Nato peacekeepers, protesters hurt in Kosovo clashes
WASHINGTON, US - At least 25 Nato-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) peacekeepers and 50 Serbian protesters were injured on Tuesday in northern Kosovo during clashes over the recent election of ethnic Albanian mayors, reported United Press International.
The violence comes after local Serbs gathered in front of municipal buildings on Saturday to protest the town Zvecan's newly elected mayors and to prevent them from entering. The ethnic Albanian mayors were sworn in on Friday to replace Serb mayors who had resigned in November in protest over a cross-border dispute involving vehicle registrations.
On Tuesday, KFOR units issued a warning to the protesters to disperse.
"You are causing unrest. You are putting yourself and your community at risk," an audio warning from the KFOR troops blared out. "Leave the area and go home. Otherwise, the KFOR will be forced to intervene."
KFOR troops used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse the crowd while protesters responded with stones, bottles and sticks, according to Kosovo police who confirmed that five protesters were arrested.
In addition to the injuries, military, police and media vehicles were damaged during the attacks, the police said, calling the protesters continually non-peaceful.
So far, several KFOR officers were injured while five individuals have been arrested for attacks and violence, the police said.
Protest is ongoing and the situation continues to be tense, especially in Zvecan. In other municipalities, there are people and criminal groups wearing black clothes and masks, the police added.
Nato issued a statement on Tuesday, calling for an end to the violence.
"Nato strongly condemns the unprovoked attacks against KFOR troops in northern Kosovo, which have led to a number of them being injured. Such attacks are totally unacceptable. Violence must stop immediately," Nato said.
"We call on all sides to refrain from actions that further inflame tensions, and to engage in dialogue. KFOR will take all necessary actions to maintain a safe and secure environment, and will continue to act impartially, in accordance with its mandate under the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 of 1999."
Several Italian and Hungarian soldiers were among those injured after sustaining trauma wounds with fractures and burns due to the explosion of incendiary devices and were under observation at a health facility, according to the KFOR.
"I want to express my solidarity with the soldiers of the KFOR mission who were injured in Kosovo during the clashes between Serbian demonstrators and the Kosovar Police. Among them 11 Italians, three of whom are in serious condition, but not life-threatening. The Italian military continues to commit themselves to peace," Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, wrote in a tweet on Tuesday.
US ambassador to Kosovo, Jeff Hovenier, also condemned the attacks.
"The US strongly condemns the violent actions of protesters in Zvecan today, including the use of explosives against Nato's KFOR troops seeking to keep the peace. We reiterate our call for an immediate halt to violence or actions that inflame tensions or promote conflict," Hovenier said in a tweet.
Meanwhile, Serbian President Aleksander Vucic, whose country does not recognise Kosovo, blasted Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti for fuelling tensions.
"In the last three days, anyone could understand what was being prepared for today in Kosovo. Everything was organised by Albin Kurti, everything with his desire to bring about a big conflict between Serbs and Nato," Vucic told reporters Tuesday.
Serbs in the north gathered at 7am Tuesday to express their dissatisfaction with the illegal takeover of local governments and that the KFOR did not protect the Serbs and did not prevent the violence. - BERNAMA-UPI