ZVEČAN – Dozens of NATO peacekeepers from KFOR and Serb protesters were injured on Monday in the north of Kosovo in clashes that erupted in the afternoon. KFOR condemned Monday’s violence, which erupted after ethnic Albanian mayors took office in northern Kosovo’s Serb-majority area following elections boycotted by the Serbs.
Kosovo Police confirmed that five protesters have been arrested for the attacks against KFOR peacekeepers while many military, police and media outlet’s vehicles have been damaged during a tense day which started in the early morning hours, as local Serbs gathered in front of the municipal building to protest against the newly elected mayor of Zvecan.
Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani confirmed that members of the Italian military contingent were among those injured.
“I want to express my solidarity with the soldiers of the KFOR mission who were injured in Kosovo during the clashes between Serbian demonstrators and the Kosovar Police. Among them 11 Italians, three of whom are in a serious condition, but not life threatening. The Italian military continue to commit themselves to peace,” Tajani tweeted.
KFOR said that around 25 from the multinational contingent were wounded during the containment of the demonstrators.
“While countering the most active fringes of the crowd, several soldiers of the Italian and Hungarian KFOR contingent were the subject of unprovoked attacks and sustained trauma wounds with fractures and burns due to the explosion of incendiary devices,” KFOR said.
“Promptly treated by KFOR medical units, they are currently under observation by medical personnel who are assessing their condition,” it added in a statement.
Serbian media reported that more than 53 people suffering from different types of injuries, from shock bombs and tear gas, have been treated at North Mitrovica hospital. The hospital director, Zlatan Elek, told regional broadcaster N1 that three of them are still hospitalised, including one with life-threatening gunshot wounds.
In Belgrade, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić accused Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti of organizing tensions in an attempt to create “a big conflict between Serbs and NATO”. “In the last three days, anyone could understand what was being prepared for today in Kosovo. Everything was organized by Albin Kurti, everything with his desire to bring about a big conflict between Serbs and NATO,” Vučić.
According to him, Serbs in the north gathered at seven this morning to express their dissatisfaction with the illegal takeover of local governments, and KFOR did not protect the Serbs and did not prevent the violence.
Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani blamed the riots on what she said are illegal Serb structures turned into criminal gangs. “Serb illegal structures turned into criminal gangs have attacked Kosovo police, KFOR officers & journalists. Those who carry out Vucic’s orders to destabilize the north of Kosovo must face justice,” Osmani tweeted.
Igor Simic, deputy head of the Serb List party, accused Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti of fuelling tensions in the north. “We are interested in peace,” Simic told reporters in Zvecan. “Albanians who live here are interested in peace, and only he [Kurti] wants to make chaos.”
The protests started on Friday, which was the first day of work for the newly elected mayors when dozens of citizens and policemen were injured. The US embassy criticized the Kosovo authorities for using force to get the disputed mayors into their municipal buildings.
In April this year, Serbs refused to take part in local elections, and ethnic Albanian candidates won the mayoral races in four Serb-majority municipalities with a 3.5 percent turnout. Serbs demand that the Kosovo government remove ethnic Albanian mayors from town halls and allow local administrations financed by Belgrade to return to their duties.
EU calls on de-esaclation
The High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, Josep Borrell has urged Kosovo’s authorities and ethnic Serb protesters to “immediately de-escalate” tensions in Kosovo’s north following a day of violence that led to the intervention of KFOR forces, prompting dozens of injuries among troops and protesters.
“The EU urges Kosovo authorities and the protesters to immediately and unconditionally de-escalate the situation.
“We expect the Parties to act responsibly and find a political solution through the Dialogue immediately,” Borrell wrote on Twitter.
European Parliament (EP) Rapporteur for Kosovo Viola von Cramon called on the Kosovo authorities to withdraw the special police units from the north and to come to the negotiating table, stressing that the situation in northern Kosovo can only be resolved by means of constructive dialogue.