Violence flares in northern Kosovo
(JARINJE) - Violence on the Serbia-Kosovo border Tuesday left four NATO troops and six protesters wounded, just hours before the scheduled resumption of EU-brokered talks between Belgrade and Pristina.
"Four KFOR soldiers are wounded by pipe bomb (an improvised explosive device). One of them badly and three slightly," Kai Gudenoge, deputy spokesman of the NATO-led force, told AFP.
He added that the seriously injured soldier was medivaced for treatment.
Meanwhile the director of a hospital in nearby Kosovska Mitrovica told local media that six Serb protesters who clashed with KFOR at the disputed Jarinje border post were seriously injured by gunfire.
The situation around the Jarinje crossing was calm but tense after the incident and sporadic gunfire could still be heard, an AFP correspondent reported.
The crowd of some 1,500 Serb protesters had retreated to their roadblocks while KFOR remained at their positions.
The incident came as EU-mediated talks between Belgrade and Pristina were due to resume in Brussels later Tuesday to resolve rising tension at the border.
Kosovo declared its independence in 2008 and has been widely recognised, including by the United States and most of the European Union.
Majority Serbs in the north refuse to recognise the ethnic Albanian government in Pristina and still consider themselves to be part of Serbia. which makes control of the border a key issue.
Serbian President Boris Tadic urged both sides to show restraint.
"I appeal for the situation to calm down as preserving the peace and (maintaining) dialogue is the only way to solve problems. The international forces are here to defend unarmed people and not to clash with them, I call on KFOR to exercise maximum restraint," Tadic said in a statement.
The unrest started brewing early Tuesday as KFOR moved to dismantle one of the main roadblocks near Jarinje. After some skirmishes, the Serbs protesters moved to erect a new barricade several hundred metres down the road.
The protesters then blocked several KFOR trucks and started pelting the soldiers with stones. The troops hit back firing tear gas into the crowd and rubber bullets.
"They (Serbs) threw stones on German soldiers. One soldier was hit and the troops were forced to fire non lethal rounds in self-defence," Gudenoge said.
This in turn provoked the Serbs at the barricades who approached the KFOR positions and threw home made explosives, severely wounding one soldier.
Serbia's Minister for Kosovo Goran Bogdanovic told the Belgrade-based state-controlled RTS television channel that at least a dozen people were injured, four seriously on the Serb side.
Serbia's chief negotiator in the talks, Borko Stefanovic, blamed KFOR for any impact the latest violence might have on the talks.
"This is being done with the goal of getting Serbia to give up the dialogue and then accusing it of not wanting peaceful solutions," Stefanovic told Beta news agency, urging Serbs in Kosovo to remain calm.
Last Friday, Kosovo police and officials from the EU rule of law mission to Kosovo (EULEX) took control of the two main crossing points.
Fearing this would limit their access to Serbia, Serbs in northern Kosovo responded by erecting a dozen barricades to block traffic to and from the posts.
Following the violence at the Jarinje roadblock Kosovo Serbs also flocked to the other barricades to prevent KFOR from trying to dismantle them as well.
By stationing Kosovo police and customs officials on the northern crossings, Pristina is trying to assert its authority on the north.
The latest tensions follow violent clashes that took place in late July when Serb protesters confronted Kosovo police who tried to take control of the border posts to enforce a trade ban with Serbia.
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