Wednesday October 27, 2021

Tensions soar as police clash with Serbs in north Kosovo

October 14, 2021

Mitrovica, Kosovo: Several police and ethnic Serbs were injured in fresh clashes Wednesday in northern Kosovo in raids targeting smuggled goods, sparking fresh tensions in the already uneasy region beset by ethnic strife.

The violence prompted an urgent call for calm from the EU, and comes in the wake of a weeks-long standoff between Serbia and Kosovo over border controls, marking the lowest point in ties in a decade.

Wednesday’s unrest came as police launched raids in four regions of Kosovo aimed at people smuggling Serbian-origin goods into the country.

Ethnically-divided Mitrovica town saw the worst unrest, as one ethnic Serb suffered serious gunshot wounds and several others were lightly injured, said Zlatan Elek, the head of a hospital in town.

Police said six officers were injured in clashes and eight people were arrested.

A police statement said the raids were carried out at several locations, including homes, businesses and warehouses and smuggled goods worth "hundreds of thousands of euros" were seized.

The operation provoked anger among ethnic Serbs, hundreds of whom blocked roads in Mitrovica -- which is split with Serbs in the north and Albanians in the south -- and nearby Zvecan.

Police used tear gas and stunt grenades to disperse them, according to an AFP correspondent.

In north Mitrovica the protesters set two vehicles on fire and hurled stones at police.

According to police, the crowd used "stunt grenades, firearms and hand grenades to prevent and attack customs and police officers on duty".

The latest unrest follows a spike in tensions last month between the longtime foes.

They faced off for nearly two weeks after Kosovo banned cars with Serbian registration plates from entering its territory -- mirroring a years-long Serbian practice against vehicles travelling the other way.

Kosovo dispatched special police units to oversee the ban’s implementation, angering local Serbs who blocked the roads leading to the border.

Serbia responded by deploying armoured vehicles close to the frontier and flying fighter jets over the border region.