NATO announced on Tuesday the dispatch of new forces to northern Kosovo, where Serb protesters gathered in front of a town hall, the scene the day before of clashes which left around 30 injured among international soldiers and around 50 among the protesters. .
“The deployment of additional NATO forces in Kosovo is a prudent measure to ensure that KFOR (the force led by the Alliance in the former Serbian province) has the capabilities it needs to maintain security,” Admiral Stuart B. Munsch said in a statement issued in Naples, Italy.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg condemned “unacceptable” attacks at a press conference in Oslo.
The European Union, which has acted as a mediator between the two former enemies for more than a decade, called on Serbs and Kosovars to “defuse tensions immediately and unconditionally”.
Showdown at Zvecan
The situation has been volatile for several days in northern Kovoso, where a large Serbian minority lives.
The hundreds of Serb demonstrators who gathered on Tuesday in front of Zvecan town hall left the scene, but promised to return the next morning, reports an AFP correspondent.
After the violent clashes on Monday, KFOR soldiers in riot gear had placed a metal barrier around the municipal building to prevent demonstrators from entering it.
Three armored vehicles of the Kosovo police, whose presence still arouses the ire of the majority Serbs in four localities in northern Kosovo, were also on site.
Serbs boycotted the April municipal elections in these cities, which resulted in the election of Albanian mayors with a turnout of less than 3.5%.
These city councilors were enthroned last week by the government of Albin Kurti, the prime minister of this overwhelmingly Albanian-populated territory, despite calls for restraint from the EU and the United States.
Serbia, supported by its Russian and Chinese allies, has never recognized the independence proclaimed in 2008 by its former province, a decade after a deadly war between Serbian forces and Albanian separatist rebels.
Relations between Belgrade and Pristina are going from crisis to crisis.
Some 120,000 Serbs live in Kosovo, out of 1.8 million inhabitants. About a third of them live in northern Kosovo.
The demonstrators demand the departure of the Albanian mayors deemed “illegitimate” as well as that of the Kosovar police. They also demand the release of two demonstrators arrested by the Kosovo police.
The EU, through its head of diplomacy Josep Borrell, asked the Kosovo authorities to suspend their police operations around municipal buildings and the Serb demonstrators to withdraw.
The situation had already degenerated on Friday when the mayors came to take office.
Monday, in a new fit of fever, Serb demonstrators tried to force the entrance door of the town hall of Zvecan but were repelled by the Kosovar forces.
KFOR then tried to separate the two sides before starting to disperse the most violent demonstrators.
The protesters responded by throwing stones, bottles and Molotov cocktails at the soldiers.
More than 80 injured on both sides
Nineteen Hungarian and 11 Italian soldiers were injured in the clashes, KFOR said in a statement, adding that they suffered in particular from “fractures and burns caused by improvised incendiary explosive devices”.
“Three Hungarian soldiers were injured by firearms,” according to the same source.
At least 52 people were injured in the ranks of the Serb demonstrators, three of them seriously, said Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.
Belgrade has ordered the Serbian army to be placed on high alert, as has been the regular case in recent years.
Kosovo police described the situation as “fragile but calm” and called on residents “not to fall into the trap of calls for violent demonstrations and provocations”.
The Serbian president met on Tuesday in Belgrade with the ambassadors of the Quinte, five member powers of NATO who are closely watching the Western Balkans, but announced that he would also meet with representatives of Russia and China.
In the meantime, Moscow has called on the West to “finally put an end to its false propaganda and to stop blaming the incidents in Kosovo on the Serbs driven to despair”.
After his meeting with Western diplomats, Aleksandar Vucic called on the five powers to pressure Pristina into accepting what he described as a “small condition”.
“I can’t believe the most powerful Western countries can’t get it filled,” he said in an Instagram video, citing “the withdrawal from northern Kosovo of special police forces from Pristina and the away from fake mayors who really don’t represent anyone”.