Barricade removed, bridge remains closed to traffic

KFOR has welcomed the removal of a barricade built on the main bridge in Kosovska Mitrovica as a positive step that can be beneficial to reconciliation.

Source: Tanjug
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The NATO-led forces in Kosovo stated that hard work should be done to support dialogue and democratic discussions that lead would lead to stability of Kosovo.

The meaning of the desire to keep the bridge closed to the passage of vehicles, by means of building a park there, "is very symbolic and politically motivated," said a statement issued late on Wednesday.

KFOR "will continue to contribute to a safe environment on the bridge," it added.

The NATO mission in the province said that the barricades were removed "with the support of residents of North Mitrovica," without incident and in a peaceful manner, and that "the former barricade was replaced by a park."

"KFOR welcomes the decision to remove the physical barrier on the bridge 'Austerlitz'. Building a park on the site interferes with the freedom of movement of vehicles, but there are alternative routes and bridges in Mitrovica, as was already the case," the statement said.

During the morning hours on Wednesday, KFOR sent more troops to the scene to act as backup and monitor the situation, in terms of avoiding incidents of any kind, "because large groups of people gathered on the north and the south side out of curiosity."

The main bridge on the Ibar River connects the southern, Albanian, and the northern, mostly Serb part of the ethnically divided town.

"Peace park"

Northern Kosovska Mitrovica Mayor Goran Rakić said on Wednesday that he had "adopted the decision to build a peace park next to the bridge on the Ibar River because he is aware that the removal of the roadblock from the bridge is a disturbing piece of news for most Serbs in the city."

The decision to remove the roadblock from the bridge on the Ibar River between the Serb and the Albanian part of the city was adopted "after lengthy consultations and in constant coordination with the Serbian government, " Rakić said.

Together with Kosovo Office director Marko Đurić and mayors and heads of interim bodies in northern Kosovo, Rakić visited the bridge on Wednesday which is being guarded by members of the Kosovo Police Service, KFOR and Italian Carabinieri.

The mayor expressed his "hope that ethnic Albanians and the international community would be able to adequately value and appreciate the importance of the decision to remove the block from the bridge whereby Serbs symbolically offered a friendly hand to their Albanian neighbors."

Bridges are built worldwide in order to connect people but the bridge on the Ibar River has unfortunately become the symbol of separation and absence of normal peaceful coexistence among members of the Serb and ethnic Albanian communities, he said.

Rakić underscored that Serbs in Kosovo, as citizens of the country which is nowadays conducting negotiations for full EU membership, "cannot accept to continue living in fear any longer."

“Symbolically, the removal of the block and the construction of the peace park in its stead is a message to the whole world that Serbs from the area refuse to live in fear and that they are not afraid of anyone because they do not mean or do any evil to anyone,” Rakić said.

Concrete flower pots were placed at the main bridge on the Ibar River at the spot where the block once stood, and the bridge was thus opened for pedestrians, but it is still closed to traffic.

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