Kosovo police clashes with ethnic Serbs during smuggling operations

Kosovo police clashes with ethnic Serbs during smuggling operations

“Let me be crystal clear, we will defend our people…and in that battle we will win,” Vucic said during a meeting with Kosovo Serb representatives close to the border with Kosovo. The Balkan region is already on edge after a border dispute last month between Kosovo and Serbia over vehicle license plates threatened to spiral into violence. But Western officials intervened and KFOR forces were deployed to the area, ending the spat.

The episode prompted an angry response from Serbia which demanded from the international community, including the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, KFOR, to restore order and prevent “wider chaos.” Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic blamed “big Western powers” for failing to protect Kosovo Serbs and said if they don’t do it, Serbia will. A Kosovo police statement said Wednesday’s raids over the smuggling of goods were held in four areas, including northern Mitrovica, which is mostly populated by ethnic Serbs. It said that “criminal groups gathered in an organized way to block roads with vehicles, used liquid gas tanks, stun bombs, shot with weapons and hand grenades to hamper and attack custom and police officials committing their duty.”

Police said 10 officers and a Serb civilian were injured during the clashes. Eight Serbs and Albanians were arrested and 10 others declared at large, according to Kosovo police head Samedin Mehmeti, who added that calm had been restored. “There has been no activity directed against the Serb community in Kosovo,” Interior Minister Xhelal Svecla said at a news conference, adding that most of the arrested were Albanians who were defying the laws with their alleged smuggling.

Petar Petkovic, a Serbian government official in charge of Kosovo normalization talks, said a 36-year-old Serb was shot in the back and doctors were working to remove a bullet that ended up in his lungs. Serb media reported dozens of others were injured in addition to the man. But it couldn’t be independently verified. Video footage showed police firing tear gas as Serbs hurled stones and other objects at officers. Police officers had to escort customs officers away from the scene to protect them. Serbs also blocked the main road with trucks, the same as last month during a tense situation to do with a spat over vehicle license plates.

A police car and at least two other cars with Kosovo license plates were burned, according to Kosovar media. Serbian media reported an “extremely tense” situation in the Serb-populated northern part of Mitrovica after Kosovo police raided a pharmacy and some shops in an apparent action to stop the smuggling of goods. Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti called on ethnic Serbs in Kosovo “not to fall prey of some media in Serbia protecting crime, corruption and smuggling and want to politicize and turn it (the police raid) into an ethnic issue.”

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