Clashes in Kosovo with Serb protesters resulted Tuesday in the injury of 30 NATO-led peacekeepers. Shortly after the incident, NATO announced it would deploy additional forces to the region. This has all occurred amid rising tensions over the appointment of Albanian mayors in the country’s northern region.
NATO Kosovo Force (KFOR) confirmed the number of injuries in a statement Tuesday. KFOR Mission Commander Major General Angelo Michele Ristuccia stated that, “to avoid the clashes between parties and to minimize the risk of the escalation, KFOR peace-keepers prevented threats to the lives of Kosovo Serbs and Kosovo Albanians.” Ristuccia also called upon both parties to “take full responsibility for what happened and prevent any further escalation, rather than hide behind false narratives.”
While Kosovo as a whole has a majority-Albanian ethnic population, the country’s northern region is dominated by ethnic-Serbs, who boycotted municipal elections last month after their demands for increased autonomy were not met. Tensions boiled over last week when Serb protesters blocked newly-elected Albanian mayors in three communes in northern Kosovo from entering government buildings. The incidents led local police to take violent action against the protesters, which the international community condemned.
State leaders of Kosovo and Serbia have each laid blame for the worsening situation at each others’ feet. In a televised addressed, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić held Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti responsible for the conflict and discouraged violence which he said could fulfill Kurti’s desire to bring about a conflict between the Serbs and NATO.
Serbia previously condemned the KFOR’s failure to stabilize the situation. Shortly thereafter, Serbian armed forces were placed on a high state of alert.
Meanwhile, Kurti spoke out against what he called “violent extremism” and “fascist violence” perpetrated by Serb protesters. Kurti’s insistence on supporting the mandate for the new mayors—who were elected with just a 3.5 percent voter turnout—has invoked sharp rebukes from Kosovo’s international allies.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken released a press statement Friday declaring that the US “strongly condemns the actions by the Government of Kosovo to access municipal buildings in the north of Kosovo by force, actions it took against the advice of the United States and Kosovo’s European partners.” Blinken claimed that enforcing the mandates has caused tensions to sharply and unnecessarily rise. He claimed that this has undermined the US’s “efforts to help normalize relations between Kosovo and Serbia.” Blinken called on Kurti to “reverse course and on all sides to refrain from any further actions that will inflame tensions and promote conflict.”
Tensions previously flared between the two countries in December, which persisted through March, when both countries agreed to normalize relations. The two countries have had a tense relationship since the end of the Kosovo War in the late 1990s, which resulted in the separation of Kosovo from the former Yugoslavia.