At least four Serbs and two NATO soldiers were injured in a gunfight in Northern Kosovo as NATO Kosovo Force attempted to dismantle Serb roadblocks.
Reports said soldiers from the NATO-led contingent had fired rubber bullets or live rounds and tear gas after rioters threw stones at a roadblock near the town of Zvecan in a Serb-dominated northern area of Kosovo.
Oliver Ivanovic, the official dealing with Kosovo in Serbia's outgoing government, said four Serbs had been injured.
KFOR said two soldiers were wounded in the incident and one of them had been evacuated in stable condition.
“KFOR will not allow the situation to escalate and will use a proportional level of force necessary to maintain a safe and secure environment,” said NATO spokesperson in Kosovo Uwe Nowitzki, as quoted by Reuters. He said that the operation to remove the roadblocks continued.
Several hundred Serbs have reportedly gathered in the village of Rudare to protect barricades, and fighting began when KFOR troops in armored personnel carriers moved in.
A Reuters witness said KFOR troops from Germany and the US received reinforcements after initial clashes and were deployed on hills overlooking Rudare. Several NATO helicopters were also flying over the area.
Dragisa Milovic, the mayor of Zvecan, said KFOR had refused to allow Serb medical personnel to help wounded Serbs.
"A [KFOR] commander told me they have the authority to use deadly force on anyone who throws a stone or uses a weapon," he told Reuters.
Health authorities in the Serb-controlled north of the city of Mitrovica said a number of people also received minor injuries.
Serbians began setting up road blocks in the area last year to prevent the ethnic Albanian government in Kosovo's capital from extending control over the Serb-dominated region.
KFOR said it had started removing roadblocks to "improve freedom of movement" for both its troops and the citizens.
This is not the first incident between Serbs and KFOR soldiers.
At least two Kosovan Serbs and two NATO peacekeepers were injured in a wave of violence in northern Kosovo in November 2011, casting doubts on whether the conflict could be resolved in the near future.
At least 10 people were injured earlier in September, 2011 in clashes at the Jarinje checkpoint in northern Kosovo.
Fresh clashes between Serb protesters and peacekeepers were somewhat expected to come amid the current “power vacuum” in Belgrade, political analyst Alexandar Pavic told RT.
RT: The barricades were set up last year, after Kosovan and EU authorities tried to enforce a trade embargo. Is anything being done to resolve this dispute?
AP: Unfortunately, what is being done is more of the same from last year. The NATO forces which are being called peacekeepers are actually trying to use force to force the Kosovo Serbs to accept living in an independent Kosovo, which they won’t accept. And that is the whole root of the problem. Negotiations really are only directed towards that end as far as the Western powers, the EU, the US, are concerned.
But I do want to say that this was something at the beginning of June which was to be expected because there is sort of a power vacuum in Belgrade right now. We’ve just had parliamentary and presidential elections. The new president has only taken office yesterday. But we don’t have a functioning government. We only have a technical government.
So actually what NATO and the EU and the US are doing, they are using the power vacuum in Belgrade to try to establish a new reality on the ground in Kosovo.