Serbs, NATO troops clash in northern Kosovo | News | DW | 01.06.2012
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Serbs, NATO troops clash in northern Kosovo

Serbs clashed with NATO troops in northern Kosovo on Friday after they moved in to try to take down a roadblock. The incident threatens to fuel the already high tensions in Kosovo's mainly Serb north.

A number of people were injured on Friday, after armed clashes broke out between NATO-led peacekeepers and Serbs in northern Kosovo.

The trouble broke out after German KFOR soldiers attempted to dismantle a roadblock erected at a bridge near the town of Zvecan by Serbs. Several hundred Serbs turned up at the blockade and pelted the troops with rocks.

The soldiers used tear gas to prevent more Serbs from approaching the area. Witnesses also reported that NATO troops fired rubber bullets, while some protesters fired back with handguns.

Serb officials said at least four demonstrators had been injured, while KFOR confirmed two soldiers had also been hurt.

"KFOR confirms two wounded soldiers during the removal operation," the mission said in a statement. "KFOR has established numerous vehicle checkpoints and secured areas for safety reasons."

The roadblock is just one of a number of checkpoints that Serbs set up about a year ago in an effort to prevent the government in Pristina from asserting its control over the mainly Serb north. One Kosovo policeman was killed and several Serb civilians and KFOR troops were injured during previous attempts to take down the barriers.

Cooperation deals

Earlier this year, tensions appeared to have eased after the government of then-Serbian President Boris Tadic reached agreements with Kosovo on cooperating on things like driver's licences, land registry and school-leaving diplomas. Although Tadic said Serbia would never recognize its former province as a separate state, the agreements on such practical issues helped win Serbia the status of European Union candidate.

Tadic was defeated in last month's presidential election by the former hardliner and Slobodan Milosevic ally, Tomislav Nikolic. While he now says he supports Serbia's bid to join the EU, in a speech to parliament in Belgrade following his inauguration on Thursday, Nikolic stressed that it would never give up its claim to Kosovo.

Serbia lost control of Kosovo after a NATO bombing campaign brought an end to a bloody inter-ethnic conflict. Kosovo, which is mainly Albanian, declared independence in 2008. It has since been recognized by 90 countries, including 22 of the 27 EU member states.

pfd/ncy (Reuters, dpa, AP)