NATO troops came under fire during Serb riots in the northern Kosovo flashpoint of Mitrovica on Monday, in the worst violence in the territory since the Albanian majority declared independence last month.
The rioting was a challenge to the authority of NATO, the UN and a fledgling European Union justice mission, underscoring fears that Kosovo could be heading for ethnic partition exactly one month after breaking away from Serbia. Reuters witnesses in the town reported hearing gunfire as hundreds of Serbs clashed with the NATO peacekeeping force KFOR, and with UN police.
A French NATO spokesman said automatic weapons fire had been aimed at peacekeepers, but gave no further details.
The violence began at dawn when several hundred UN special police backed by NATO peacekeepers stormed a UN court that had been seized by Serbs on Friday, and arrested dozens. Hundreds of Serbs fought back with stones, grenades and firecrackers, forcing the UN police to pull back and leave KFOR to face the rioters. Rioters attacked three UN vehicles, breaking doors and freeing around 10 of those detained in the raid, witnesses said.
The police and troops responded with tear gas. Some UN vans with detainees were still in the courtyard of the compound, with dozens of Serb protesters outside blocking their exit.
“After attacks with explosive devices suspected to be hand grenades, and firearms, the police are ordered to withdraw from the north of Mitrovica, while the situation will be taken over by KFOR,” a UN police statement said.
“Eight French KFOR soldiers are injured with grenades, stones and molotov cocktails,” said spokesman Etienne du Fayet de la Tour. The UN police force reported three of its officers had been injured. The Polish news agency PAP said 13 Polish members of the force had been hurt.