NATO deploys more forces to Kosovo after 30 peacekeepers injured

Soldiers of NATO-led international peacekeeping Kosovo Force (KFOR) clash with ethnic Serbs in front of the building of the municipality in Zvecan. (EPA-EFE/GEORGI LICOVSKI)

After 30 of its peacekeepers were injured in clashes with ethnic Serb demonstrators during a protracted dispute, NATO is deploying 700 additional troops to northern Kosovo.

"We have decided to deploy 700 more troops from the operational reserve force to the Western Balkans," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in Oslo on Tuesday, following discussions with Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store.

He stated that NATO would also "place an additional battalion of reserve forces in a state of high readiness so that they can be deployed if necessary."

A battalion typically consists of 300 to 1,000 soldiers. KFOR, the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, comprises nearly 3,800 troops at present.

Admiral Stuart Munsch, commander of the Allied Force Command in Naples, described the action as a "prudent measure" to ensure that KFOR has "the capabilities necessary to maintain security."

KFOR reported that the 30 injured Hungarian and Italian peacekeepers had multiple injuries, including "fractures and burns from improvised explosive incendiary devices."

In 1998, separatist ethnic Albanians revolted against Serbia's rule, and Serbia retaliated with a brutal crackdown. This sparked the conflict in Kosovo. Approximately 13,000 individuals, predominantly ethnic Albanians, perished.

The 1999 military intervention by NATO ultimately compelled Serbia to withdraw from the territory, paving the way for establishing the KFOR peacekeeping mission.

Serbia has refused to acknowledge the 2008 declaration of independence by Kosovo. Most of Kosovo's population consists of ethnic Albanians, but there is a restive Serb minority in the country's northern border region with Serbia.

The most recent escalation of tensions occurred over the past weekend when officials of ethnic Albanian descent elected in elections overwhelmingly boycotted by Serbs entered municipal buildings. Kosovo police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd of Serbian protesters who attempted to impede their path.

Serbia placed its military on high alert in response and dispatched additional soldiers to the Kosovo border. On Monday, the Serbs protested again, insisting that ethnic Albanian mayors and Kosovo police must depart northern Kosovo.

The situation remained tense on Tuesday in the northern Kosovo town of Zvecan, where ethnic Serbs congregated outside the town hall that a crowd had attempted to storm on Monday. The Kosovo police had repelled them with tear gas before the intervention of NATO-led peacekeepers.

The soldiers attempted to separate the demonstrators from the police but later used shields and batons to disperse the crowd. A number of protestors responded by throwing pebbles, bottles, and Molotov cocktails.

Numerous Serbs are requesting the withdrawal of Kosovo police forces and ethnic Albanian mayors whom they do not consider to be their genuine representatives.

Clashes ‘absolutely unacceptable’

The head of EU foreign policy, Josep Borrell, urged the leaders of Kosovo and Serbia to de-escalate tensions, describing them as "absolutely unacceptable promptly."

Since then, he has asked Kosovo's Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Serbia's President Alexander Vucic to avoid "further unilateral action."

Borrell stated that Kosovo's authorities must suspend police operations targeting municipal buildings in northern Kosovo and that ethnic Serb demonstrators must cease their actions. He also warned that the EU was "discussing potential measures" to be implemented if both sides continued to "resist proposed de-escalation steps."

Vucic reported that 52 demonstrators were injured in Monday's confrontations, including three who suffered "serious" injuries. According to Kosovo police, five Serbs were detained for participating in the confrontations.

Publish : 2023-05-31 12:49:00

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