NATO forces wounded during clashes in Kosovo
Kosovar Serbs attacked NATO forces in the self-proclaimed republic's North as tensions rise between the Serbs and Albanians.
Approximately 25 NATO members deployed in Kosovo sustained injuries on Monday during clashes with Serbian protesters demanding the prevention of elected Albanian mayors from taking office in a separate legitimacy vote.
The multinational force stated that several soldiers from the Italian and Hungarian contingents "were the subject of unprovoked attacks and sustained trauma wounds with fractures and burns due to the explosion of incendiary devices."
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni strongly condemned on Monday the incident, saying the attack was "unacceptable and irresponsible."
On the other hand, the Serbian government-owned Radio Television of Serbia (RTS) reported that "over 50 Serbs were injured during the clashes, with two in critical condition and at least one person in critical condition."
You're watching Serbian workers getting stuck into NATO security forces in #Kosovo today. Resisting the new govt. Fighting back against the teargas & stun grenades. If we want freedom, we know we gotta fight for it. Liberty lies on the streets. #antireportpic.twitter.com/BkI7x0abqg— GhostofDurruti (@DurrutiRiot) May 29, 2023
The Serbs of Kosovo, who consider the region to be part of mainland Serbia, boycotted the municipal elections and thus consider the mayor to be illegitimate.
Additionally, the Serb List has requested that the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force take down the flag of the Republic of Kosovo from the Zvecan municipality and push out Kosovar police forces from the northern region, the Radio Television of Kosovo (RTK) said on Monday.
The head of the Serb list, the largest pro-Serb party in Kosovo, Goran Rakic, and his deputy Igor Simic were the ones who demanded that the flag be removed, according to RTK. The flag was put up by the "elected" mayor of Zvecan, Ilir Peci, which upset the local population.
The Pristina authorities have been attempting to install ethnically Albanian mayors in the north of the province after the April 23 local elections in northern Kosovo.
As a result of this, violent clashes erupted in front of administrative buildings in the country's north, Kosovar media reported.
Local media reported on Friday that police forces of the self-proclaimed republic of Kosovo forced their way into an administrative building belonging to the northern municipality of Leposaviq and occupied it after two other buildings were raided in Zvecan and Zubin Potok.
Violent dispersion of protesters
According to reports, the police used tear gas and stun grenades on protesters. Moreover, telephone services were shut off in Leposavic and alarm sirens blared in the northern municipality of Mitrovica.
In 2008, Kosovo seceded from Serbia and unilaterally declared its independence from the country. An agreement to improve relations between Serbia and Kosovo was struck in 2013, but the conversation quickly came to a halt.
In light of the clashes, a NATO-affiliated group attempted to disperse the demonstrators and later began to disperse the crowds using shields and batons.
Many of the protesters responded by throwing stones, empty bottles, and Molotov cocktails toward the soldiers, and the clashes took place just hundreds of meters away from the municipal building in Zvecan.
Following the confrontations, NATO strongly condemned the "unacceptable" attacks on its forces, adding that "these attacks are completely unacceptable, and the violence must stop immediately."
In a statement, the police said that they "responded when the demonstrators attempted to breach a security cordon using violence and tear gas."
Similar clashes occurred on Friday when mayors went to the administration center to assume their positions accompanied by the police.
Kosovo, the former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008 with the support of the United States, is witnessing repeated clashes, particularly in the north. Belgrade encourages Serbian defiance against the authorities of Kosovo, which seeks to establish its sovereignty over the entire region.
Around 120,000 Serbs live in Kosovo, whose total population is 1.8 million, with the overwhelming majority being Albanians.
The NATO force deployed in Kosovo stated that it has "reinforced its presence" in the north and called on Belgrade and Pristina to resume dialogue under the auspices of the European Union to alleviate tensions.
Starting Friday, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Germany urged the authorities of Kosovo to "immediately de-escalate and contain the situation".
These countries expressed their concern in a joint statement regarding "Serbia's decision to increase the alert level of its armed forces at the border with Kosovo."
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic ordered his country's army on Friday to be on high alert and "move" toward the border with Kosovo.
Russia supports Serbs
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stressed that "the Serbs are fighting for their rights in northern Kosovo," emphasizing that the army is on high alert and that "the decision will be made by the Serbian President."
During a visit to Kenya, Lavrov commented on NATO's 1999 intervention against Belgrade, which ended the war between Serbian forces and Albanian fighters. "There is a big explosion looming in the heart of Europe, where NATO launched aggression against former Yugoslavia in 1999."