Following the clashes between Kosovo Serbians and NATO’s KFOR forces wounding 15 people, including one peacekeeper in severe condition, on Tuesday, the EU-mediated talks between Serbia and Kosovo halted until ‘the Serbia is ready to re-engage’ according to mediator. More KFOR was sent to border on Wednesday.
Violence between ethnic Serbs and NATO forces in northern Kosovo resulted in 15 wounded people Tuesday night and prompted Belgrade to cancel EU-mediated talks in Brussels aimed at improving cooperation in the flow of people and goods, property rights and personal documents.
The talks will resume “when the Serbian side is ready to re-engage,” said Robert Cooper, who mediates the talks on behalf of the European Union.
The situation was calm but tensions were still high Wednesday morning after a group of ethnic Serbians clashed with NATO’s Kosovo Force, or KFOR, on Tuesday in northern Kosovo, where seven Serbs and eight peacekeepers were wounded. On Wednesday an eyewitness said NATO troops reinforced their positions around the Jarinje border crossing, 100 kilometers from Kosovo’s capital Pristina, deploying armored vehicles, sandbags and barbed wire. NATO also warned it would use lethal force to protect its troops. NATO spokesman Lt. Col. Kai Gudenoge said Tuesday’s clash began when the Serbian protesters threw pipebombs at the peacekeepers and injured four. KFOR first reacted with rubber bullets but one peacekeeper used live bullets following a Serb protester’s attempt to grab his gun, Naim Rashiti, Balkans analyst from the International Crisis Group in Kosovo, told the Hürriyet Daily News. The condition of the Serb shot by peacekeepers was stable but one peacekeeper was in severe condition, said Rashiti quoting local media. Serbia refuses to recognize Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence.
‘Criminals cause violence’
Kosovo wants customs officers to push its claim for statehood in the north, but Serbia sees the move as undermining its claim over the territory. Hundreds of Serbs spent Tuesday night at the barricades following the clashes. The Kosovo government said they would stay firm to continue operating border control and customs gates in northern Kosovo. The Serbs who clashed with the KFOR on Tuesday were criminals using the ambiguity of the current situation for smuggling and trafficking, according to Deputy Prime Minister of Kosovo Edita Tahiri. “We believe our citizens, including Serbs, want to live under law and order,” Tahiri told Hürriyet Daily News. Oliver Ivanovic, a senior Serbian leader in Kosovo blamed the violence on U.S. peacekeepers. Serbian President Boris Tadic called for dialogue to avoid such clashes. Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry called on KFOR to respect neutrality and the “supremacy of the law.”
Contributions from Reuters, AFP and AP stories are included in this report.