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German troops of NATO's peacekeeping mission extinguish a fire along the border between Serbia and Kosovo yesterday. Zveki/AP/Press Association Images

Serbs clash with NATO forces in Kosovo

A spokesman for NATO says peacekeeping troops opened fire after being attacked with pipebombs.

NATO PEACEKEEPING forces clashed with Serb protesters in northern Kosovo on Tuesday, leaving 11 people wounded, officials said.

The violence occurred near a disputed border crossing between Kosovo and Serbia — the site of similar protests and clashes with peacekeepers in the past.

NATO spokesman Lt Col Kai Gudenoge said yesterday’s clash began when the Serb protesters threw pipebombs at the peacekeepers, injuring four of them. That prompted NATO soldiers to fire weapons at the Serbs, he said. A hospital official said seven Serb protesters were wounded, but Gudenoge said only one was shot by the peacekeepers.

The EU rule of law mission in Kosovo — known as EULEX — condemned the violence and said it would launch an investigation into the incident.

“Violence against KFOR or EULEX is not acceptable,” EULEX spokesman, Nicholas Hawton said. “It is important that everyone shows restraint and acts responsibly.”

Serbia refuses to recognise Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence. Kosovo wants customs officers to push its claim to statehood in the north, but Serbia sees the move as undermining its claim over the territory.

Roadblocks and disputed border crossings remain throughout the Serb-run north, posing a challenge to the 3,000-strong EU mission and the 5,500 NATO-led peacekeepers who are in charge of security. Both the EU and NATO have called for the roadblock to be removed to allow freedom of movement.

Border tensions

Yesterday’s tension started after American and German peacekeepers closed an informal border crossing from Serbia into Kosovo that is used by Serbs to bypass a Kosovo police and customs checkpoint.

A senior Serb leader in Kosovo blamed the violence on American peacekeepers deployed at the border crossing.

“What the Americans have done is to be condemned,” said Oliver Ivanovic. “To shoot with live ammunition at people protesting is intolerable and has never happened before.”

The Serb casualties were rushed to a Serb-run hospital in northern Kosovo. Some were wounded in the head, others in the chest and legs, hospital official Milan Ivanovic told reporters.

Serbian President Boris Tadic called for dialogue to avoid such clashes. “No problem can be solved with violence, endangering people’s lives does not help our interests,” Tadic said in a statement.

In Pristina, Kosovo’s government blamed the violence on “criminal structures” that oppose Kosovo’s attempts to enforce the rule of law in the north.

Roads in Kosovo’s north have been blocked by Serb protesters since Kosovo tried to enforce an embargo on Serbian goods coming in from border crossings in an area it does not control.

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Associated Foreign Press
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