The powder keg of Europe

There were violent fights between Serbian protesters and NATO Kosovo Force (KFOR) when KFOR was defending three town halls in northern Kosovo which resulted in at least 25 NATO forces being hurt.

The violence was denounced by KFOR, the NATO-led peacekeeping organization in Kosovo.

“Several soldiers of the Italian and Hungarian KFOR contingent were the targets of unprovoked attacks and sustained trauma wounds with fractures and burns due to the explosion of incendiary devices while countering the most active fringes of the crowd,” said in a statement.

Two Serbs were hurt during clashes, according to the military ministry, as reported by Serbia’s RTS official television.

Vjosa Osmani, the president of Kosovo, charged that Aleksandar Vučić, his Serbian counterpart, destabilizing Kosovo.

The tense situation arose after ethnic Albanian mayors were elected in the Serb majority territory of northern Kosovo following elections that the Serbs boycotted, prompting the U.S. and its allies to criticize Pristina on Friday.

Witnesses claim that in one of the cities, Zvean, ethnic Albanian police used pepper gas to fend off a group of Serbs who tried to force their way inside the municipal building.

The NATO peacekeepers were attacked with gas and stun grenades. In Zvean, Serbians clashed with the police as well as spray-painted the letter “Z” on NATO trucks about a Russian sign that was used during the war in Ukraine.

U.S. peacekeeping troops in riot gear surrounded the town hall in Leposavic, which is close to the Serbian border, with barbed wire to keep hundreds of enraged Serbs away.

Later on in the day, demonstrators threw eggs at the new mayor of Leposavic’s parked automobile.

Miloš Vučević, the defense minister, told reporters that Vučić, the Serbian military’s supreme commander, has increased the army’s combat readiness to the highest level.

Without going into further detail, Vučević stated, “This means that the Chief of the General Staff of the Serbian Armed Forces gave new instructions for the deployment of the army’s troops in specific, defined positions.

Witnesses claimed that NATO forces also sealed off Zubin Potok town hall to shield it from enraged local Serbs.

The deputy leader of the largest Kosovo Serb party supported by Belgrade, Igor Simić, charged Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti with inciting unrest in the region.

“We are interested in peace. Albanians who live here are interested in peace, and only he (Kurti) wants to make chaos.”

Igor Simić, leader of the Kosovo Serb party

BACKGROUND

More than 20 years after the Kosovo Albanian struggle against oppressive Serbian domination, Serbs, who make up the majority in Kosovo’s north, still view Belgrade as their capital. They have never recognized Kosovo’s 2008 proclamation of independence from Serbia.

More than 90% of people in Kosovo are of ethnic Albanian descent, but northern Serbs have long pushed for the implementation of a 2013 agreement mediated by the EU that would have created an association of autonomous municipalities in their region.

In four Serb-majority towns, including North Mitrovica, where no disturbances were recorded on Monday, ethnic Albanian candidates won the mayoral elections in April as a result of the Serbs’ refusal to vote.

Serbs demand that the Kosovo government oust ethnic Albanian mayors from town halls and restore the functions of local administrations supported by Belgrade.

The police, who were attacked with rocks and used tear gas and water cannon to disperse the crowd, led three of the four ethnic Albanian mayors into their offices on Friday.

The United States and its allies, who have firmly backed Kosovo’s independence, censured Pristina on Friday for appointing mayors in Serb-majority areas without popular support, saying that this undermined attempts to restore relations.

After a weekend phone discussion with the head of foreign policy for the European Union, Kurti tweeted in support of Pristina’s stance: “Emphasized that elected mayors will provide services to all citizens.”

According to Ivica Dačić, the foreign minister of Serbia, “having mayors who have not been elected by Serbs in Serb-majority municipalities is not possible.”

After speaking with Kurti, Jeffrey Hovenier, the U.S. ambassador to Kosovo, told reporters, “We are concerned about reports today about violence against official property. We’ve seen pictures of graffiti against KFOR cars and police cars, we’ve heard about attacks on journalists, we condemn that, that is not an appropriate response.”

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