Belgrade, May 29 (EFE).- NATO’s mission in Kosovo, KFOR, was forced to intervene Monday to contain violent demonstrations by ethnic Serbs in the northern part of that Balkan nation, where clashes left at least 50 protesters and 25 peacekeeping troops injured.
The protesters are refusing to accept the authority of ethnic Albanian mayors in four municipalities – Zvecan, Leposavic, Zubin Potoc and North Mitrovica – where Kosovo Serbs make up the majority of the population.
KFOR said 25 Italian and Hungarian troops “were the subject of unprovoked attacks and sustained trauma wounds with fractures and burns due to the explosion of incendiary devices.”
The NATO-led peacekeeping force used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse the demonstrators, who had blocked access to the city hall in the town of Zvecan, the scene of the most violent clashes.
More than 50 demonstrators, meanwhile, were treated at a hospital for tear-gas intoxication and contusions, the N1 broadcaster reported, citing the director of a clinic in the Kosovan city of Mitrovica, Zlatan Elek. It said three of them were still hospitalized, including one individual who suffered a life-threatening gunshot wound.
Kosovo Serbs, who are a majority in the municipalities where the protests occurred but a small minority overall in Kosovo, do not recognize the authority of the four mayors who were elected in April in elections that ethnic Serbs boycotted and in which just over 3 percent of eligible voters participated.
The United States and the European Union have condemned the attacks on international troops, with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni saying on Twitter that the protesters’ actions were “unacceptable and irresponsible.”
Among those injured in the disturbances in Kosovo were 11 Italian soldiers, three who whom suffered injuries that are reportedly serious but not life-threatening, Italy’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister, Antonio Tajani, tweeted.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic accused Kosovo’s prime minister, Albin Kurti, of provoking the incidents by having used the country’s special police force to forcibly clear the way for the recently elected mayors to enter their respective town halls, which had been blocked by Serbian demonstrators.
The US and several European countries had denounced the use of force on the part of the Kosovan authorities, and Washington has even proposed that the mayors exercise their duties from other buildings to help restore calm.
Vucic has urged Kosovo Serbs, who say their community is discriminated against by Kosovan authorities, to hold peaceful demonstrations and not clash with NATO-led troops.
Kosovo, a former Serbian province with a majority ethnic-Albanian population, unilaterally declared independence from Serbia on Feb. 17, 2008.
Serbia and Kosovo are currently negotiating a normalization of relations through a US-backed, European Union-sponsored plan, but that process has been frequently interrupted by ethnic tensions. EFE