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By Eleanor Beardsley, Press/Information Officer,
United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK)

For the last year Pierre Lottici has been like a permanent fixture on the Mitrovica Bridge. Rain or shine, you could find him on the bridge's pot-holed surface, maneuvering his team of workers between the barbed wire and soldiers, in an attempt to link the two banks of this divided city. Lottici's employer, Freyssinet, was awarded the contract to reconstruct the Mitrovica Bridge. As project manager, Lottici knew from the beginning that this would be no ordinary work site. The contract's terms stipulated that Freyssinet hire a multi-ethnic construction team to rebuild the bridge. Last September the workers were chosen - one Albanian for one Serb.

Lottici's worries were not only centred on engineering, construction materials and the weather. He also had to figure out how to get his crew of 61 Kosovars to work together. Looking back, he says it was an incredible human experience. "It sure wasn't easy in the beginning," says Lottici. "The question is how do you make people who fought each other work together? But they did. We had to rely on people of strong character, both Serb and Albanian, to get the work done. And we did it. We started it together and we finished it together. This has been much more than just a construction project."

"At that time, when the idea of trying to repair the ties between Mitrovica's Serbian and Albanian communities through rebuilding the bridge together was first presented, we wondered should we do this or not," remembers Patrick Auffret, Co-Head of the Department of Transport and Infrastructure. That department - a division of the UNMIK-Kosovo Joint Interim Administrative Structure (JIAS) - oversees the bridge contract. "And we decided to take the risk. I think we can be proud of what's been done today."

Of course no one is kidding themselves. The situation is still too tense in Mitrovica to open the bridge completely, and for most of the workers it was the DM 1,000 per month that motivated them to rebuild it together. But everyone agrees that the work did go well and that no problems ever ensued between workers on the bridge. According to Lottici, the distractions came from the outside.

"After the riots in February, I had to fight to keep going. Our Serb workers couldn't even come to work. So I went across and said to those guys who were blocking them, the Bridgewatchers, I said listen, we've got work to do and we need our workers. And a few days later they were back at work."

Sasha, a refugee from Gjilan/Gnjilane, says the bridge is helping him pay for his medical studies. "It's true, we're here for the money," he says. "But when we have a better economy no one will speak about politics anymore. So maybe something could begin to change."

Perhaps something already has. The new bridge's metallic, winged arches rise majestically against the surrounding green hillsides, and its wide esplanades beckon to pedestrians. In the evening, in stark contradiction to the harder feelings of the day, groups of Serbs gather on the north river bank to admire the bridge, lit up against the night sky.

Micha, a Serb engineer and site supervisor, said that at first he didn't understand the focus on beauty. "I said to myself, we don't need these arches. What's the point? But now I see how beautiful they are and how the bridge really raises people's spirits. The French were right to want to build something beautiful - it is very important."

Ymer, who has been a translator for the Albanian workers since the beginning of construction, says the bridge has brought people closer. "Good cooperation arose between the workers. When the Serbs couldn't do something the Albanians helped out and vice versa. It was principally a working relationship, but it was a step toward reintegration. I'm sure one day it will happen."

At the end of June, the new DM 3 million Mitrovica Bridge was handed over to the City of Mitrovica. The occasion was marked by a luncheon for the workers and their families, held under the bridge due to the pouring rain. After the party, and when the rain let up, each side returned to their homes on opposite sides of the bridge.

For now it seems, the Mitrovica Bridge stands as a symbol of hope for the future.

[KOSOVO]  Funeral service for the first Kosovo Police Officer to be killed in the line of duty.   Photo: Ky Chung
Funeral service for the first Kosovo Police Officer to be killed in the line of duty.
Photo: Ky Chung

From an article published in Focus Kosovo by Derek Chappell, Police Spokesman,

Donita Krasniqi did not join the Kosovo Police Service for the money or the blue uniform. It was not the authority nor the attraction of power that motivated this 22-year-old to apply to become a police officer in the new Kosovo Police Service (KPS). Donita joined the Kosovo Police to help her fellow citizens and make a personal contribution to the future of her home.

I had only arrived in Kosovo a month earlier and had been given seven new KPS officers to train. It was refreshing and exciting to work with these young officers, each of them full of energy and assurance to be able to make a positive difference in shaping the future of Kosovo. I had visited the Krasniqi family home and had seen the pride in her father's face as he talked about his daughter. I had seen Donita and her colleagues deal with the public with firmness but fairness, applying the principles of community policing that they had been taught, and which we hoped would help to build bonds between the public and their police.

I did have some doubts. In one case, an assault victim lost patience as we interviewed witnesses and suspects, made a fist and shouted out: "Why do you waste so much time talking. This is what people understand." He was clearly frustrated that we had not immediately taken the alleged suspect into custody and made him confess through whatever means necessary. He could not understand that we were following a legal process designed to build respect for authority that would grow into the basis for a democratic society. In his mind our respect for rights was weakness.

I wondered how young KPS officers would cope with this cynicism and how well the practice of community policing would take hold in a community used to the harsh application of politically motivated law by a police force that ruled by force, rather than respect for individual rights.

It was during the summer of this year that we noticed a disturbing trend that made me think back to that incident. In a one-week period in July we recorded 17 cases of death threats, assaults or violence directed at members of the KPS. Many of these incidents erupted from trivial events - a traffic ticket, a towed vehicle or questioning suspects. Some people shouted obscenities, threats or abuse and, in some cases, physically attacked the officer involved. In some cases, criminal suspects sought out the officers off duty to threaten them for arrests they had made while on duty.

Every time I read of a KPS officer being threatened or attacked I think back to the faces of the seven young people I walked with around Pristina. I think of their optimism and energy. How many of them have been treated with similar disrespect by their own community? How many of them still feel so positive about their new career?

There are many voices in this province expressing ideas about the future. Most of them speak of some form of self-direction for the people of Kosovo, an undetermined structure of self-government. The police are the most immediate and personal form of contact that people have with their government. They apply the law that democratically elected representatives have made. The acceptance of that legitimate authority is the acceptance of community over self, and that is essential for Kosovo to progress.

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