KP announces the opening of the Ibar bridge, the EU: The issue must be resolved through dialogue

FOTO: KoSSev

The EU urges everyone to refrain from any provocative actions that could jeopardize the stability of the ground, the European Union said in response to KoSSev’s inquiries regarding the announcement of the possible opening of the main bridge on the Ibar in Mitrovica.

In a guest appearance on Teve1 last night, the deputy commander of the KP for the region north, Veton Elshani, announced that the main bridge on the Ibar will soon be opened. He revealed that he and his superiors are reviewing the way the bridge opening would be carried out.

„I believe that it is only a matter of time when this bridge will be opened and how it will be opened. We mentioned once that there is a possibility to open the bridge and install armored vehicles in a certain place, but we are discussing the way to do this with our superiors. I believe that there is no more room for concern for the citizens of the north of the country. The form of how it will be opened is a little different, but I believe that this bridge will open very soon,“ Elshani said.

EU: Refrain from provocative actions

The European Union, in its response to the KoSSev portal, recalled that the opening of the bridge in Mitrovica is the subject of not one, but two Brussels Agreements, which the parties, they pointed out, signed in 2015 and 2016 with their support.

Therefore, they believe that the parties for all decisions and negotiations related to the issue of the bridge must be resolved within the dialogue.

“The opening of the Mitrovica Bridge is a subject of two agreements reached by the Parties under the EU-facilitated Dialogue in 2015 and 2016. Despite EU’s facilitation efforts over the years, the bridge remains closed for traffic. As this is an issue pertaining to the EU-facilitated Dialogue, the negotiations and any decisions related to the Bridge need to take place under the Dialogue with the participation of the official delegations of both Kosovo and Serbia,” the EU told KoSSev.

The EU called on Serbia and Kosovo refrain from “provocative actions” that could jeopardise the stability on the ground and distract the parties from implementation of the Agreement on the Path to Normalisation of Relations.

“The EU continues to call the parties to implement all pending Dialogue agreements without delay, including the Agreement on the Bridge – and without any preconditions or linkages to unrelated issues. The EU remains ready to facilitate the talks. The EU also urges everyone to refrain from any provocative actions that could jeopardise the stability of the ground and distract the Parties from the implementation of the Agreement on the Path to Normalisation of Relations – which should be their main priority.”

The topic of opening the bridge was raised a year ago

This is the second announcement of the opening of the Ibar bridge in the last year.

At the end of April last year, just a few days after four Albanian mayors came to power in four municipalities in the north, via elections that were boycotted by the Serbs, the opening of the Ibar bridge was one of the first adopted decisions of the newly formed North Mitrovica Municipal Assembly.

The news triggered intense reactions. Belgrade reminded that this is an issue that is part of the Brussels dialogue, and Srpska Lista pointed out the possible consequences of the move. The international community did not welcome the news either, recalling that Pristina and this local self-government that the bridge on the Ibar is a political issue, that should be resolved in the competent manner.

They urged the parties not to take unilateral steps.

Just a few days after the decision was adopted by the MA, the now outgoing EU mediator in the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, Miroslav Lajčak, said from the Ibar Bridge in Mitrovica that the opening of the bridge must be resolved through Dialogue.

On the other hand, apart from the decision of the North Mitrovica Municipal Assembly, the topic of the opening of the bridge was more frequently represented in the media reporting in Albanian. Thus, Koha quoted Halit Barani who said that if the international community was ready, the bridge could be opened in an hour. However, he also stated that part of the international community excessively supports Serbian criminal gangs.

On the day of last year’s mayoral elections, in the section on the culture of this newspaper, a long lament over the unopened bridge was published, including quotes of several well-known Mitrovica residents from the south, and giving an Albanian historical view of „old Illyria“ – from Mitrovica to Leposavić, which they refer to as „Albanik“.

„There were many international figures who immediately after the war characterized it as ‘the most famous bridge in the world.’ Since it was built ‘who knows when’, it is a witness of historical reversals, horror towards Albanians, and this is where memories from the childhood and youth of the locals come flooding back. In a way, they revive the times when the bridge united, even if it was a kind of fragile community. Almost a quarter of a century ago, there was an episode when the bridge was called ‘Austerlitz’, which is a synonym for a bloody battle, that is, an agreement to narrow the bridge. Today, it is the bridge over the Ibar River that does not unite the city at all, or even bridges the enmities between the two nations. On Sunday, it also witnessed the elections in the north, a test for Serbs who could break away from the way of thinking that makes the bridge a symbol of division – but not only that.“

In the meantime, the popularity of this topic has died down.

„Revitalization“

The main bridge on the Ibar River, which is the link between the southern and northern parts of Mitrovica, was the scene of numerous inter-ethnic conflicts in the first post-war years in Kosovo.

It was one of the most heated points of separation between the two communities, which were then separated by international military and police forces, which are still guarding the bridge to date.

The bridge has been open to pedestrian traffic for years and is one of the five bridges over the Ibar River, which connects these two parts of the city.

It particularly came into public focus after the launch of the so-called of the Brussels process. The opening of the main bridge on the Ibar to traffic is part of the Brussels dialogue and commitment.

It has been partially closed to traffic since the end of 2015, and 16 months after the installation of the „Peace Park“.

Agreement on the so-called revitalization of the bridge was achieved in August 2015 and is part of the Brussels dialogue. Work on the bridge itself began in the middle of the same month. Although it was announced that the bridge would be fully open to traffic by January 20, 2017, this did not happen, and this bridge is still only used by pedestrians.

The opening of the bridge was postponed several times, while at the same time, new dates for its opening were announced on several occasions.

Since then there have been several initiatives to open this bridge, primarily coming from the southern side. The former mayor of South Mitrovica, Agim Bahtiri, now an official of Self-determination, announced in 2018 that the bridge would be opened, and that Shakira would perform at the opening. The last announcement about the opening of the bridge on the Ibar was made by Bahtiri at the beginning of 2020 with the indication that it will be opened in the same year, but without Shakira.

In previous years, the Serbian side opposed the opening of the bridge until the works on the improvement of the promenade in North Mitrovica were completed.

On the other hand, it was pointed out from Belgrade on several occasions that the opening of this bridge is a „dangerous matter“.

Some of the initiatives that de facto prevented the opening of the bridge in this last decade were sometimes bizarre, such as the pouring of soil over the concrete on the bridge and the planting of eastern hemlock trees, which the current member of the SNS in the Parliament of Serbia, the mayor at the time, Goran Rakić called a „Peace Park „; or placing ‘planters’, i.e. large concrete blocks over the bridge, followed by their removal and excavation of asphalt for the construction of „Knez Mihajlova“ in Mitrovica.



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