'The Bridge Watchers' terrorise Mitrovica

They hang out in a smoke-filled bar called La Dolce Vita, by the bridge. The irony is too heavy to miss because there is nothing remotely sweet about life in Mitrovica, the gritty mining town in northern Kosovo that has been divided between ethnic Serbs and Albanians since 1999 and this week, once again, is seething with tension.

They call themselves the Bridge Watchers. They are known for delivering the Kosovo Kiss – a sound beating, dished out to anyone who, in their view, pushes their luck. Some are veterans of Serbian paramilitary groups during the war, others are thought to be in the pay of political groups.

"They're the heavy boys," said one of their former victims.

On Thursday, a clump of them crossed to the approach to the bridge that crosses into the Albanian end of town. Shaven heads, sports jackets, intimidating bulk, beer bellies: they looked like old-time British skinheads gone to seed.

They stood in a huddle, chatting and joking – then suddenly span round and attacked a cameraman from Albanian TV. They beat him until he fell to the ground, then kicked him where he lay. He was taken away in an ambulance.

Yesterday, after the previous night's mayhem in Belgrade, tensions were even higher. There were persistent rumours that a force of neo-Nazis and ex-paramilitaries was on its way down from Serbia to Mitrovica and the Nato and Kosovo forces were prepared for just about anything.

The biggest crowd of the week had gathered up the hill from the bridge, in the main square of North Mitrovica and on the south side of the bridge, for the first time this week, a crowd of ethnic Albanian men had gathered to keep an eye on things. There was a heavy official presence too.

Five lines of police with batons and shields and automatic weapons stood guard outside the police station, while white Nato armoured personnel carriers and a platoon of French soldiers in fatigues stayed just out of sight. On the bridge itself, a band of riot police prepared to defend either end.

This week's protests have tended to start at 12.44pm in honour of UN Resolution 1244, the diplomatic clause that Serbia claims has been violated by Kosovo's independence.

At the due time, the Bridge Watchers huddled outside the La Dolce Vita. For more than an hour, nothing happened then, soon after 2pm, a large crowd came swarming down the hill from the main square on the Serbian side of Mitrovica, at least 5,000 protesters, banging drums, chanting "Kosovo is Serbia" and waving Serbian flags.

They got as far as the road near their end of the bridge, and, amid chants and piercing whistles, a volley of firecrackers rained down on the riot police.

But they came no further. The Bridge Watchers, apparently intermixed with Serbian police in plain clothes, had mutated into stewards, keeping the demonstrators on a tight rein. After half an hour, with no serious incidents or injuries (though one American photographer who was in the wrong place received the Kosovo Kiss), the protesters dispersed as suddenly as they had arrived.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Recruitment Genius: Production Operative

£13000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to a period of sustained an...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there