NATO will send 700 reinforcement troops to northern Kosovo, following violent altercations on Monday that left dozens injured, including 30 members of the Atlantic Alliance peace support force (Kosovo Force or KFOR). Both the military organization and the European Union have condemned on Tuesday in harsh terms the violent protests of Kosovo Serb demonstrators opposed to the attempted inauguration of mayors of Albanian descent in several municipalities of Serb majority and have called on the two parties to initiate an immediate "de-escalation" of tension and to sit down again at the negotiating table.
"We have decided to deploy 700 additional troops from the operational reserve force for the Western Balkans and to make an additional battalion of reserve forces ready to be deployed if necessary," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told a news conference in Oslo.
The Norwegian capital will host on Wednesday and Thursday an informal meeting of the foreign ministers of the Atlantic Alliance in which the new Kosovar crisis will be discussed, despite not initially being on the agenda, according to allied sources. The deployment of additional forces is a "prudent step" to ensure that KFOR – composed of some 3,800 personnel – has "the forces and capabilities to fulfill its mandate" of peacekeeping received by the United Nations, stressed Stoltenberg, who also stressed that international troops act "impartially" and "will take all necessary actions to maintain a safe climate for all citizens in Kosovo."
In this regard, the Secretary General of NATO has described as "unacceptable" the attacks on the peacekeeping forces, which according to a statement from KFOR, caused injuries of varying severity, including "fractures and burns", to 30 troops deployed in the town of Zvecan, 11 members of the Italian contingent and 19 of the Hungarian contingent. Three of the Hungarian soldiers were wounded by gunfire, although their lives are not in danger, according to official information.
From Brussels, also the high representative for Foreign Policy of the EU, Josep Borrell, has condemned on Tuesday in harsh terms a violence "unacceptable and that leads to a very dangerous situation" to the region. As he explained, in the last hours he has spoken again with the Kosovar Prime Minister, Albin Kurti, and the Serbian President, Aleksandar Vucic, whom he has urged to take measures to reduce tension "immediately and unconditionally".
"We must avoid any new unilateral action and we must restore calm," stressed the head of European diplomacy. In this regard, he has indicated that he hopes, as a "first step", that the Kosovar authorities "suspend police operations focused on municipal buildings in northern Kosovo", where in recent days they have helped mayors of Albanian descent to try to take possession of their posts after an election in April with low participation before the boycott of the Kosovo Serb majority in the area to the process promoted by Pristina. Borrell has also called on violent demonstrators to abandon their protests.
"The EU expects the parties to act responsibly and engage immediately in the EU-facilitated dialogue to find a lasting solution to the situation in northern Kosovo that ensures the safety of all citizens and paves the way for the implementation of the new agreement on the path of normalisation between Kosovo and Serbia presented by Brussels at the end of February," said Borrell, who has revealed that he is already working to organize an "urgent" meeting between the parties.
Instability in the Balkans
The new peak of violence worries both the Twenty-seven and NATO allies, who fear that it could become an additional factor of instability in the Balkans at a time when the West faces a war on its doorstep provoked by Russia in Ukraine.
Pristina and Belgrade should "contribute to fruitful regional cooperation and security in Europe, overcoming the legacy of the past," urged Borrell, for whom "there has been too much violence already" both in the region and in a continent that "cannot afford another conflict" on its territory.
Stoltenberg has also been definitive: "The violence delays Kosovo and the entire region and puts its Euro-Atlantic aspirations at risk," warned the head of NATO, who has urged the two parties to "take concrete steps to de-escalate the situation, refrain from further irresponsible behavior and participate in the dialogue facilitated by the EU" that, He stressed, "It is the only way to lasting peace."
After Monday's clashes, hundreds of Serb demonstrators have returned to concentrate on Tuesday in front of the City Council of Zvecan, one of the affected municipalities and where the worst episodes of violence were recorded the day before. In the end, they left the area, although they promised to return on Wednesday, Agence France Presse reports.
The Serb population is a minority in Kosovo, where it represents only 5.8% of the 1.8 million inhabitants of this former Serbian province that became independent in 2008 and is recognized by 100 of the 193 member countries of the UN (Spain is not among them). The Serb minority decided to boycott the April local elections in these localities, which resulted in the election of Kosovo Albanian mayors with a turnout of less than 3.5% in these areas.
Follow all the international information on Facebook and Twitter, or in our weekly newsletter.
Subscribe to continue reading
Read without limits
I'm already a subscriber