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North Kosovo: Shots fired near NATO patrol amid tensions

December 26, 2022

NATO said there were no injuries and they were working to establish the facts surrounding the incident. Northern Kosovo has seen weeks of mounting ethnic tensions between local ethnic Serbs and Kosovar authorities.

Two soldiers standing between two vehicles guard a checkpoint
NATO confirmed that shots were fired in Serbian-majority northern Kosovo on Sunday, although no one was injuredImage: Marjan Vucetic/AP Photo/picture alliance

NATO is investigating a shooting incident that took place in northern Kosovo over the weekend, NATO-led peacekeeping Kosovo Force (KFOR) said on Monday.

KFOR said there were no injuries after gunshots were fired Sunday near patrolling NATO troops. The Latvian Ministry of Defense confirmed Monday that its forces attached to the KFOR mission were involved in the incident.

There was also no material damage reported in the incident that took place in Zubin Potok area, which is close to the border with Serbia.

"As meetings between all the parties are planned, it is important for all involved to avoid any rhetoric or actions that can cause tensions and escalate the situation," KFOR added.

The commander of the peacekeeping forces in Kosovo also met with Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti to discuss the situation. 

Major General Angelo Michele Ristuccia and Albin Kurti
NATO Commander Angelo Michele Ristuccia meets with Albin Kurti Image: Kosovo government public affairs office/AP Photo/picture alliance

The shooting incident comes at a time of heightened ethnic tensions in the region between local Serbs and Kosovar authorities. The spat initially began over Kosovo banning Serbian license plates.

What happened on Sunday?

NATO's mission in Kosovo confirmed that shots were fired in the area of Zubin Potok on Sunday.

KFOR said in a statement that the NATO patrol vehicle was undamaged and there were no injuries.

Further details on the shooting were unclear. NATO did not comment on where the shots came from. NATO has bolstered its presence in northern Kosovo to maintain the fragile peace, with over 3,700 troops in the country.

Earlier on Sunday, some Serbian media reported that "fighting" had broken out after Kosovar authorities attempted to dismantle a barricade erected by local Serbs.

Kosovo's police denied the account in a statement on their Facebook page, saying that their officers had not been involved in clashes.

Serbia's army chief headed to border

Also on Sunday, Serbia's President Aleksandar Vucic sent the country's army chief to the border with Kosovo, according to Serbian media reports.

Ethnic Serbs began erecting roadblocks on December 10 to protest the arrest of an ex-police officer. The barricades have halted traffic through two border crossings.

A map showing the distribution of ethnic Serbs and ethnic Albanians in Kosovo
Roadblocks erected in Serb-majority regions of northern Kosovo have brought a halt to traffic between the two countries

General Milan Mojsilovic told news channel Pink TV that the "complex" situation on the border "requires in the coming period the presence of the Serbian army."

The Serbian army chief set off for the town of Raska, located around 10 kilometers (6 miles) away from the border with Kosovo, following a meeting with Vucic on Sunday.

"The tasks the Serbian army has got ... are precise, clear, and will be fully implemented," Mojsilovic told Pink TV.

Why are tensions especially high?

The latest tensions between Pristina and Belgrade stem from a dispute over banning Serbian license plates in Kosovo. The decision led to hundreds of local mayors, judges and police officers resigning from their posts in protest.

As a result, Pristina called for local elections to take place on December 18 which the main Serb political party said it would boycott. Ethnic Serbs then began setting up roadblocks on the main border crossings with Serbia.

Following pressure from the United States and the European Union, Kosovar President Vjosa Osmani then delayed the vote to April 23. The license plate change has also been put on hold.

The tensions, however, further boiled over following the arrest of an ex-police officer who is suspected of terrorism.

The Kosovo prosecutor's office accuses him of having carried out a bomb attack on the premises of the election commission in North Mitrovica.

The US and EU have also urged Serbia to reduce tensions.

rs/ar,sri (Reuters, AFP)