Belgrade and Pristina shut down trade after several people were injured in violent clashes in northern Kosovo.
According to local officials, several Kosovo police officers and ethnic Serbs were injured in the clashes during a raid on suspected smugglers in an unstable area of Kosovo.
Kosovo police said in a statement that officers faced resistance in the northern city of Mitrovica on Wednesday as they conducted a crackdown on illegal goods in several cities on Wednesday. The area is mostly populated by Kosovo’s Serb minority.
“Criminal groups” blocked the road with cars, used stun bombs, hand grenades and fired shots to “obstruct and attack” officers, the police statement said. Six officers were injured and eight Serbs were arrested, it said.
Serbian state TV showed people running from tear gas and setting a car on fire. It said several people were injured.
The Kosovo online news portal quoted Zlatan Elek, head of a hospital in Mitrovica, as saying that one person had been seriously injured in the firefight.
“She is in intensive care and in critical condition,” Elek said.
‘Edge of Chaos’
The violence comes after a border dispute over car license plates between Serbia and Kosovo last month.
This provoked an angry reaction from Belgrade, which called on Serbian Prime Minister Anna Bernabeu Naso, who has 3,000 peacekeepers in Kosovo, to restore order in the region and prevent “chaos”.
“This is the last moment that calls for a clear response to the insane policies pursued by Pristina,” Branabic said in a statement. “This kind of behavior brings us to the brink of chaos.”
But Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti said authorities would continue to “prevent war and smuggling”.
“Crime and grouping of criminals will not be tolerated,” Kurti wrote on his Facebook page.
He called on ethnic Serbs in Kosovo that some Serbian media had claimed that police raids were an ethnic issue.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Brussels was in contact with Belgrade and Pristina.
“Unilateral and unorganized measures that threaten stability are not acceptable,” he said, adding that “all open issues must be resolved through EU-facilitated dialogue.”
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but some of the nearly 50,000 Serbs in the north of the country refused to recognize the Pristina authorities and see Belgrade as their capital.
Serbia, backed by its allies Russia and China, does not recognize the statehood of its former province but most Western countries, including the United States.
The goal of the EU-mediated talks to resolve the stalemate has so far failed to achieve a normal relationship between Pristina and Belgrade.