U.S. policemen and several locals were wounded in a day of fighting.

Trouble stared when the Albanian Republican Party of Kosovo opened its new headquarters in the northern part of the town, mostly populated by Serbs, KFOR Press Secretary Roman Lavoa said on Friday. Its previous office was blown up by unidentified criminals a week ago.

The event aroused indignation among the Serbs, and several hundred protesters gathered near the headquarters. In order to ensure public order, two international police squads and a KFOR unit arrived at the site.

At the same time, ethnic Albanians tried to force their way through a guarded bridge across the river to support their compatriots. Besides, four explosions took place, one of them near a hospital in the northern part of the tity. A KFOR spokesman did not exclude that it could have been a shell launched in the southern part.

Kosovska Mitrovica is the most turbulent locality in the territory. Its northern part is populated by 15,000 Serbs and about 2,000 ethnic Albanians. The southern community consists of 40,000 Albanians, who driven out all Serbs and are demanding restoration of free traffic on a bridge across the Ibar River. International policemen and KFOR servicemen had to be placed on 24-hour duty at the bridge to prevent massacres.

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