Opening of iconic Ibar Bridge to cars threatens to spark new crisis in north Kosovo

Opening of iconic Ibar Bridge to cars threatens to spark new crisis in north Kosovo
Kosovo Serb politicians argue that allowing motor traffic across the Ibar Bridge will destabilise the ethnically-divided city. / bne IntelliNews
By Valentina Dimitrievska in Skopje May 30, 2024

The Kosovan authorities’ announcement that the main city bridge in North Mitrovica will be opened for motor vehicle traffic was strongly criticised on May 30 by the main party of Serbs in Kosovo, the Serb List, which called it an “unnecessary, unacceptable and escalatory” move aimed at destabilising the situation on the ground.

In 2013, the city was divided into two municipalities - South Mitrovica and North Mitrovica, with the majority of ethnic Serbs residing in the latter. The bridge, which has become a symbol of the divided city, is currently open only to pedestrian traffic, although vehicles can move freely over other, less prominent, bridges across the Ibar in Mitrovica. 

The deputy commander of the Kosovo Police for the northern region, Veton Elshani, said on May 30 that the bridge on the Ibar River will soon be opened to motor traffic.

"I believe it's only a matter of time and method before the bridge is opened," Elshani commented, according to Kosovo-online.

He made the statement after in April, the Municipal Assembly of North Mitrovica passed a decision to allow vehicle traffic on the bridge over the Ibar. However, this announcement was met with strong opposition due to prevailing security concerns among citizens of North Mitrovica and representatives of the international community.

According to Serb List, the decision is a unilateral move that no Serb in North Mitrovica or elsewhere in Kosovo would support. The party argues that it would only serve to exacerbate tensions and create conditions for the continuation of ethnically motivated attacks on Serbs.

The Serb List said in a statement that traffic is currently flowing normally from the southern to the northern part of the divided city of Mitrovica through existing routes. It added that the Ibar bridge is a critical security point, where hundreds of inter-ethnic incidents and nearly a thousand violent incursions from the south to the north have occurred, saying that its opening at this point is concerning.

The Serb List has called upon KFOR, EULEX and EU representatives to intervene and prevent another crisis.

Special EU envoy Miroslav Lajcak said that the timing for opening the Ibar bridge is not appropriate, while KFOR said that the issue should be addressed through political dialogue.