Serbs protesters have thwarted attempts by NATO to dismantle a barricade in Northern Kosovo. And while NATO claims their decision to fire teargas came as 21 of their soldiers were injured, Belgrade has warned Pristina against any further violence.
The Serbian Minister of Internal Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister Ivica Dacic has called on the Prime Minister of Kosovo Hashim Thaci to restrain his NATO led forces from attacking Serbian civilians.
“The red line for Belgrade would be Hashim Thaci’s decision to initiate an armed attack on Serbs in Kosovo. Thaci must know that any attack against Kosovar Serbs means an attack on Belgrade,“ Dacic said in a statement aired on local television Thursday.
Dacic went on to warn Pristina it would be mistaken to think that fears of upsetting the current balance of power would exclude the possibility of war.
Dacic was quick to point out “historically, we’ve lost Kosovo several times, and then it’s returned to us.”
The Serbian minister’s strongly worded appeal is a response to overnight clashes in Northern Kosovo which NATO claims injured 21 of its soldiers.
NATO released a statement Thursday saying Serb protesters threw stones and drove trucks loaded with gravel into its troops. The alliance also claims one soldier was seriously injured, as the decision to fire tear gas and end the operation was taken to avoid “serious casualties on both sides,'' the Associated Press reports.
Wedensday night’s disturbances came as Serbs thwarted attempts by a Kosovo Force (KFOR) contingent under NATO command from dismantling a barricade near the town of Zvecan in Northern Kosovo.
Late on Wednesday, KFOR forces stretched barbed wire across a road near Zvecan – a town located near the de facto Serbian capital of Kosovska Mitrovica -as they moved to dismantle the concrete barricade.
Shortly after NATO forces arrived, a siren went off which alerted local Serbs, who soon rushed to the area and began tearing down the barbed wire.
KFOR troops then deployed tear gas in a failed attempt to repel the hundreds of Serbs who had gathered to protect the barricades.
After the NATO troops withdrew from the area, the Serbs moved to further reinforce the concrete blocks.
According to RT's Aleksey Yaroshevksy, some sources have said NATO forces also used rubber bullets, though no injuries have been reported.
Tensions in Northern Kosovo have been on the rise for months over disputed border crossings.
The government of the breakaway province wants to control the border with Serbia to enforce an import ban – a move resisted by ethnic Serbs in Kosovo.
In July, a policeman was shot dead whilst Kosovo police were trying to take control of the border posts.
At the time a temporary deal was reached between Pristina and Belgrade to allow the international peacekeepers to guard the border, but was rejected by local Serbs.
Kosovo proclaimed independence in 2008, though Serbia never recognized the breakaway move.
Political analyst Aleksandar Pavic told RT that NATO had destabilized the region by taking Pristina’s side in the conflict, a decision which overstepped their role as a peace keeping force under UN Security Resolution 1244.
“In 2008 Pristina unilaterally declared independence and NATO countries recognized that independence so the root of the problem is that we have Western Powers who are recognizing an illegally declared state and they are trying to make the Serbs down there live in this illegally declared state, and that's why practically every day now, especially over the past several months, they're overstepping their UN mandate,“ he said.
Don DeBar, an anti-war activist and journalist, says that the latest move by NATO's Kosovo Force is a blatant sign of aggression.
“I really don’t see a justification for what is happening in terms of the actual facts on the ground. I just see one more act that’s a pattern of blatant international aggression by NATO and the United States.”
Konstantin Kosachev, head of Russia's State Duma foreign affairs committee, told RT he hopes Russia's response to the latest unrest on the Serbian-Kosovo border will not be a military one, as Russia does not wish to come into direct confrontation with NATO or anybody else.
“But the situation as it is developing right now is extremely alarming. Kosovo Serbs feel desperate, betrayed and alone. This is why many of them have addressed Russia in order to seek Russian citizenship. Probably this is a more political action without any further development, but this is a very strong signal to both NATO and to the ruling authorities in Serbia and in Kosovo that the situation is abnormal and needs further political attention in order to protect the human rights of people who live there before anybody proceeds further on with the question of status,”he stressed.