North Kosovo protests leave 25 NATO troops, 50 ethnic Serbs injured; KFOR condemns violence

Protests in Kosovo over the election of ethnic Albanian mayors in ethnic-Serb districts turned violent Monday, May 29, with some 25 NATO troops injured together with an estimated 50 protesting Serbs.

The protestors turned their anger on primarily Hungarian and Italian KFOR troops,  hurtling rocks and assaulting soldiers in riot gear with bats, clubs and sticks, but also throwing incendiary devices that left some KFOR personnel with burns and broken bones.

Nato harshly criticized the violence and stated wit will “take all necessary action” to keep the peace. Meanwhile, US representatives noted the unrest and called it “deeply concerning.”

What this does to five months of talks to “normalize” relations between Kosovo and Serbia is anyone’s guess, although Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, who is dealing with unrest at home over violence in the wake of two mass shootings earlier in May, blamed unrest on Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti.

In truth, North Kosovo has long been a tinderbox, with ethnic Serbs claiming that Kosovo police have long used harsh and repressive tactics, following the war in Kosovo, which ended at the turn of the century. A promised Community of Serb Municipalities (CSM) never materialized, and this has been a sticking point to negotiations between the two sides.

And despite ongoing talks, local Serbs have often shown dissatisfaction, staging a walkout earlier this year that included ethnic Serb police, state employees and politicians in the ethnically-dominated Serbian districts. New elections were held—perhaps unwisely—which has prompted local Serbs to protest attempts of ethnic Albanian mayors to enter local municipal buildings and replace Serbs who left their posts.

Meanwhile, Vucic has put the Serbian military on the border of Kosovo on the highest alert and referred to unrest as a pogrom against ethnic Serbs in North Kosovo. KFOR troops have appeared to be caught off guard by the violence, with ethnic Serbs hurling also hurling cannisters of tear gas, which have been met with pepper spray from ethnic Albanian police.

Protests have been off an on in Zvecan, Kosovo for years. Photo by Usama, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons.

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