|Tensions erupted near a barricade in Zubin Potok [REUTERS]
NATO-led peacekeeping troops have clashed with Serb protesters attempting to prevent them from dismantling barricades at two border crossings in northern Kosovo.
The Kosovo Force (KFOR) troops fired tear-gas canisters and used armoured vehicles during Thursday’s confrontation as up to 500 Serbs blocked them at the main crossing of Zubin Potok.
At least 22 people required treatment for tear-gas inhalation and three required hospital treatment, Serbian officials told the Beta news agency. Eight soldiers were also wounded, according to KFOR.
Protesters at the Zubin Potok barricade told the AFP news agency that they planned to protest peacefully.
“We will stay here, we’re not thinking about leaving. We are protesting peacefully, we will not attack anyone,” said a 28-year-old protester.
Witnesses said the air was thick with smoke as troops fired tear gas cannisters. Protesters retaliated by letting off fire extinguishers.
Footage of the scuffle, broadcast on Kosovo’s Koha television channel, showed heavily protected KFOR troops trying to make their way through after protesters had driven them back several metres.
Tensions over the border crossings first arose in July when ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo, still loyal to Serbia, erected 16 barricades on roads leading to two border crossings where Kosovo authorities wanted to replace ethnic Serb customs officials with ethnic Albanians, who make up a majority of Kosovo’s population.
The Serbs in Northern Kosovo, of which there are 40,000, make up the majority in several towns and refuse to recognise the authority of the ethnic Albanian government of Pristina.