At least two Kosovo Serbs and two NATO peacekeepers were injured in a fresh wave of violence in northern Kosovo, casting doubts on whether the conflict could be resolved in the near future.
The skirmishes occurred near the town of Zubin Potok, where Serbs were protesting NATO’s attempts to remove a barricade made of buses and trucks that was blocking a main road in the region. NATO peacekeeping troops responded by firing rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons at the demonstrators. They also used pepper spray and batons against the protesters while the latter hit the NATO peacekeepers with clubs and pelted them with rocks.
NATO has been claiming the two injured peacekeepers were under fire from the Serb demonstrators and is now instructing its soldiers to fire live ammunition if they come under attack.
Violence between Kosovo Serbs and NATO troops and Kosovar police flared up this summer after the self-proclaimed Kosovo government sought set up customs and border posts in the north of the country, where the overall minority Serbs make up a majority.
The Serb population responded by burning one of the posts and attacking Kosovar police. NATO troops were then called in, but Serbs began setting up barricades made of mud, soil, rock and concrete barriers to block the main road arteries leading to the border. This led to several skirmishes over the past months involving NATO peacekeepers and Kosovo Serbs.
Just last week more than 20 Portuguese and Hungarian soldiers were injured in another operation to remove the barricades.
Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008 but it was only recognized by 85 countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom and France, but not most of the countries, including Russia and Serbia itself.
Both Kosovo and Serbia, however, are seeking warmer relations with the EU and the latter is seeking membership.
The EU has been mediating negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo, but the latest talks held in Brussels last week were not very productive in resolving the border dispute.
Serbian President Boris Tadic has been calling on both NATO troops and Kosovo Serbs to stop the violence, saying it jeopardizes a compromise between Belgrade and Pristina and a sustainable resolution of the crisis.