Several people were injured in clashes in northern Kosovo, including soldiers from the NATO-led security force KFOR. Serbian demonstrators had protested against new Albanian mayors.
Dozens of people, including soldiers from the NATO-led security force KFOR, were injured in riots in northern Kosovo. According to sources in Rome and Budapest, more than 30 Italian and Hungarian KFOR soldiers were injured, some seriously, while confronting Serb demonstrators who were attempting to storm the municipality of Zvecan in northern Kosovo.
The soldiers used stun grenades and tear gas. The protesting crowd in turn threw stones, bottles and other objects at them, local media reported. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said 52 Serbs were injured, three of them seriously. A 50-year-old was “injured by two shots by (ethnic) Albanian special forces,” he said on the online network Facebook.
KFOR: “Completely unacceptable” attacks
KFOR said several soldiers from the Italian and Hungarian KFOR contingents had been attacked without reason and suffered injuries, including fractures and burns, from the explosion of incendiary bombs. She condemned the attacks on her troops as “completely unacceptable”. KFOR commander Angelo Michele Ristuccia said his force would “continue to carry out its mandate impartially”.
Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said further attacks against KFOR would “not be tolerated”. The Foreign Office in Berlin called for an “immediate stop” to the violence.
Serbs don’t recognize new mayors
The protests in Zvecan and other towns in northern Kosovo were directed against new ethnic Albanian mayors who were elected in April and have now taken office. Almost all ethnic Serbs in the region boycotted the elections, which is why the winners came from the ethnic Albanian parties. The previous ethnic Serb mayors resigned from their positions in November 2022 in protest against the policies of the Kosovan government.
Around 300 KFOR soldiers were supposed to secure the municipal office in Zvecan while the Kosovar police escorted the new mayor to his official residence. A larger group of demonstrators also gathered. According to a reporter from the dpa news agency, the situation escalated when the crowd tried to stop the police vehicles from driving away. The KFOR soldiers then broke up the meeting.
Kosovo-Serb politicians in the north of the country have called for the resignation of the new mayor. In addition, the Kosovar special police should leave the area. These demands were also sent to KFOR and the embassies of other countries.
Serbia was already putting the army on standby
The Serb minority of the otherwise predominantly ethnic Albanian Kosovo lives mainly in the north of the country – there, however, the ethnic Serbs form the majority. Again and again there are tensions and clashes. Many Kosovo Serbs do not recognize Kosovo and its government and want to belong to neighboring Serbia. Kosovo split from Serbia in 2008 – but Serbia continues to regard Kosovo as a Serbian province.
The Serbian army on the border with Kosovo was put on increased alert on Friday. Serbian Defense Minister Milos Vucevic said the military would be ready “to carry out any task and any order”. He hopes for a political solution. He accused KFOR of “protecting the police from unarmed people”.
25 injured KFOR soldiers after Serbian riots in Kosovo
Even 15 years after independence, Kosovo still hasn’t calmed down – following a mayoral election that got out of hand, Serbs demonstrated against the Albanian incumbent. Now members of the NATO-led peacekeeping mission also got caught between the fronts.
Around 25 soldiers from the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo (KFOR) were injured in riots by Serbian demonstrators. “Several soldiers from the Italian and Hungarian KFOR contingents were attacked without reason and suffered injuries with broken bones and burns from the explosion of incendiary bombs,” KFOR said on Monday evening.
KFOR condemned the attacks on its troops and stressed that such attacks were “completely unacceptable”. The Serb demonstrators, who are demanding the removal of the recently elected Albanian mayor, tried to break into the city administration building in the town of Zvecan in northern Kosovo.
The police then used tear gas. KFOR soldiers intervened and positioned themselves between the police and the demonstrators. Serbian state television reported that two Serbs were also injured.
In April, the Kosovar authorities held local elections in four Serb-majority towns. However, the Serbs largely boycotted the elections, so the Albanian minority took control of the municipal councils despite an overall turnout of less than 3.5 percent.
Serbia puts armed forces on high combat readiness
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell condemned the clashes. The violence against the NATO peacekeeping forces is “absolutely unacceptable”. “The EU calls on the authorities of Kosovo and the demonstrators to de-escalate the situation immediately and unconditionally,” Borrell wrote on Twitter. He demanded an immediate dialogue.
Meanwhile, Serbia put its armed forces on high combat readiness. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic had already ordered combat readiness on Friday, albeit initially at a lower level. Vucic will meet with the ambassadors of the United States, Italy, France, Germany and Britain – the so-called Quint group – on Tuesday, the president’s office said. After that he will hold separate meetings with the ambassadors of Finland, Russia and China.
Kosovo, a country of 1.8 million people with a majority ethnic Albanian population, declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, but Belgrade still regards it as a Serbian province to this day. Around 120,000 Serbs live in Kosovo. The region was shaken by a devastating war in 1998 and 1999.