The former Serbian province of Kosovo does not come to rest. In response to the recent clashes, NATO wants to add more soldiers to the KFOR protection force. The EU called on the parties to the conflict to ensure calm.
After violent protests in northern Kosovo, NATO is strengthening its international protection force KFOR in the Balkan country. The stationing of additional NATO soldiers in Kosovo is a precautionary measure “to ensure that KFOR has the capabilities it needs to maintain security in accordance with our UN Security Council mandate,” said NATO Commander Stuart B. Munsch in the Main Operational Command of the Alliance in Italy. He also called for an end to the violence.
Clashes in the municipality of Zvecan
The background to the latest riots are the local elections that took place about a month ago. Most of these had been boycotted by the predominantly ethnic Serb population in the north. As a result, Kosovo Albanians were elected mayors with very few votes. They now wanted to take office – despite criticism that also came from the US embassy in Pristina.
Special forces from the Kosovar police and KFOR had to protect the newly elected mayors from Serb demonstrators. The Serbs are demanding the resignation of the ethnic Albanian mayors and the withdrawal of the Kosovar special police. The situation became critical on Monday, especially in the municipality of Zvecan. Serbian demonstrators tried to storm the city administration. KFOR soldiers confronted them. They were later attacked with stones, bottles and incendiary devices. The Kosovan police, who were also present, used tear gas.
Situation in the north remains tense
According to KFOR, 30 soldiers from Hungary and Italy suffered injuries, including broken bones and burns. “KFOR has responded to unprovoked attacks by a violent and dangerous crowd,” the force said in a statement. According to the hospital in the nearby town of Mitrovica, 53 Serbs were injured.
Incidents continued today when masked Serb men attacked two Albanian-numbered journalists’ cars in the town of Leposavic in northern Kosovo, a Reuters reporter observed. Dozens of NATO soldiers secured the city center in Zvecan. Several ethnic Serbs gathered in front of City Hall and faced the soldiers from the US, Italy and Poland. According to Reuters, the situation there remained calm.
Actually, the signs were pointing to relaxation
The conflicts in northern Kosovo have been dragging on for years: the country of 1.8 million inhabitants, with a majority ethnic Albanian population, declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, but is still treated by the government in Belgrade as a Serbian province considered. Around 120,000 Serbs live in Kosovo, mostly in the north of the country.
After an armed uprising by the Kosovar Albanians and a NATO intervention against Serbia in 1999, the UN administration Unmik managed the country. The NATO-led KFOR was commissioned by the UN in 1999 to ensure security in Kosovo. It still has about 3,800 soldiers stationed there today, including almost 70 Germans.
“We can’t afford another conflict”
The latest escalation comes at a remarkable time: Most recently, Kosovo and Serbia were mediated by the EU agreed to normalize their relationships. However, they seem to be a long way from that at the moment. The EU condemned the riots accordingly. “Acts of violence against citizens, against the media, against law enforcement agencies and KFOR troops are absolutely unacceptable,” said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell. They led “to a very dangerous situation”.
Both parties must immediately do everything possible to de-escalate and restore calm. Specifically, Borrell called on the Kosovan authorities to stop police operations and on the militant Serbs to withdraw. “We already have too much violence in Europe. We cannot afford another conflict,” he said.
With information from Silke Hahne, ARD Studio Vienna