NATO troops on guard in northern Kosovo for third day amid protests

by Jacob Fuller

NATO peacekeepers guarded town halls in ethnically divided northern Kosovo for a third day on Wednesday, as unrest prompted the alliance to send additional troops to the area and NATO and the West slammed Kosovo for not having done enough to stave off violence.

Following clashes on Monday in Zvecan, a northern town, during which 30 NATO troops and 52 ethnic Serbian protesters were hurt, NATO said it would send 700 more troops to Kosovo to boost its 4,000-strong mission. It was not clear when the soldiers would arrive.

Regional unrest has intensified following April elections that the ethnic Serbs boycotted, narrowing the turnout to 3.5% and leaving victory in four Serb-majority Kosovan mayoralties to ethnic Albanian candidates.

Those Kosovan Albanian mayors were then installed last week, a decision that spurred rebuke of Pristina by the U.S. and its allies on Friday for stoking discord with neighboring Serbia.

Kosovo media reported on Wednesday that protesters outside a town hall in Zvecan, who were separated from Polish NATO troops by a razor-wire barrier, had broken windows on a police car and two cars belonging to Kosovan Albanian media outlets.

The demonstrators had damaged two cars a day earlier as well, but protests remained largely peaceful on Wednesday.


NATO soldiers also stood guard outside a municipal hall in Leposavic in northern Kosovo, where its ethnic Albanian mayor remained holed up after entering it amid Serb demonstrations on Monday. He couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

“While they (the mayors) may have been legally elected, we do not consider their election legitimate,” Dragan, an ethnic Serb who lives in Leposavic, told Reuters on Wednesday.

The United States, NATO, and allies have rebuked Kosovo for escalating tensions with Serbia, saying that forcefully installing the mayors in ethnic-Serb areas undermined efforts to improve troubled bilateral relations.

French President Emmanuel Macron said the unrest “has increased sharply since ethnic Albanian mayors took office.”

The United States said it would penalize Kosovo for stoking tensions and excluded it from ongoing US-led military exercises in Europe.

Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti on Wednesday blamed Belgrade for being behind protests in the north in order to destabilize Kosovo.


Separately, Kosovo Olympic authorities asked the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to open disciplinary proceedings against Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic, accusing him of stirring political tension with remarks made at the French Open.

Djokovic wrote “Kosovo is the heart of Serbia” on a camera lens on Monday, the day NATO troops and Serbians were hurt in clashes in Zvecan, where his father grew up.

Kosovo tennis federation chief Jeton Hadergjonaj said despite a general message against violence, Djokovic’s remark on Kosovo being the “heart of Serbia” could ramp up tensions between Serbia and Kosovo.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic placed his army on full combat alert and ordered units to move closer to the border.

Northern Kosovo‘s majority Serbs have never accepted Kosovo‘s 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia, and consider Belgrade their capital more than two decades after the Kosovo Albanian uprising against repressive Serbian rule.

Ethnic Albanians make up more than 90% of the population in Kosovo as a whole, but northern Serbs have long demanded the implementation of an EU-brokered 2013 deal for the creation of an association of autonomous municipalities in their area.

Peacekeeping troops were deployed in Kosovo in 1999 after NATO bombing drove Serbia’s police and army out of its former province.

Copyright 2023 Thompson/Reuters