NATO peacekeeping soldiers have been injured in clashes with Serbian protesters in Northern Kosovo while defending three town halls. Meanwhile, Serbia’s president has put the country’s army on the highest level of combat alert. KFOR, the NATO-led peacekeeping mission to Kosovo, has condemned the violence.
Footage from the Kosovo town of Zvecan, where the police are predominantly ethnic Albanians as a result of the departure of Serb officers last year, showed pepper spray being used to ward off a group of Serb protesters who tried to break through a security barrier and enter the municipal building.
Peacekeepers were attacked by Serbian demonstrators who retaliated by using tear gas and stun grenades.
In the violent clashes, some 25 NATO soldiers were injured with some suffering “fractures and burns.”
Meanwhile, NATO trucks were spray-painted with the letter “Z,” which is reminiscent of a Russian emblem connected with the war in Ukraine, and there were fights between Serbs and the police in Zvecan.
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KFOR, the NATO-led peacekeeping mission to Kosovo, released a statement condemning the attack.
The statement said: “While countering the most active fringes of the crowd, several soldiers of the Italian and Hungarian KFOR contingent were the subject of unprovoked attacks and sustained trauma wounds with fractures and burns due to the explosion of incendiary devices.”
According to Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, a total of 52 Serbs sustained injuries during the clashes, with three of them in critical condition.
In response, Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani accused Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic of engaging in actions that undermine the stability of Kosovo.
The events occurred the day after NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg urged Kosovo to de-escalate the tensions with Serbia, which had arisen due to clashes between Kosovan police and protesters objecting to Albanian mayors assuming office in ethnically Serbian regions.
Serbia, along with its longstanding ally Russia, refuses to recognize Kosovo’s independence, and Russia has utilized its veto power to prevent Kosovo from becoming a member of the United Nations.
Serbia maintains the view that Kosovo is an integral part of its territory.
Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic, ranked third in the world waded into the controversy during the French Open on Monday.
Following his first-round win on Monday, Djokovic wrote a message in Serbian on a camera lens, stating, “Kosovo is the heart of Serbia. Stop the violence.”
The French tennis federation (FFT), which organizes the tournament, stated that there are no official Grand Slam regulations regarding what players can or cannot express.
The FFT added that it will not issue any statements or take a stance on the matter.