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Thursday, June 24, 1999 Published at 01:38 GMT 02:38 UK

World: Europe

Mitrovica: A divided town

Maria Dimic argues with her ethnic Albanian neighbour

By Ben Brown in Mitrovica, Kosovo

The BBC's Ben Brown: "The reality is that Serbs and Albanians might never be able to live together again"
To know how deep divisions still run in Kosovo, you need only look at the town of Mitrovica, a town of 60,000 people, which the Serbs have cut in two.

They have taken control of the northern side of the river Ibar, and are refusing to allow non-Serbs to cross the river.

On the other side of the bridge that now divides the city, many Kosovo Albanians - who have returned from the refugee camps of Macedonia and Albania - are taking revenge.

Kosovo: Special Report
They have gone on a spree of arson and looting - targeting Serb homes - and French troops seem unable to stop it.

The Serbs, no longer protected by the Yugoslav army, are insisting on controlling who comes into their half of town.

The Serbs will not even allow Kosovo Albanians to visit the hospital, which is in their part of town.

[ image: French troops give shoppers an armed escort]
French troops give shoppers an armed escort
The French K-For troops simply stand by and accept the situation.

One young Kosovo Albanian mother, who was refused access to her home in the Serbian half, cries: "Where else can I go? They've taken everything"

At one point the French troops agree to give an armed guard to a group of shoppers venturing into the Serb sector.

Ethnic discord

The prospect of ethnic harmony in new Kosovo is a long way away.

Mitrovica, hopelessly divided, is a symbol of post-war Kosovo.

Two communities, on either side of the river, live in fear of each other.

[ image: Serb homes in Mitrovica have been set on fire]
Serb homes in Mitrovica have been set on fire
The dream is to reunite them.

The reality is that may never be possible.

A few miles down the road from Mitrovica two neighbours squabbling is again typical of Kosovo's divisions.

A Kosovo Albanian man has come home from a refugee camp to find his home looted.

Neighbour turning on neighbour

[ image: Serbs stop Albanians from entering their half of Mitrovica as a French soldier looks on]
Serbs stop Albanians from entering their half of Mitrovica as a French soldier looks on
He accuses an elderly Serb neighbour, Maria Dimic, of taking part in the looting.

She says she was just "looking after his home" while he was away.

They argue and before long are hurling abuse at each other.

British K-For troops send in a tank to settle this domestic dispute.

It is one of a thousand similar rows in Kosovo taking place every day.

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