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Tensions continue in northern Kosovo after the violent clashes that took place yesterday in Zvecan between demonstrators, police and Kfor troops, which caused dozens of injuries, including several soldiers from the Italian contingent (WHAT IS THE KFOR MISSION AND THE ROLE OF ITALY ). Today, Serb demonstrators gathered again in front of the Town Halls of Zvecan, Zubin Potok and Leposavic to protest against the installation in their offices of the new mayors of Albanian ethnicity elected in the local vote of 23 April. The situation is calm for the moment: there is a massive presence of police units and KFOR soldiers to guard the sensitive points. According to local media, the new mayors of Zvecan and Zubin Potok do not intend to reach their offices in their respective municipal offices today but should carry out their activities in branch offices located in nearby villages. The new administrators of Leposavic and northern Mitrovica are instead in their respective offices, reports the Albanian service of Radio Free Europe. The mayor of Leposavic, Ljuljzim Hetemi, has been in the Town Hall since yesterday, where he remained all night for security reasons. Meanwhile, while NATO has decided to push the presence of its military in the country, the Kosovar premier Albin Kurti and the Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic have both renounced to participate in the Global Forum for foreign and security policy scheduled in Bratislava to follow from close to the evolution of the situation.
NATO increases forces in Kosovo
The Alliance moves to increase the deployment of Operational Reserve Forces (ORF) for the Western Balkans. “The deployment of additional NATO forces to Kosovo is a prudent measure to ensure that KFOR has the necessary capabilities to maintain security in accordance with the mandate of the United Nations Security Council,” said Admiral Stuart B. Munsch, Commander of Allied Joint Force Command Naples. In an official note we read that “a further multinational battalion of reserve forces has been ordered to reduce the state of readiness for use from fourteen to seven days, to be ready to reinforce the KFOR if necessary”.
The balance sheet of yesterday’s clashes
Yesterday about fifty Serbian demonstrators and thirty NATO soldiers were injured, 11 of whom were Italian and 19 Hungarian. Hungary’s foreign minister said the 19 of his country’s soldiers who were injured were operating under Italian command. All suffered multiple injuries, including fractures and burns from improvised explosive incendiary devices. Three Hungarian soldiers were wounded by gunfire, but their lives are not in danger. The NATO-led KFOR mission, the statement adds, has increased its presence in the four Serb-majority municipalities in northern Kosovo to reduce the risk of escalation, after newly elected mayors tried to settle in their offices. “To avoid confrontation between the sides and minimize the risk of escalation, KFOR peacekeepers have prevented threats to the lives of Kosovo Serbs and Kosovo Albanians. Both sides must bear full responsibility for what happened and prevent any further escalation, rather than hiding behind false narratives”, said the commander of the KFOR mission, Major General Angelo Michele Ristuccia, who is following the evolution of the situation firsthand and expressed his solidarity with the remaining NATO soldiers injured during the clashes and their families.
Tajani: there are no serious injuries among the Italian soldiers
Among the Italian soldiers engaged in NATO’s KFOR in Kosovo involved in yesterday’s incidents “there are no serious injuries”, reassured the deputy prime minister and foreign minister, Antonio Tajani. The Italian soldiers are “treated in Kosovo and our ambassador will go there find this morning. General Figliuolo is also there, they are followed closely with great solidarity. The Italian soldiers are part of a NATO mission that aims to prevent the emergence of a new conflict”. Then he added that he had spoken to both Serbian President Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Kurti. And he invited everyone to calm down and abandon violence.
International accusations and reactions
Cross-accusing continues between Pristina and Belgrade, who shoulder each other the responsibility for the new strong tensions and clashes in northern Kosovo. Yesterday evening, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic singled out Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti and his inflammatory and hostile policy towards Serbs as solely responsible for this situation, and appealed to the international community and the Quint countries in particular to ‘restore reason’ Kurti, before it’s too late. Prime Minister Kurti condemned the attacks by Serbian demonstrators on the police, KFOR soldiers and journalists in yesterday’s incidents in the north of the country. The president of Kosovo Vjosa Osmani for her part has pointed the finger at the ‘parallel structures’ of Serbia in the north of Kosovom, transformed according to her into authentic ‘criminal gangs’ that destabilize the situation in the north. Harsh condemnations of yesterday’s serious incidents have come in the last few hours from Eulex and Unmik, the EU and UN missions in Kosovo. The EU high representative, Josep Borrell, speaks of “shocking violence” and “absolutely unacceptable violent acts”.
Moscow: “NATO forces in Kosovo have caused escalation”
While China “pays close attention to developments” in Kosovo and to the escalation, supporting “Belgrade’s efforts to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity against the unilateral actions undertaken by the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government in Pristina”, Moscow raises its tone and accuses NATO forces in Kosovo of having acted “unprofessionally”, causing “unnecessary violence” and an “escalation” of the situation, according to the words of the Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova. put an end to its “false propaganda” on Kosovo, he added. Western countries, he said in a statement published on the ministry’s website, “must stop blaming the incidents in Kosovo on desperate Serbs who peacefully, and without arms in hand, seek to defend their legitimate rights and freedoms”.