Belgrade and Pristina exchange beards after several injuries during violent clashes in northern Kosovo.
Several Kosovo police officers and ethnic Serb civilians were injured in clashes that erupted in raids on suspected smugglers in an unstable area of Kosovo, local officials said.
Kosovo police said in a statement officers encountered resistance in Mitrovica in the north as they carried out an operation to seize illicit goods in several towns on Wednesday. The region is mainly populated by the Kosovo Serb minority.
The police statement said “criminal groups” blocked roads with cars, used sound bombs, hand grenades and fired shots to “hinder and attack” officers. He said six officers were injured and eight Serbs were arrested.
Serbian state television showed people fleeing tear gas and a burned-out vehicle. He said several people were injured.
The Kosovo Online news portal quoted Zlatan Elek, head of a Mitrovica hospital, as saying that one person was seriously injured by a gun.
“He is in intensive care and is in serious condition,” Elek said.
“The edge of chaos”
The violence follows a border dispute between Serbia and Kosovo last month over vehicle registration plates.
This sparked an angry reaction 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 a clear reaction to stop the mad policies pursued by Pristina,” Brnabic said in a statement. “This kind of behavior… brings us to the brink of chaos.
But Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti said the authorities would continue to “fight and prevent smuggling”.
“Groups of criminals and criminals will not be tolerated,” Kurti wrote on his Facebook page.
He called on ethnic Kosovo Serbs to reject claims by some Serbian media that the raid was an ethnic issue.
European Union 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 within the framework of the dialogue facilitated by the EU”.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but some of the roughly 50,000 Serbs who remain in the north of the country refuse to recognize the authorities in Pristina and consider Belgrade their capital.
Serbia, supported by its allies Russia and China, does not recognize the statehood of its former province, but most Western countries do, including the United States.
EU-mediated talks aimed at resolving the stalemate have so far failed to normalize relations between Pristina and Belgrade.