Clashes in north Kosovo shake Serbia’s EU hopes

Following the recent clashes between NATO troops and Kosovo Serbs, UN warns of further tension in the region. Germany also warns that Serbia is far from its EU path unless it contributes to end violence.

Kosovo Force (KFOR) soldiers from Germany and Austria fight with Kosovo Serbs during clashes in the village of Jagnjenica near the town of Zubin Potok Nov 28. Two NATO soldiers were severely wounded by gunfire as a result. REUTERS photo

Kosovo Force (KFOR) soldiers from Germany and Austria fight with Kosovo Serbs during clashes in the village of Jagnjenica near the town of Zubin Potok Nov 28. Two NATO soldiers were severely wounded by gunfire as a result. REUTERS photo

The United Nations has warned of “escalating violence” in northern Kosovo following Nov. 28 clashes that injured 30 peacekeepers and nearly 100 Kosovo Serbs amid promises by NATO to use force to protect its troops in the area.
Farid Zarif, the top U.N. envoy in Kosovo, told the U.N. Security Council on Nov. 29 that the latest incidents “clearly marked an escalation in the level of tension and violence” and called for “strong, united leadership from the international community” to try to reduce ethnic tensions, the Associated Press reported yesterday.
Thirty German and Austrian soldiers were wounded Nov. 28, some by small arms fire and Molotov cocktails, when hundreds of Serbs resisted an operation by NATO peacekeepers to remove a barricade in the largely lawless north of Kosovo. One of the Austrian KFOR soldiers, who suffered an injury to his lung, was briefly placed in an induced coma but has since awoken, the Austrian Defense Ministry said in a statement, according to Agence France-Presse. The soldier’s condition is not life threatening, the statement added.
Two KFOR soldiers were shot at by Kosovo Serbs while the rest were injured during the day, KFOR said in a statement.
NATO commanders warned that peacekeepers stationed in Kosovo would use all necessary force to protect themselves. “The use of violence against KFOR troops is unacceptable … I want to emphasize that KFOR reserves the right to protect itself against all aggressive actions,” Adm. Samuel Locklear, NATO’s joint operations chief, told journalists during a visit to Kosovo.
Erhard Drews, the commander of KFOR, blamed a “criminal hardcore minority” among ethnic Serbs for the injuries to his soldiers. “Gunshot wounds, shrapnel wounds, fractures and burns do not result from a legitimate demonstration,” said Drews. The KFOR troops “will use all means available in a life-threatening situation,” he added.
Following the clashes, Serbian President Boris Tadic called on Serbs in Kosovo to dismantle roadblocks Nov. 29 after violent clashes with NATO troops; Germany also warned that Belgrade’s European Union candidacy was on the line because of the violence.
Signaling a deepening rift between Serbia’s ruling coalition and the Serbs in northern Kosovo, Tadic said the barricades had to be removed, but urged NATO not to use force to dismantle them.
“At the same time, I call on political representatives of the Serbs to call on the people to remove the barricades,” he told reporters in Belgrade. “We are in a vicious circle from which there is no exit, and only extremists, political extremists, extremists from all spheres of life can benefit from such a situation.”
Kosovar Deputy Prime Minister Edita Tahiri told the Hürriyet Daily News yesterday that she could not consider Tadic’s call for the removal of the roadblocks “sincere” as long as Serbia continued to support parallel structures in northern Kosovo.
Tahiri said the Kosovo government strongly condemned the Nov. 28 attack and added that she did not expect any further escalation of tension since the Kosovar government would continue its positive attitude toward the north.
[HH] ‘Crisis threatens Serbia’s EU hopes’
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said the crisis threatened to stall Serbia’s EU integration, Reuters reported.
“Serbia must finally make a constructive contribution to this problem,” Westerwelle said in a statement. “Otherwise, it is difficult to see how Serbia can make progress on moving closer to the EU.”
Tadic had already conceded as much, saying, “The country is further from EU candidacy today than it was yesterday.”
Burbuce Rushiti, a Kosovo correspondent for Turkey’s private NTV news channel, said this was the first time Tadic had directly called for the removal of roadblocks in response to increased calls from the EU and the rest of the international community to do so.
Rushiti told the Daily News that the situation in the north had been very “tense since Monday” and added that KFOR used tear gas on Serbs after the latter had first used tear gas on the NATO forces.
On Nov. 29, Serbs in the village of Jagnjenica, the scene of Nov. 28’s violence, again began dumping sand on the roads, effectively blocking a unit of NATO soldiers from passing and raising questions about the control Belgrade exercises over the region.
Krstimir Pantic, a Serbian political leader in northern Kosovo, said he was “unpleasantly surprised” by Tadic’s statement because “we [had] had the absolute support of the president and the Serbian government to hold out” for four months.
Sevim Songün Demirezen contributed to this report from the Daily News’ Istanbul bureau.