Pristina is rebuked by the United States and its allies for imposing mayors in Serb-majority areas without popular support, undermining efforts to normalize relations.
Protesting Kosovo Serbs gather as U.S. KFOR soldiers protect the entrance of the municipality office in Leposavic. (Photo: Reuters)
Around 25 NATO peacekeeping soldiers defending town halls in northern Kosovo were injured in clashes with Serb protesters. Serbia’s president put the army on the highest level of combat alert.
KFOR, the NATO-led mission, condemned the violence and stated that Italian and Hungarian soldiers suffered trauma wounds. Hungary’s defense minister confirmed seven Hungarian soldiers were seriously injured.
Italy’s Giorgia Meloni expressed concern and urged all parties to ease tensions. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic reported 52 Serb injuries, three of them serious.
Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani accused Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic of destabilizing Kosovo. The situation escalated as ethnic Albanian mayors took office in Serb-majority areas, leading to clashes between Serb protesters and Kosovo police.
NATO soldiers were targeted with tear gas and stun grenades, and NATO vehicles were spray-painted. In response, U.S. peacekeeping troops placed barbed wire around a town hall to protect it. Tensions also led to protesters throwing eggs at a car belonging to the new mayor in Leposavic.
The U.S. and its allies rebuked Pristina for the actions, while Vucic called for Serbs to avoid clashes with NATO soldiers.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic raised the combat readiness of the Serbian armed forces to the highest level, according to Defense Minister Milos Vucevic. The move involved deploying army units to specific positions, although further details were not provided.
NATO peacekeepers also secured the town hall in Zubin Potok to protect it from local Serbs. Igor Simic, deputy head of the Serb List party, accused Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti of exacerbating tensions in the northern region, emphasizing the desire for peace among the residents.
Serbs in Kosovo’s north have never recognized its 2008 independence declaration and still consider Belgrade as their capital. Despite ethnic Albanians comprising over 90% of the population, northern Serbs have insisted on implementing a 2013 EU-brokered deal for autonomous municipalities.
In the recent local elections, Serbs boycotted, resulting in ethnic Albanian mayors winning in four Serb-majority municipalities. Serbs are demanding the removal of Albanian mayors and the reinstatement of locally administered institutions funded by Belgrade.
Ethnic Albanian mayors were escorted into their offices amidst protests, with police being pelted with rocks and responding with tear gas and water cannon. The United States and its allies criticized Pristina for imposing mayors in Serb-majority areas without popular support, undermining efforts to normalize relations.
Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti defended the move, stating that elected mayors would serve all citizens. Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic insisted on having mayors elected by Serbs in Serb-majority municipalities. The US ambassador to Kosovo expressed concern over violence against official property, condemning attacks on journalists and vandalism against KFOR and police vehicles.