Blasts raise tensions in Kosovo's north
It was a quick affair: the couple met in a restaurant and wed the next day. A Kosovo Serb man and an ethnic Albanian woman joined in marriage, unusual in war-torn Kosovo. Fifteen years later, they were an apparent target of a bombing in the ethnically split city of Mitrovica.
Slavoljub Masic, Nerxhivane Rrustolli and their children weren't injured in last week's hand grenade attack, one of about 20 in the city over the past two months that have alarmed both Serbs and Albanians. The latest blast came late Tuesday when an explosive was hurled on top of an ethnic Albanian house, damaging the roof but injuring no one.
Rrustolli, 36, called on the prime ministers of Kosovo and Serbia meeting Wednesday in Brussels for the second day of talks over security arrangements in Kosovo's north to look at the violence on the ground.
"They threw a bomb at children, at an inter-ethnic couple," she said.
The fifth round of talks between the leaders reportedly ended with progress. No details were made public and talks will resume March 4. Whatever agreement is reached, it will have a direct impact upon the lives of families like Masic. Kosovo officials say the attacks are aimed at derailing European Union-mediated talks.
Shattered glass from a window littered the front yard of the Masic compound. The explosion from two hand grenades left marks on the walls of the house. Nenad Masic, 7, peeked through the curtains of the glassless window frame.
"My youngest was outside playing a minute before the blast," Slavoljub Masic, 38, said. "I don't know who did it. But if I am the last Serb here, I will not move."
The Serb-dominated north is virtually under Serbia's control through parallel police forces and other institutions. Serbs there boycott Kosovo's authority and detest international peacekeepers. Serbia rejects Kosovo's 2008 secession and its former province's statehood.
The neighborhood where Masic and his family live, known as Bosniak Mahala, is the last multi-ethnic area in Mitrovica, a city that has been scarred by ethnic violence in the decade since the Kosovo war ended in 1999. Serb forces withdrew from Kosovo after NATO's 78-day air war, which stopped a brutal crackdown on separatist ethnic Albanians. Those that remained fled from vengeful ethnic Albanians and gathered in the northern part bordering Serbia.
The head of Kosovo's office dealing with the Serb-run north, said the violence on the ground happens whenever there is a breakthrough in sight.
"Every time there is tension on the ground and all the relevant factors that want to do something concrete about the north, they give up because of the tensions," Adrijana Hodzic said. Her office has also come under armed attack, but she maintains the two sides must seize the opportunity to strike a deal.
"This time I think everyone is determined to stop some acts and bring the north in order."
Echoing similar concerns, Halil Hakaj, 63, an ethnic Albanian neighbor of the Masic family, urged for rule of law to be established in the volatile north.
"We hope governance will be better, more rigorous and would find the criminals and lock them up, no matter which side they belong to," he said as he visited the Masic family and inspected the debris left over from the explosion.
"Someone wants to divide us. One night it's an Albanian, another it's a Serb. Just so we are not at ease."