Opening of bridge in Kosovska Mitrovica postponed

Political tensions in north Kosovo have delayed the reopening of the renovated bridge that links the Albanian and Serb sides of the divided town of Mitrovica until May.

The reopening of the renovated bridge across the Ibar river has been postponed until May, partly because of the recent upsurge of tensions in the town, Mitrovica South municipality mayor Agim Bahtiri told BIRN.

A row erupted between Kosovo Albanians and Serbs after the local Serb authorities started building a two-metre-high concrete wall near the bridge at the end of last year.

“The problems caused by the wall affected the delays. We expect it to be opened in the first ten days of May,” Bahtiri told BIRN. Although the Serb authorities said it was a supporting wall for a riverside promenade, Pristina officials saw it as an attempt to prevent free movement and ordered the construction work to stop.

After a lengthy meeting between Kosovo Serb leaders and Pristina officials to defuse the tensions, the Serbs demolished the wall last month. Kosovo’s minister, Edita Tahiri, said that the process of preparing the bridge for reopening to vehicles and pedestrians was “in the final phase”. “It is true that there have been some delays due to negative developments… but they have definitely been overcome,” Tahiri told BIRN.

The renovation, agreed between Kosovo Albanians and Serbs at talks in Brussels, is being funded by the EU at a cost of more than 1.2 million euros. Tahiri said that according to the agreement, only the EU is authorised to reopen it.

“The Kosovo government is constantly asking that opening of the bridge be done as soon as possible and considers it a success of the Brussels dialogue,” she added.

The bridge has been at the centre of several ethnic clashes since 1999, when Kosovo was put under UN administration after the war. It was scheduled to be opened by January 20, but this was postponed.

It was again reported to be about to reopen last Friday at a ceremony attended by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, but this did not happen either. Mogherini did visit the bridge on Saturday and described it as “a symbol of the fractures, the wars and the pain marking the history of the Balkans in the last 25 years”.

But she said it could now be turned into to “a symbol of dialogue, reconciliation, hope”. The EU office in Kosovo did not respond to BIRN’s questions about the date of the bridge reopening.

By Perparim Isufi

(Balkan Insight, 09.03.2017)

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