Kosovo police and KFOR troops clashed with Serbian protesters in Zvecan on Monday. © -STR/AFP
In Kosovo, the conflict flares up again. NATO soldiers of the KFOR troops are attacked - Serbia puts its army in high readiness.
Pristina/Munich - Riots in Kosovo are once again causing international concern - and are providing Russia with ammunition for accusations against NATO: According to NATO sources, around two dozen soldiers of the KFOR peacekeeping force were injured in violent protests by ethnic Serbs in Kosovo in the village of Zvecan. The soldiers deployed to protect town halls were attacked on Monday (29 May) from crowds with exploding incendiary devices, NATO's Kosovo Force (KFOR) said.
A Serb was wounded by gunfire, the hospital in the nearby town of Mitrovica said. Another 52 Serbs were admitted there with injuries, the hospital said.
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Around 25 soldiers from Italy and Hungary suffered broken bones and burns. Other sources cite higher figures. Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani spoke of eleven injured Italians, the Budapest portal hvg.hu of 20 injured Hungarian soldiers. Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni called the incidents "unacceptable and irresponsible". According to eyewitnesses, the police, consisting of ethnic Albanians, used tear gas against the protests. Serbian state television reported that two Serbs were also injured.
This report was also picked up by the Russian state agency Tass. Here, however, it was said that NATO KFOR soldiers had "attacked Serbs in Kosovo." Serbia and Russia have a long-standing partnership - and the Kremlin has repeatedly made accusations against NATO. NATO strongly condemned the attacks on KFOR troops. "Such attacks are completely unacceptable. The violence must stop immediately. We call on all sides to refrain from actions that further inflame tensions and to enter into dialogue," a spokeswoman for the military alliance said.
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Serbia, meanwhile, put its armed forces in high combat readiness, according to Defense Minister Milos Vucevic. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic had already ordered combat readiness on Friday, but initially at a lower level.
Once again, the Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic got involved in political events. "Kosovo is the heart of Serbia! Stop the violence," he wrote on a camera after his opening match at the highly acclaimed Grand Slam tournament Roland Garros in Paris. The written statement was broadcast on large screens in the stadium, among other things. The by no means purely pacifist statement caused some uproar: On social media, users demanded, among other things, a ban on Djokovic.
Kosovo local elections cause heated mood - escalation near Mitrovica
The background to the conflict between the Serb minority and the Albanian majority in Kosovo, which has recently flared up again, is the local elections on 23 April. The Serbs, who make up the majority of the population in the northern part of the country, had boycotted the elections. Subsequently, Albanian mayoral candidates also won in municipalities inhabited by a majority of Serbs.
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When they took office on Monday, ethnic Serbs gathered for protests. The escalation occurred when the Serbian crowd in Zvecan refused to let the Kosovar police vehicles still standing there drive away. The KFOR squad then dispersed the assembly.
In protest against the policies of the Albanian population, ethnic Serbs had already withdrawn from the police and other public offices last year. Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008. However, neither Serbia nor the Serbian population in Kosovo recognises this. Since 1999, the KFOR sent by NATO has been tasked with ensuring security in the country on the basis of a UN mandate. (rtr/fn)