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Kosovo: 25 NATO soldiers injured in clashes with Serb protesters

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Belgrade | May 30, 2023 7:08:04 AM IST
Around 25 soldiers from a NATO-led peacekeeping force were injured in clashes with Serb protesters while defending three town halls in northern Kosovo. Serbia's president has put the army on highest level of alert, reported Al Jazeera.

KFOR, the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo, condemned the violence that broke out on Monday after ethnic Albanian mayors took office in the Serb-majority region of northern Kosovo following elections boycotted by the Serbs.

It said in a statement, "While countering the most active fringes of the crowd, several soldiers of the Italian Hungarian KFOR contingent were the subject of unprovoked attacks and sustained trauma wounds with fractures and burns due to the explosion of incendiary devices."

According to the defence ministry, two Serbs were injured during fights, as reported by Serbia's RTS official television.

President of Kosovo, Vjosa Osmani, accused her Serbian counterpart, Aleksandar Vucic, of destabilising Kosovo.

Osmani tweeted, "Serb illegal structured turned into criminal gangs have attacked Kosovo police, KFOR officers & journalists. Those who carry out Vucic's orders to destabilise the north of Kosovo, must face justice."

Vucic further said that 52 Serbs were injured in the clashes, with three of them being critical.

On Friday, the US and its allies rebuked Pristina for the escalating tensions.

According to witnesses, as quoted by Al Jazeera, clash broke out earlier on Monday in Zvecan, one of the towns in north Kosovo, where state police used pepper gas to fend off a crowd of Serbs who tried to storm the municipal building. The State police are now entirely staffed by ethnic Albanians after all Serbs left the force last year.

The municipality building in Leposavic, which is close to the Serbian border, was surrounded by barbed wire installed by US peacekeeping troops wearing anti-riot gear to guard it from the hundreds of enraged Serbs who had gathered nearby.

A neighbouring parked automobile belonging to the new mayor was also attacked with eggs by protesters.

Defence Minister Milos Vucevic told reporters that Vucic, who is also the commander-in-chief of the Serbian Armed Forces, raised the army's combat readiness to the highest level.

"This implies that immediately before 2 pm (12:00 GMT), the chief of the general staff of the Serbian armed forces issues additional instructions for the deployment of the army's units in specific, designated positions," Vucevic said.

Earlier, KFOR said that it "has increased its presence in four municipalities of norther Kosovo following the latest developments in the area."

"In line with its mandate, KFOR is ready to take all necessary actions to ensure a safe environment in a neutral and impartial manner," it said, as per Al Jazeera.

The troops also took action to defend the town halls in North Mitrovica and Zubin Potok from possible threats.

Deputy leader of the Serb List party Igor Simic charged Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti with inciting unrest in the region.

More than 20 years after the Kosovo Albanian struggle against oppressive Serbian domination, Serbs, who make up the majority in Kosovo's north, still see Belgrade as their capital. They have never recognised Kosovo's 2008 proclamation of independence from Serbia.

More than 90 per cent of people in Kosovo are of ethnic Albanian descent, but northern Serbs have long pressed for the implementation of a 2013 agreement negotiated by the European Union for the formation of an association of autonomous municipalities in their area.

Due to Serbs' abstention from voting in the April 2018 local elections, ethnic Albanian candidates won in four Serb-majority municipalities with a 3.5 per cent turnout.

Serbs demand that the Kosovo government oust ethnic Albanian mayors from town halls and restore the functions of local administrations supported by Belgrade.

Al Jazeera's Assed Baig, reporting from Mitrovica, said tensions were "escalating."

"It seems like the police were slightly caught off-guard this morning, they pushed them back and used gas to get them to disperse, but so many people are there," he said as quoted by Al Jazeera. (ANI)

 
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