Serbs, Muslims clash in Kosovo following basketball match

Three international peacekeepers and six locals were wounded in Kosovo's divided town of Mitrovica yesterday (12 September) after Serbia had lost a World Basketball Championship game in Istanbul the night before, according to officials.

Hundreds of people from the ethnic Albanian-dominated Muslim southern part of Mitrovica gathered at a bridge on the Ibar river, which separates the two communities, in order to celebrate Serbia's loss, which prevented them from reaching the final of the annual championships.

An exchange of stones and Molotov cocktails with Christian Serbs from the north then followed, forcing Kosovan police and EU security forces to close the bridge separating them and disperse the crowds with tear gas.

"KFOR strongly condemns the violent clashes in Mitrovica," Major General Erhard Buhler, who leads NATO KFOR peacekeepers in Kosovo, said in a statement following the clashes. "KFOR will not tolerate any violence in Kosovo and I ask the population in Kosovo to help that the troublemakers can be arrested," he added.

The violence highlighted continuing tensions in Mitrovica just days after Belgrade had supported a compromise United Nations resolution on Kosovo, agreeing to an EU-backed dialogue with Kosovo to promote cooperation between the divided communities (EURACTIV 10/09/10).

Turks and most Albanians share the Muslim religion. Kosovo is home to a sizeable Turkish minority and Turkey is a strong supporter of Kosovo's independence.

Early on Sunday, a French police officer serving with the European Union police and justice mission (EULEX) in Kosovo was shot in the leg. Karin Limdal, an EU spokeswoman, said the officer was not seriously wounded, adding: "We don't know where the bullet came from or the circumstances."

Serbia lost control over Kosovo, its former southern province, in 1999 after NATO bombing forced Serbia to end its crackdown on independence-seeking ethnic Albanians.

Kosovo, with its 90% ethnic Albanian majority, declared independence from Belgrade in 2008 following nine years of United Nations administration. Although the level of violence has subsided in recent years, violent ethnic strife, particularly in Kosovo's Serb-dominated north, has persisted.

(EURACTIV with Reuters.)

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