Four Serb civilians and at least two soldiers of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces in Kosovo, known as KFOR, were injured when troops cleared roadblocks set up by the Serb minority.
KFOR troops were removing the roadblocks set up by the Serb community, which rejects the authority of Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian government, when a “violent crowd” attacked the troops, KFOR said in an e-mailed statement. “KFOR must confirm two wounded soldiers during the removal operation,” with both “wounded by gunshots.”
The protesters threw stones at the troops, Tanjug newswire reported, citing people present at the incident. KFOR said it “responded in self-defense accordingly, by using teargas and rubber bullets.”
Serbia’s National Security Council urgently convened, accusing Kosovo authorities of being behind the action aimed at “causing instability and fear among the Serbian population.” Chaired by the recently elected President Tomislav Nikolic, the council issued a statement calling on local Serbs to “refrain from conflicts with members of international missions.”
“KFOR will respond in self-defense accordingly” and “will not allow the situation to escalate,” the multinational mission said in its press release.
The violence came a day after Serbia, from which Kosovo seceded in 2008, inaugurated Nikolic as president and is working to form a new government following May 6 elections. Improving relations with the breakaway province is a condition for Serbia in its effort to join the European Union. Around 130,000 Serbs live among Kosovo’s mostly ethnic Albanian population of 2 million.
Clearing of the roadblocks was carried out “to improve freedom of movement not only for KFOR but also for international organizations and for all people in Kosovo,” KFOR said in an e- mailed statement. “KFOR condemns this violent act strongly.”
Serbia lost control over Kosovo in 1999 when NATO bombing forced it to halt its campaign against Kosovo’s pro-independence ethnic Albanians and hand over control to the alliance. Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians declared independence in 2008, with support and recognition from the U.S. and its West European allies.
Four Serbs were injured in the confrontation, including one seriously, Tanjug newswire reported, citing chief of the local hospital in Kosovska Mitrovica, Milan Jakovljevic.
“There’s not much we can do, maybe only some minor moves, until the new Cabinet is in place,” Oliver Ivanovic, Serbia’s deputy minister for Kosovo affairs in the outgoing government told Belgrade-based B92 broadcaster.
He accused KFOR of acting on behalf of Kosovo’s government which wants to “use the institutional vacuum” in Serbia where political parties are negotiating a new coalition government.
The 60-year-old Nikolic, whose Progressive Party ran on a platform of closer ties to Russia, needs to balance economic austerity with social protections, and Serbia’s drive to join the EU with nationalists’ rejection of independence for the breakaway province of Kosovo. Nikolic has turned to ex-President Boris Tadic, whom he beat in a May 20 presidential runoff vote, to find a workable coalition and have a prime minister designate by June 4, as neither party has majority backing.
It is “exceptionally important to stop the violence as soon as possible in order to solve problems through dialogue,” Tadic’s Democratic Party said in an e-mailed statement.
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