PHOTO: Erkin Keci/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
At least 30 UN peacekeeping soldiers were injured during an eruption of unprecedented violence following disputed elections in Kosovo. NATO condemned Monday’s violent attack by Serb protestors on its peacekeepers in the Balkan country that left dozens injured as “totally unacceptable”.
Peacekeeping troops and Kosovar riot police were protecting three municipal offices in north Kosovo, where Serbs are in the majority, during the arrival of newly-elected Albanian mayors.
Kosovo riot police units – widely seen among Kosovar Serbs as Albanian-dominated and hostile – escorted the three mayors, elected last year in elections boycotted by local Serb parties, to their municipal offices. This set off a furious response from the gathered crowds of Serbs. Confrontations with journalists, damage to property and multiple burned vehicles were widely reported on social media. In the small northern town of Zvecan, the arrival of the new mayor and replacement over the town hall of the Serbian flag with a Kosovan one set off a riot as demonstrators armed with clubs, rocks, homemade fire bombs and stun grenades attacked Kosovo police as well as NATO peacekeepers from Italy and Hungary.Authenticated social media videos of Monday’s clashes showed dozens of demonstrators repeatedly attacking lines of riot police and soldiers. Injured soldiers could be heard cursing in both Hungarian and English.
Although the scenes at the other municipalities were tense - one mayor was forced to sleep in the office because of the hostile crowd surrounding the centre - the violence in Zvecan was unprecedented for Kosovo in the last decade. At least 11 Italian and 20 Hungarian soldiers were seriously injured enough to require medical treatment outside the country.By Tuesday the violence had ebbed, although government buildings remained ringed by NATO troops and police, with some reports of protestors damaging property and harassing journalists covering the situation.Russia accused the West of blaming the Serbs and demanded it stopped spreading “deceitful propaganda” about the clashes. Kosovo, Europe’s youngest country founded in 2008, was an Albanian-majority part of Serbia until NATO intervened in a civil war between Albanian separatists and the Serb military on the side of the Albanians, bombing Serbia for more than a month in 1999 until a peace agreement established Kosovo’s independence. But tensions have remained high between Kosovo’s tiny Serbian minority – by some accounts only about 50,000 people in Kosovo’s 2 million – and the central government in Pristina, with Belgrade continuing to economically support the Serbs of North Kosovo, while also regularly calling for demonstrations to pressure Pristina into political concessions.US officials appeared to place the blame for the incidents squarely on the Kosovar government for forcing the issue of the mayors without coming to agreement with the Serbian minority after having warned over the weekend not to proceed.