At least six people have been injured after ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo clashed with members of NATO-led Kosovo Peacekeeping Force (KFOR) during an attempt by the peacekeepers to remove road blocks set up by the local Serbs last year, media reports citing officials said Friday.
The incident happened near the town of Zvecan. Those injured in the violence reportedly included at least four Serbs and two NATO troops. Local media reports indicated that the NATO soldiers were injured by pistol fire from the local Serbs.
The NATO-led force in a statement said the Serbs threw stones at the peacekeepers as they were attempting to remove the roadblocks and added that its forces "responded in self-defense accordingly, by using teargas and rubber bullets."
KFOR confirmed in the statement that two of its soldiers "wounded by gunshots" during the operation to remove the roadblocks, which it said was essential "to improve freedom of movement not only for KFOR but also for international organizations and for all people in Kosovo."
KFOR had taken control of the troubled region along Kosovo's northern boundary with Serbia in July 2011 to quell escalation in ethnic violence in the region, which is home to ethnic Serbs who oppose Kosovo's independence from Serbia.
The tension between ethnic Albanians and minority Serbs in the region started after Kosovo police forces began an operation in mid 2011 to take control of the two disputed border check-posts in the area with the intention of enforcing a government ban on all Serbian imports. The violent clashes that followed, forced Kosovo to withdrew its police units from the area and declare the operation as over.
In February 2008, ethnic Albanian-dominated Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia. Although Russia and Serbia opposed the move, the International Court of Justice in July 2010 ruled in Kosovo's favor, indicating that the move "did not violate general international law."
Serbia, however, has steadfastly refused to grant recognition to Kosovo. Nevertheless, Serbia has agreed to EU-sponsored talks on areas including airspace and telecoms which are crucial to Kosovo's existence and development as an independent nation.
Serbia was recognized as an official candidate for European Union membership in March after it signed two cooperation agreements with Kosovo under the previous administration led by pro-European President Boris Tadic, and extradited to the U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal two fugitives for atrocities committed during the Balkan Wars.
But analysts now expect Serbia to harden its stand against Kosovo, following the election of nationalist Tomislav Nikolic as the country's president. Nikolic defeated Tadic in a run-off election held last month. Earlier this week, Nikolic stressed that he would "never" recognize Kosovo's independence even if it meant sacrificing Serbia's EU membership aspirations.
EU wants Belgrade to resolve its differences with the breakaway province before joining the bloc. Serbia had launched the process of joining the EU in December 2009, and was initially hoping to become a membership candidate in the first half of 2012.
by RTT Staff Writer
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