TWENTY-ONE international peacekeepers in Kosovo have been injured in clashes with local Serbs who stopped them dismantling one of several barricades that have become flashpoints for violence in recent months.
The Hungarian and Portuguese members of the Nato-led force, known as Kfor, were hurt when protesters threw rocks and drove vehicles at them outside the town of Zvecan, near the border between Serb-dominated northern Kosovo and Serbia itself.
Local Serbs and the Serbian government in Belgrade refuse to accept the international boundary because they do not recognise Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence, and they are opposed to having Kosovo state officials and police controlling the frontier.
The Kfor units fired tear gas to disperse the protesters and then withdrew from the area, after which Serbs reinforced the roadblock with truckloads of rocks and cement.
Shortly after the confrontation, an explosion wrecked three cars in nearby Mitrovica. The blast rocked a district mostly inhabited by ethnic Albanians, who comprise about 90 per cent of Kosovo’s two million population but are outnumbered by Serbs in northern areas.
The EU wants Serbia to accept the existence of an independent Kosovo and is urging Belgrade to make conciliatory steps towards the Pristina government ahead of a Brussels summit on December 9th at which Serbia hopes to be granted EU candidate status.
Serbia’s liberal government dares not risk being seen as “selling out” Kosovo’s Serbs, however, and the latest spike in tension makes a negotiated settlement to the border row less likely.
Local Serb leaders in northern Kosovo were angry with Kfor for trying to demolish the barricades despite being told they could move freely around the area. Serbs say the roadblocks are only in place to stop Kosovo police or officials trying to take control of the border posts.
Ethnic Albanian officials say the protests are being organised by Serb nationalists keen to undermine the Belgrade government before next year’s elections, and by Kosovo Serb criminals whose lucrative smuggling business would be damaged by strict border and customs controls.