NATO peacekeepers in Kosovo set up barriers amid violent clashes

Tensions began after ethnic Albanian officials won a local election that was boycotted by ethnic Serbs.

NATO peacekeeping troops in Kosovo have placed metal fences and barbed wire barriers in a northern town following clashes that have seen dozens of international soldiers and protesters injured.

The barriers were erected after hundreds of ethnic Serbs started gathering in front of the city hall in Zvecan, a northern Kosovo town 45km (28 miles) north of the capital, Pristina.

On Monday, with about 4,000 soldiers in the country, NATO sent 700 additional troops to northern Kosovo to help curb the violent protests.

“We have decided to deploy 700 more troops from the operational reserve force for Western Balkans and to put an additional battalion of reserve forces on high alertness so they can also be deployed if needed,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in Oslo, Norway.

Violence initially broke out in the north of the country over the weekend after ethnic Albanian mayors were installed in Serbian-dominated areas, in a vote overwhelmingly boycotted by Serbs.

Some in the country have since made repeated efforts to take over the offices in Zvecan, where the mayors took up their posts.

Kosovo police fired tear gas to disperse Serbs who tried to block officials from entering municipal buildings in the town last week.When Serbs tried to block them, Kosovo police fired tear gas in Svecan, leading to clashes with NATO troops.

Ethnic Serb protesters are insisting that ethnic Albanian mayors and Kosovo police leave northern Kosovo.The United States has condemned Kosovo for escalating tensions with Serbia, saying the force used behind installing mayors in ethnic Serb areas undermined efforts to improve relations with Serbia.

Washington has also cancelled Kosovo’s participation in a military drill.

“We’re thinking through other implications as well,” the US ambassador to Kosovo, Jeffrey Hovenier, told reporters.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell urged Kosovo and Serbian leaders to find a way to de-escalate tensions.

“We have too much violence already in Europe today, we cannot afford another conflict,” Borrell said.

On Tuesday, Russia, which has long had close ties with Serbia, called for “decisive steps” to be taken to end the violence.

The foreign ministry urged “the West to finally silence its false propaganda and stop blaming incidents in Kosovo on Serbs”.

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

Most Serbs in northern Kosovo have never accepted Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia and consider Belgrade their capital.While ethnic Albanians make up more than 90 percent of the population in Kosovo, northern Serbs have called for a European Union-brokered deal to create autonomous municipalities in the area.