By Fatmir Aliu
At least 25 NATO soldiers have been injured in the last 24 hours in clashes with Serbs in northern Kosovo after peacekeepers moved in to take down barricades blocking roads, reports claim.
The violent confrontations have raised fears that tensions are spinning out of control in the Serb-run enclave on the border with Serbia.
The latest violence started on Monday morning when a crowd of locals gathered to prevent troops from dismantling a barricade at Jagnjenica, near the town of Zubin Potok.
KFOR spokesperson Frank Martin told Balkan Insight that the violence continued until around midnight on Monday and involved use of “explosive devices and Molotov cocktails against KFOR”.
Martin said the situation on Tuesday morning appeared calm but the previous night’s affray had left many hurt and “had resulted in 23 additional injured soldiers by the late afternoon and evening”. Two others were hit by small arms fire earlier that day.
Many locals were also injured as Serbs and KFOR troops struggled for control of the roadblock. A health official in Zubin Potok told Serbia’s Beta news agency that between 30 and 50 people had been treated for injuries, but none were life-threatening.
KFOR has defended its right to respond robustly to attacks on its forces. After two NATO soldiers were reportedly injured by small arms fire from protesters on Monday, the NATO-led mission said its troops responded with water cannon, tear gas and pepper spray to control the crowd.
But Serbia’s Minister for Kosovo, Goran Bogdanovic, on Monday accused KFOR “and the international community” of being responsible for the current tension in the north of Kosovo.
He said that KFOR had demonstrated its intention of using force to remove the barricades, preventing citizens from expressing their legitimate views in a peaceful manner.
Meanwhile, the UN Security Council is expected to hold a session on Kosovo in New York on Tuesday.
More than 21 peacekeepers were injured in Rudare last Wednesday, when Serb protesters blocked a KFOR attempt to remove one of 18 barricades in the area. The troops withdrew after the attack, leaving the roadblock to the demonstrators.
Serbs in northern Kosovo have been blocking roads since the summer in protest against attempts by the ethnic Albanian-led government in Pristina to take control of border crossings with Serbia. The dispute has worsened the acrimony between Serbia and Kosovo.
Serbia does not recognise Kosovo’s independence, proclaimed in 2008, and continues to claim that Kosovo is its southern province.