NATO soldiers injured in clashes in northern Kosovo
The unrest had escalated over the past few days. The Serbs in the northern part of the country do not want to recognize the sovereignty of the Kosovar government. Now they even attacked the NATO-led protection force.
Numerous soldiers of the NATO-led Kosovo Protection Force KFOR were injured in clashes in the Serb-inhabited north of Kosovo. Several uniformed men from Italy and Hungary suffered broken bones and burns in attacks by militant Serbs in the village of Zvecan, the KFOR command said in Pristina in the evening.
The Italian Ministry of Defense spoke in a statement of 14 injured Italians from the KFOR contingent. 20 Hungarian KFOR soldiers were also among the injured, the Budapest news portal “hvg.hu” wrote, citing diplomatic circles.
NATO strongly condemned the attacks on KFOR troops. “Such attacks are totally unacceptable. The violence must stop immediately. We call on all sides to refrain from actions that further fuel tensions and to engage in dialogue,” said a spokeswoman for the military alliance. KFOR will take all necessary measures to maintain a secure environment. Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni also condemned the attack. “What is happening here is absolutely unacceptable and irresponsible. We will not tolerate any further attacks on KFOR,” she said in a statement in the evening.
Clashes at protests
The clashes occurred in the afternoon when militant Serbs protested against the appointment of new mayors in Zvecan and other municipalities. KFOR soldiers securing the municipal office in Zvecan broke up the protest, which turned violent, local media reported. They used stun grenades and tear gas. The crowd in turn threw stones, incendiary devices, bottles and other objects at them. A Serb was injured by gunfire, the hospital in the nearby town of Mitrovica said. Another 52 Serbs were hospitalized there with injuries, the hospital said.
The approximately 300 KFOR soldiers had previously taken up positions in combat gear in front of the municipal office in Zvecan on Monday morning. At the same time, a large number of Serbian demonstrators had gathered in front of the official building. The KFOR troops should secure the office building instead of the Kosovan special police. This had gained access to the municipal office last Friday, which had already triggered violent protests by militant Serbs.
The police had escorted the new mayor, an Albanian who wanted to take office. Serbs are also protesting in two other places in northern Kosovo, where Albanian mayors have also taken over. The three were elected in April, with almost all Serbs boycotting the election. That is why the election winners come from Albanian parties. The previous Serbian mayors resigned their positions in November 2022 in protest against the policies of the Kosovar government.
The escalation came when the Serbian crowd in Zvecan refused to let the Kosovar police vehicles that were still there drive away. The KFOR squad then broke up the meeting.
Kosovo, which is now almost exclusively inhabited by Albanians, declared its independence in 2008. Serbia does not recognize the statehood of its former province and demands its return. At the same time, it repeatedly stirs up tensions among the Serb population of Kosovo. In 1999, Belgrade responded to an armed uprising by Kosovar Albanians by expelling and mass killings of civilians. NATO then intervened with bombing and forced the withdrawal of the Serbian security forces from Kosovo. A UN Security Council decision in the same year tasked KFOR with ensuring security in Kosovo.