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Europe

NATO Warns Kosovo Violence Could Spread

Recent violence in Mitrovica could spread across the newly independent state of Kosovo, the commander of French peacekeepers in NATO, General Michel Yakovleff, warned on Friday.

A checkpoint north of Mitrovica

Yakovleff: Soldiers will respond with force if necessary

For over a week now, the ethnically divided city of Mitrovica has seen violent incidents with people injured and cars and shops set alight. Tensions between Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority and Serb minority have been running high since the region declared independence from Serbia nearly a year ago.

"This is urban violence," said Yakovleff. "But it has political implications, meaning that it can mobilize people. That can lead to major conflict."

Yakovleff said his soldiers are prepared to put down any violence in the northern sector of Kosovo.

"Be aware of the strong determination of KFOR to respond, even brutally if necessary, to all forms of violence," he said.

The stabbing of a Serb sparked two explosions in Mitrovica on January 3. Seven Serb firefighters were injured in the second blast while trying to put out a fire at an Albanian-owned building.

The spike in violence has caused groups of Serbs and Albanians to organize 24-hour neighborhood vigils.

General stresses impartiality

Serbian President Boris Tadic has accused KFOR and the European Union's EULEX mission of failing to respond to the unrest. He urged the EU and the United Nations to reinforce security for the Serb minority.

Yakovleff said that KFOR is impartial and capable of dealing with offenders "both in the north and south of Mitrovica."

The city is divided with the north home to Serbs and the south populated mainly by ethnic Albanians.

Serbia strongly opposes Kosovo's independence, and Serbs living in the new state still see Belgrade in Serbia as their capital.

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