United Nations police began returning to the Serb-dominated part of this divided town Wednesday after Serb leaders promised they would not be attacked, a U.N. spokesman said.
The international police force pulled out of Mitrovica on Monday after the worst violence since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia a month ago. Clashes with protesters armed with guns and hand grenades left one police officer dead and dozens injured.
The regional police commander for Mitrovica, David McLean, said police were returning "gradually" and setting up their operations and patrols on Wednesday. He said he expected to restore the mission "as quickly as possible."
Approximately 40 U.N. police officers will resume their duties alongside 80 members of the local police force in Mitrovica.
The police started returning after Serbs promised they would not come under attack, U.N. spokesman Alexander Ivanko said. Civilian staff members also will return soon, Ivanko said.
The U.N. had left NATO peacekeepers in charge of Mitrovica, reinforced by U.S. troops trained in riot control.
More than 60 U.N. and NATO forces and 70 Kosovo Serb protesters were wounded in Monday's clashes.
Under U.N. rule
Larry Rossin, the deputy U.N. administrator for Kosovo, accused Serbia of being complicit in the violence — a charge denied by Dusan Prorokovic, the senior Serbian government official in Belgrade who deals with Kosovo.
Milan Ivanovic, a hard-line Serb leader from Mitrovica, on Wednesday said the international forces were using violence to force the Serbs to accept Kosovo's independence.
That would fail, he said. "We will remain here. This is our homeland," Ivanovic said.
Kosovo has been under U.N. control since 1999, when NATO launched an air war to stop then-Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic's crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists. Ethnic Albanians make up the great majority of Kosovo's population.
Serbia says Kosovo's declaration of independence was illegal under international law.
The United States and its main EU allies have recognized Kosovo's statehood, but Belgrade has Russia's backing in its bid to reclaim the territory.
On Wednesday, two of Serbia's Balkan neighbors, Croatia and Hungary, recognized Kosovo independence. A third, Bulgaria, said it would establish diplomatic ties on Thursday.
Working on bilateral relations
Serbian President Boris Tadic said earlier this week such a move would have "immediate negative" consequences on bilateral relations. Serbia recalled its ambassadors to Croatia and Hungary on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Serbia recalled its ambassadors to Japan and Canada after those two countries recognized Kosovo.
The clashes in Mitrovica have drawn international condemnation and raised fears of instability in Kosovo.
Britain's U.N. ambassador John Sawers said that while most Serbs in Kosovo live peacefully "there seem to be those who are deliberately stoking trouble in the north of Kosovo because they seem to want to see violence."
Deadly grenade blast
The policeman who died of injuries suffered from a hand grenade thrown by a protester was identified as 25-year old Ihor Kynal of Ukraine. Larry Wilson, the top U.N. police official in Kosovo, said Kynal bled to death because the gunfire prevented authorities from evacuating him.
Ukraine's Interior Minister, Yuriy Lutsenko, called for an investigation into the clashes and said better coordination was needed with NATO peacekeepers and national police units serving in Kosovo.
Lutsenko was visiting injured officers in Kosovo on Wednesday.
The European Union has yet to deploy a mission in Kosovo's north, though an international agreement that opened the way for Kosovo to declare independence included the mission. Serb leaders have said they would block the EU-led mission from working in Serb-controlled areas.
The spokesman for the top EU official in Kosovo said Monday's violence would not affect its plans.
"EU plans have not changed and we are continuing to build our presences as foreseen," said Andy McGuffie. "Nothing has changed."