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EU police repel angry Serbs as violence flares in Northern Kosovo

Violence flared in tense northern Kosovo when EU police forces fired tear gas at a group of angry Serbs trying to enter an ethnic Albanian area in the town of Kosovska Mitrovica.

Belgium KFOR peacekeepers patrol in northern, Serb-dominated part of ethnically divided town of Kosovska Mitrovica

Peacekeepers are on alert after the violence in Mitrovica

"Some 150 people protested and one French soldier was hit by a stone," sources among the international force KFOR told the DPA news agency.

"EU police units had to use tear gas to disperse protesters because they broke through a cordon of the Kosovo police," police spokesman Besim Hoti told AFP.

KFOR then blocked the main bridge that divides the city and dispersed the crowd demonstrating against the rebuilding of houses by ethnic Albanians in Mitrovica's Brdjani neighborhood.

Hoti could not confirm reports in the local media that shots had been fired at the scene.

"EU police were backed by KFOR (the NATO-led peacekeeping force), which is ready to act if it is necessary," he said.

On Monday morning local media reported that at least one Serb was wounded by gunfire in the Brdjani neighborhood. EULEX police fired tear gas on Saturday at the same site.

Later in the day, in two separate attacks, two hand grenades were thrown at international peacekeepers but no one was injured.

"We had a couple of incidents today in Mitrovica. One at Brdjani, one at the bridge and afterwards two hand grenade attacks - one against our police officers and another against KFOR," Christophe Lamfalussy, spokesman for the EU law-enforcing mission in Kosovo, EULEX, said.

KFOR took control of Brdjani on Monday, entering the area with tanks and heavy machinery.

Serbs protesting the return of ethnic Albanians

Burnt out houses in Mitrovica

Ethnic Albanians are trying to return and rebuild their homes

Kosovo's minority Serb population, which dominates the territory's northern section, started protests a week ago at Brdjani in order to prevent the rebuilding of houses belonging to ethnic Albanians ousted during the 1999 war.

Ethnic Albanians fled the area north of Mitrovica, which remains under the strong influence of Belgrade.

Kosovo Albanian leaders in Pristina declared independence from Serbia in February 2008, nine years after NATO drove Serbian security forces from the province to end bloodshed.

EULEX deployed late last year, after the United States and most EU nations recognized the new country, despite vehement opposition from Serbia which claims Kosovo as its own land.

The potential for violence remains high particularly in the north, the only sizeable Serb stronghold remaining in Kosovo. Last year, a Ukrainian policeman was killed in violent protests by ethnic Serbs.

The north Kosovo Serbs demand a ban on the return of ethnic Albanians, until the same opportunity is provided to Serbs in the southern, Albanian majority part of Mitrovica.

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