Conflicts & War

Nato forces clash with ethnic Serbs as tensions simmer in northern Kosovo

Belgrade/Brussels, May 30 (EFE).- Fresh clashes broke out Tuesday between Nato-led international peacekeeping soldiers and ethnic Serb protesters who were refusing to accept the authority of recently-elected ethnic Albanian mayors in four northern Kosovar municipalities.

Local media reported that soldiers, police units and armored vehicles, were deployed earlier in the day to the town hall in the Serb-dominated village of Zvecan after violent clashes on Monday left 30 Hungarian and Italian Nato soldiers and 50 Serb demonstrators injured.

Nato forces used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse demonstrators during the Monday clashes.

Large crowds of Serb protestors have been trying since Friday to block ethnic Albanian mayors, who won April elections that were boycotted by the Serb community, from entering their offices in Zvecan, Leposavic, Zubin Potoc and North Mitrovica.

The European Union early Tuesday urged Kosovo authorities and ethnic Serb protesters to stop the escalating violence in the northern part of that Balkan nation.

“The EU urges Kosovo authorities and the protesters to immediately and unconditionally de-escalate the situation,” the EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, posted on Twitter.

“We expect the Parties to act responsibly and find a political solution through the Dialogue immediately,” he said, on behalf of the 27-member bloc.

Borrell also condemned in “strongest possible terms” the “shocking” violence in Zvecan.

Kosovo Serbs, who are a majority in the municipalities where the protests are taking place but a minority overall in Kosovo, do not recognize the authority of the four mayors who were elected in April elections.

Ethnic Serbs boycotted the local ballot which recorded a turnout of just over 3% in the northern regions of Kosovo.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic accused Kosovo’s prime minister, Albin Kurti, of provoking the incidents by using the country’s special police units to forcibly clear the way for the recently elected mayors to enter their respective town halls, which had been blocked by Serbian demonstrators.

The United States and several European countries also denounced the use of force by Kosovo authorities, and Washington has suggested that mayors should work from other buildings to help restore calm.

Vucic has urged Kosovo Serbs, who say their community is discriminated against by Kosovo 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 and EU-sponsored plan, but that process has been frequently interrupted by ethnic tensions. EFE


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