Tension near the border between Serbia and northern Kosovo is high. Serb protesters have used small firearms to injure two German NATO peacekeepers attempting to remove roadblocks to the border.
Kosovo Serbs clashed with NATO soldiers over roadblock removal
Two German NATO soldiers stationed in Kosovo were wounded by gunfire on Monday in clashes with hundreds of Serb protesters, a spokesman for the alliance's Kosovo Force (KFOR) said.
The violence erupted early Monday when NATO soldiers began removing a roadblock that Serbs put up in July after the ethnic Albanian-led government in Pristina tried to take control of border crossings with Serbia in the north.
"The demonstrators used small firearms, wounding two soldiers," said KFOR spokesman Dan Harvey in a statement. The soldiers' injuries were reportedly not life-threatening.
KFOR responded with tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets. A total of 25 soldiers were injured in the clashes, with another 100 Serbs injured as well.
NATO troops are trying to remove the roadblocks after months of tension
More than a dozen roadblocks have been erected on roads leading to the Brnjak and Jarinje border crossings. KFOR peacekeepers backed off from an effort to dismantle the barriers a month ago when the Serb protesters refused to leave.
Serbs make up the majority in northern Kosovo, and many refuse to recognize the sovereignty of the government in Pristina. The Serbian government also views Kosovo as a renegade province, and EU-mediated negotiations with between Belgrade and Pristina have failed to resolve the border dispute or defuse tension in northern Kosovo.
A call for calm
In Belgrade, Serbian President Boris Tadic called on both sides to stop the violence.
"I call on the representatives of KFOR, EULEX and (northern Kosovo) Serb political representatives to immediately calm down the situation and ensure full freedom of movement exclusively through dialogue and without using violence," he said in a statement.
The Kosovo government condemend the attack on the troops and called for those responsible "to be brought to justice."
At NATO's headquarters in Brussels, alliance spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said it was monitoring the situation.
"The use of violence against (NATO) troops is unacceptable," said Lungescu. "We urge all parties to exercise restraint and cooperate fully with all international actors on the ground to ensure freedome of movement without delay."
NATO said its soldiers have now been instructed to fire live ammunition if they come under attack.
Author: Andrew Bowen (AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Martin Kuebler