21 NATO Soldiers Injured by Kosovo SerbsWorld | November 24, 2011, Thursday // 17:03| views
NATO peacekeepers stay at a check point as Kosovo Serbs gather near a road barricade in the village of Zupce, Kosovo, 24 October 2011 EPA/BGNES
A total of 21 NATO peacekeepers in Kosovo have been injured in clashes with a crowd of ethnic Serbs in the northern part of the former Serbian province.
The KFOR troops got injured while trying to dismantle a roadblock in the northern Kosovo enclave populated by ethnic Serbs, DPA reported citing KFOR.
The incident comes amid heightened tensions in the Serb-dominated north of Serbia's former province, which is mostly populated by Albanians.
The soldiers took control over the roadblock and began dismantling it late Wednesday. But they withdrew Thursday under a hail of stones thrown by a crowd that continued to grow and approach ever closer, despite tear gas canisters lobbed their way.
KFOR command in Pristina said its soldiers withdrew to avoid an escalation and avoid serious injuries to either side. Nonetheless, KFOR reported 21 injuries sustained.
In recent months, Serbs have erected around 20 roadblocks in the north to prevent the government in Pristina from taking control over the borders to Serbia proper.
Albanians are a 90-per-cent majority in Kosovo. However, the Serbs fiercely resist any authority from Pristina and, nearly four years since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia, still consider Belgrade their capital.
In a tense cat-and-mouse game, KFOR has dismantled several roadblocks since the Serbs put them up at crossings in September 2011. The barricades have been renewed every time.
Serbia and Kosovo are holding negotiations under European Union auspices, with the aim of normalizing at least some areas of life that were disrupted by the 1999 conflict in Kosovo and its eventual declaration of independence nine years later.
Serbian leaders promised never to recognize Kosovo's independence and have backed their compatriots' resistance to Pristina's rule.
But now, as Serbia needs to improve relations with Kosovo in order to be recognized as an EU membership candidate, Serbs in northern Kosovo are refusing to comply with the agreements from the talks, saying even that would acknowledge Pristina's sovereignty.
DPA points out that the EU is due to decide on Serbia's status at a summit in Brussels on December 9. But the pro-EU sentiment in Serbia has sunk to a new low after the leading nations of the bloc demanded of Belgrade to normalize ties with Pristina.
With regular elections looming in Serbia within months, some leaders changed their position from pro-European to hardline nationalist.
The most prominent turnaround was made by the Deputy Premier and Interior Minister Ivica Dacic, who told Thursday's edition of the daily Press that a new war over Kosovo "cannot be ruled out."
Most analysts dismissed the remark as early campaigning for the large pool of nationalist votes in upcoming elections. Dacic leads the Socialist Party, a junior partner in Serbian President Boris Tadic's ruling coalition.
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