Approximately 25 Nato peacekeeping troops defending three town halls in northern Kosovo were hurt in fights with Serb protestors, and the Serbian president ordered the army to the highest state of battle readiness.
Kfor, the NATO-led peacekeeping organisation in Kosovo, denounced the violence.
“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,” it said in a statement. “While countering the most active fringes of the crowd.”
Two Serbs were hurt in fighting, according to the defence ministry of Serbia, according to the country’s public media, RTS.
Kosovo’s president, Vjosa Osmani, accused her Serbian counterpart, Aleksandar Vučić, of destabilising Kosovo.
“Serb illegal structures turned into criminal gangs have attacked Kosovo police, Kfor officers & journalists. Those who carry out Vučić’s orders to destabilise the north of Kosovo must face justice,” Osmani tweeted.
The tense situation developed after ethnic Albanian mayors took office in northern Kosovo’s Serb-majority area after elections that the Serbs boycotted. This move led the US and its allies to rebuke Pristina on Friday.
In Zvecan, one of the towns, Kosovo police – staffed by ethnic Albanians after Serbs quit the force last year – sprayed pepper gas to repel a crowd of Serbs who broke through a security barricade and tried to force their way into the municipality building, witnesses said.
Serb protesters in Zvecan threw teargas and stun grenades at Nato soldiers. Serbs also clashed with police in Zvecan and spray-painted Nato vehicles with the letter “Z”, referring to a Russian sign used in the war in Ukraine.
In Leposavic, close to the border with Serbia, US peacekeeping troops in riot gear placed barbed wire around the town hall to protect it from hundreds of angry Serbs.
Later in the day, protesters threw eggs at a parked car belonging to the new Leposavic mayor.
Vučić, who is the commander in chief of the Serbian armed forces, has raised the army’s combat readiness to the highest level, the defence minister, Miloš Vučević, told reporters.
“This implies that immediately before 2 pm, the Serbian armed forces’ chief of the general staff issued additional instructions for the deployment of the army’s units in specific, designated positions,” Vučević said without elaborating.
Witnesses said that Nato peacekeepers also blocked off the town hall in Zubin Potok to protect it from angry local Serbs.