CEOL
Peacekeepers set up bridge for Albanians in divided Kosovo town

KOSOVSKA MITROVICA, Yugoslavia, Mar 2, 2000 -- (AFP) French troops set up a footbridge Thursday over the river separating the predominantly Serbian and ethnic Albanian halves of Kosovska Mitrovica in hopes of easing the tense division of the flashpoint town.

The 36-meter (118-foot) temporary bridge was laid over the Ibar so ethnic Albanians could reach their small enclave in the mostly Serbian north of the town without having to cross Serb neighborhoods to the main bridges over the river, Lieutenant Josselin de Metz of the French contingent told AFP.

But three hours after the structure was in place, no Albanians had taken advantage of the opening.

De Metz said that for the time being, only about 120 people living in three buildings along the Ibar were permitted to use the footbridge.

The number will be increased gradually to encourage the return home of around 2,000 ethnic Albanians who fled the northern half of the city during an outbreak of community violence last month, said officials with the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo, KFOR.

The temporary bridge will be dismantled each evening by French army engineers while they build a permanent pedestrian overpass, which will take about three weeks, said another officer, Major Michel Lafite.

The two main bridges across the Ibar have been frequent flashpoints for clashes between the town's Serb and ethnic Albanian communities.




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