By Maryrose Fison
About 40 local Serbs were injured when NATO peacekeepers attempted to dismantle a blockade in the village of Jagnejenica in northern Kosovo, a paramedic at the scene said.
The paramedic, who gave his name as Vitali, and who was working with a crew in Jagnejenica, told Balkan Insight that most injuries had been caused by the use of pepper spray by NATO peacekeepers in KFOR.
“Most injuries were caused by the pepper spray and another woman was injured when soldiers pushed her. She knocked her head against a vehicle,” he said.
He added that one woman had been more seriously injured after a can was sprayed close to her mouth and she accidentally swallowed the vapour. The woman was later taken to a hospital and given oxygen.
When Balkan Insight visited the scene at Jagnejenica this afternoon, the situation was tense but stable.
About 150 Serbs, mainly men, were congregating in casual groups in proximity to the road barricade. Some women were present.
Half a dozen KFOR soldiers were visible, standing ontop of armoured tanks carrying riot shields and cans of pepper spray. The soldiers declined to talk to Balkan Insight about their operations.
A few feet away from the barricade, which comprised two large trucks loaded with tree trunks, a woman whose face was covered in a translucent liquid sat hunched over wiping her eyes.
Describing herself as Ana, she said she had been sprayed with pepper spray and the liquid on her face was an ointment used to relieve the pain.
The 27-year-old mother of three said she had no intention of leaving. “I will stay here all night if needed,” she said.
Squinting against the sun on a grassy hill leading down to the barricade, two young men talked together. One of them, a 23-year-old student called Drago, said he had arrived at the barricade at 10.30am, after sitting an exam at his faculty.
He had driven 15km from his home town of Zvecan to be present, he said. “This is my first time coming here to support these people. This is one of the barricades that we built and I think this is the weak point of our barricade and it is easier for KFOR to remove.
“We are not here to fight with them [KFOR], just to show them that we don’t agree with them sending Albanian customs officers here. If it is necessary, we will stay here for a month,” he added.
“We had great relationship with KFOR before this. I don’t know what happened to them. We don’t want violence. But now everything has changed,” he continued.
About 50 metres from the blockade, close to a couple of ambulance vehicles, Stevan, 57, looked surprisingly awake for someone who had been at the barricade since 1am.
“At that time the situation was peaceful but then people noticed that KFOR were preparing something,” he told Balkan Insight. “After a few moments they saw that they [KFOR] were preparing to attack the Serbian people who were protesting at the barricade,” he added.
Some media reported that protesters elsewhere in northern Kosovo threw stones at NATO forces as they attempted to remove the barricades. But Stevan said there had been no stone-throwing at Jagnejenica. “Serbian people did not use violence,” he said.
Tension has escalated in northern Kosovo over the past two months following a decision by Kosovo’s Albanian-led government to deploy customs officers on the Kosovo-Serbia border crossings.
Serbs in the north of Kosovo have rejected Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence and resent any attempt by the government in Pristina to assert its presence there.
NATO peaceeepers set a Tuesday deadline to remove the barricades and restore freedom of movement.