Unrest has been ongoing for days in Serbian minority regions of northern Kosovo after controversial municipal elections resulted in ethnic Albanian mayors being installed in Serb-dominant communities. But what started as clashes between ethnic Serbs and Kosovo police has spiraled into violence as NATO troops have struggled to crackdown on raging protests.
Reuters has confirmed that NATO peacekeeping troops have been wounded and injured in the town of Zvecan, following Serb protesters attempting to gain entry into a local government building. NATO soldiers are also reportedly trying to protect other municipal buildings.
NATO IN KOSOVO pic.twitter.com/soKGiBnAEx— The_Real_Fly (@The_Real_Fly) May 29, 2023
April municipal elections had been boycotted by the Serb population in northern Kosovo, allowing ethnic Albanians to take over mayoral seats. Riots have been sparked in the past days after police attempted to install the mayors in their local government buildings amid Serb attempts to physically block the efforts.
Serbia has sent troops to the border amid the unpredictable situation, also amid rare US and EU condemnation of Kosovo authorities for needless provocations.
According to the BBC, several NATO peacekeeping forces have been injured in clashes with Serbian protesters, also seen in multiple circulating videos.
"Eleven Nato soldiers from Italy were among those hurt in the latest violence on Monday, with three of them left in a serious condition," BBC writes. They were reportedly taken to local hospitals. That casualty figure was later revised upward to at least two dozen injured. There are unknown numbers of injuries on the protester side as well.
"Nato-led peacekeepers in Zvecan at first tried to separate protesters from the police, but later dispersed the crowd using shields and batons," BBC continued.
The injuries came after "Several protestors threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at the soldiers," the report detailed.
NATO has condemned the attacks on its forces as "totally unacceptable" and urged all sides to "refrain from actions that further inflame tensions, and to engage in dialogue". But Brussels also called out the Kosovo government for escalatory policies:
“Pristina must de-escalate & not take unilateral, destabilizing steps,” Stoltenberg wrote, describing an “EU-led dialogue” between Pristina and Belgrade as “the only way to peace & normalisation."
Later statements raised the number of Monday troop injuries higher...
Currently there are fears things could explode toward violent scenes and ethnic fighting reminiscent of the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on Friday announced he put the Serbian army on a "higher state of alert" due to the clashes.
The border region has been restive for months over what Belgrade sees as yet more anti-Serb policies.
"An urgent movement (of troops) to the Kosovo border has been ordered," Serbia's defence minister Milos Vucevic said in a national broadcast. "It is clear that the terror against the Serb community in Kosovo is happening."