1 of 2 | Soldiers of NATO-led international peacekeeping Kosovo Force (KFOR) clash with ethnic Serbs in front of the building of the municipality in Zvecan, Kosovo, on Monday. Protests and clashes in Zvecan continue as tensions in northern Kosovo’s region, with majority of ethnic Serbian people, arose after ethnic Albanian mayors took offices in four towns following elections boycotted by Serbian community. Photo by Georgi Licovski/EPA-EFE/
May 29 (UPI) -- At least 25 NATO-led Kosovo Force peacekeepers and 50 Serbian protesters were injured Monday in northern Kosovo during clashes over the recent election of ethnic Albanian mayors.
Monday's violence comes after local Serbs gathered in front of municipal buildings Friday to protest Zvecan's newly elected mayors and to prevent them from entering. The ethnic Albanian mayors were sworn in Thursday to replace Serb mayors who had resigned last November in protest over a cross-border dispute over vehicle registrations.
On Monday, KFOR units issued a warning for the protesters to move.
"You are causing unrest. You are putting yourself and your community at risk," an audio warning from the KFOR troops blared out. "Leave the area and go home -- otherwise KFOR will be forced to intervene."
KFOR troops used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse the crowd while protesters responded with stones, bottles and sticks, according to Kosovo Police who confirmed that five protesters were arrested.
In addition to the injuries, military, police and media vehicles were damaged during the attacks, Kosovo Police said, calling the protesters "continually non-peaceful."
"As a consequence of an unconstrained violence, so far there are several KFOR officers injured/wounded, while five persons have been arrested as suspects for attacks and violence," the police said.
"Protest is ongoing and situation continues to be tense especially in Zvecan. But also in other municipalities there are people and criminal groups wearing black clothes and masked," the police added.
NATO issued a statement Monday, calling for an end to the violence.
"NATO strongly condemns the unprovoked attacks against KFOR troops in northern Kosovo, which have led to a number of them being injured. Such attacks are totally unacceptable. Violence must stop immediately," NATO said.
"We call on all sides to refrain from actions that further inflame tensions, and to engage in dialogue. KFOR will take all necessary actions to maintain a safe and secure environment, and continue to act impartially, in accordance with its mandate under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 of 1999."
Several Italian and Hungarian soldiers were among the injured, after sustaining "trauma wounds with fractures and burns due to the explosion of incendiary devices," and were under observation at a health facility, according to KFOR.
"I want to express my solidarity with the soldiers of the KFOR mission who were injured in Kosovo during the clashes between Serbian demonstrators and the Kosovar Police. Among them 11 Italians, three of whom are in serious condition, but not life threatening. The Italian military continue to commit themselves to peace," Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, wrote Monday in a tweet.
U.S. ambassador to Kosovo Jeff Hovenier also condemned the attacks.
"The U.S. strongly condemns the violent actions of protesters in Zvecan today, including the use of explosives against NATO's KFOR troops seeking to keep the peace. We reiterate our call for an immediate halt to violence or actions that inflame tensions or promote conflict," Hovenier said in a tweet.
Meanwhile, Serbian President Aleksander Vucic, whose country does not recognize Kosovo, blasted Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti for fueling tensions.
"In the last three days, anyone could understand what was being prepared for today in Kosovo. Everything was organized by Albin Kurti, everything with his desire to bring about a big conflict between Serbs and NATO," Vucic told reporters Monday.
"Serbs in the north gathered at seven this morning to express their dissatisfaction with the illegal takeover of local governments, and KFOR did not protect the Serbs and did not prevent the violence."