Several Kosovo police officers and ethnic Serb civilians have been injured in clashes that broke out during raids on suspected smugglers in a volatile area of Kosovo, according to local officials.
Kosovo police said in a statement that officers met resistance in Mitrovica, in the north, as they carried out an operation to seize illicit goods in several towns on Wednesday. The area is mostly populated by Kosovo’s Serb minority.
The police statement said that “criminal groups” blocked roads with cars, used stun bombs, hand grenades and fired shots to “hamper and attack” officers. It said six officers were injured and eight Serbs were arrested.
Serbian state TV showed people running from tear gas and one vehicle set on fire. It said several people were injured.
The Kosovo Online news portal quoted Zlatan Elek, head of a hospital in Mitrovica, as saying one person was seriously injured by a firearm.
“He is in intensive care and is in serious condition,” Elek said.
‘The edge of chaos’
The violence followed a border dispute between Serbia and Kosovo last month about vehicle licence plates.
It prompted an angry response from Belgrade, with Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic calling for NATO, which has 3,000 peacekeepers in Kosovo, to restore order and prevent “chaos” in the region.
“This is the last moment that demands clear reaction to stop the mad policies conducted by Pristina,” Brnabic said in a statement. “This kind of conduct … brings us to the edge of chaos.”
But Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti said authorities would continue to “fight and prevent smuggling”.
“Crime and criminals groupings will not be tolerated,” Kurti wrote on his Facebook page.
He called on ethnic Serbs in Kosovo to reject claims in some Serbian media that the police raid was an ethnic issue.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said Brussels was in contact with Belgrade and Pristina.
“Unilateral and uncoordinated actions that endanger stability are unacceptable,” he tweeted, adding that “all open issues must be addressed through the EU-facilitated Dialogue”.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but some of the about 50,000 Serbs remaining in the country’s north refuse to recognise Pristina authorities and see Belgrade as their capital.
Serbia, supported by its allies Russia and China, does not recognise the statehood of its former province but most Western countries do, including the United States.
EU-mediated talks aimed at resolving the deadlock have so far failed to achieve normalised ties between Pristina and Belgrade.