US & Serbian flags color opposite sides of Mitrovica as Kosovo votes to create army (PHOTO)
Peacekeepers from the NATO force KFOR rolled onto the bridge connecting the two halves of the divided city of Mitrovica in Kosovo on Thursday, as the breakaway region's MPs prepared to approve the creation of its own army.
The streets behind the peacekeepers' armed vehicles, on the Albanian-majority southern side of the city, were adorned with strings of overhanging American flags – the US being about the only major international player that backed the idea of a Kosovan army.
In response, Serbs in the north hung dozens of Serbian flags out of their apartment windows. Photos on social media and in Serbian news outlets show several buildings covered in the banners, with numerous windows, balconies and shop fronts displaying one.
While the Serbs' response appeared to be a people-driven display, especially when contrasted to the orderly rows of American flags on the other end of the bridge, Kosovan news outlets have been citing an unnamed official as claiming the flags were smuggled in from Serbia and distributed by a criminal gang.
On Friday, the parliament of Kosovo voted to create a 5,000-strong standing army, despite the opposition from Serbia (which has not recognized the breakaway region's unilateral declaration of independence), as well as the EU and NATO, whose secretary general called the decision ill-timed and harmful to the region's ambitions of integrating into Europe. The US embassy in Kosovo, however, supported the move.
Russia has warned that the creation of a Kosovan army is a flagrant violation of a UN Security Council resolution and could lead to a new armed conflict in the region. “International forces present in Kosovo, primarily the UN mission and the KFOR, must immediately take measures to disarm all armed Kosovo-Albanian groups,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
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