Bitter feelings towards British at Cafe Dolce Vita

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The Independent Online

The Dolce Vita café must have been a fine place a year or two ago. With the Ibar river rolling past as you sipped your espresso, perhaps it was possible to imagine - once - that you were somewhere more sophisticated than this mining and metalworking town in the north of Kosovo.

The Dolce Vita café must have been a fine place a year or two ago. With the Ibar river rolling past as you sipped your espresso, perhaps it was possible to imagine - once - that you were somewhere more sophisticated than this mining and metalworking town in the north of Kosovo.

Now the café falls silent as you open the door. The power is off, so there is no espresso, no television and no blaring rock music. The only sound comes from walkie-talkies carried by short-haired, track-suited young Serbs, who have to make do with soft drinks. They stare suspiciously at you, then return their gaze, not to the river - that view is curtained off - but to the bridge over it, festooned with barbed wire and patrolled by British troops.

Since peace-keepers under Nato command came to Kosovo eight months ago, Mitrovica has been partitioned at the bridge by French troops who control the zone.

Perhaps 3,000 Albanians remain on this side of the Ibar, coping daily with violence and intimidation which the French seem unable to prevent. Every day the Serbian community is growing as it receives the victims of similar treatment in the rest of Kosovo.

Two weeks ago, the uneasy peace of northern Mitrovica fell apart. Two elderly Serbs were killed in a rocket attack on a bus. Eight Albanians died in revenge attacks. Another Serbian café was bombed; French troops shot an Albanian, allegedly a sniper.

After a lull, during which a detachment of the Royal Green Jackets took over the bridge, all-out fighting erupted last Sunday, with the British peace-keepers coming under fire from Serbs in the worst violation of the peace since Nato arrived.

On Wednesday evening, two rockets were fired across the river at the Serbian side, and so it goes on. The men in the Dolce Vita are watching every move at the bridge, and biding their time.

Around the corner their leader, Oliver Ivanovic, is holding court. Some accuse him of orchestrating the intimidation of Albanians in his half of town, but Mr Ivanovic, who has described himself variously as a policeman, an economist and now a businessman, says his followers are unarmed monitors simply trying to protect Serbs.

"When the two Serbs were killed on the bus, I managed to keep things peaceful," he said. "But when the café was bombed, I couldn't hold them back."

Mr Ivanovic said he was refused a meeting with the British commander. "The British, along with the Americans, have a bad image here. They are not welcome in the Serbian area."

Nearby, Captain Joe Butterfill of the Green Jackets looked up gratefully at the freezing rain, which was turning rapidly to slushy snow."This is keeping things nice and quiet," he said.

On Sunday his men gave the Serbs a sharp taste of what they could do, returning fire at a sniper. "We don't know if we hit him, but the firing stopped," said Capt Butterfill.

The British troops have no idea how long they will be asked to man Kosovo's worst flashpoint, but whatever the captain's term of duty, he is unlikely ever to be invited for coffee at the Dolce Vita.

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