Above: KFOR in street
Serbs were set to free their arrested comrades as if they were the law.
300 of them fought with UN and Kosovo Force (KFOR: NATO troops) in Mitrovica after the latter group were forced to storm the courthouse that they had been occupying since Friday.
After arrests were made inside the premises, three UN vehicles (like the one that was burned: pictured below) were attacked by the Serbs to free their recently captured comrades. Out of the 53 arrested inside, only 33 remained in custody as 20 escaped with the help of the protesters.
Below: UN car on fire
One of those 20 people was Milenko Stranic: “After the special U.N. police burst into the court, they bashed some furniture and handcuffed us. They refused to speak to us and impounded our mobile phones.”
The UN forces later withdrew from the town after one of them was shot by a protester, leaving the KFOR to handle the situation. The Serbs seem to focus their anger on the UN troops who were arresting their comrades from inside the courthouse. Another 22 police officers in Kosovo were injured in the clash.
The protesters were wielding stones, molotov cocktails, and hand grenades. In retaliation the KFOR used stun grenades and tear gas.
“We have requested from the first day that UN and KFOR establish the rule of law in north Mitrovica and to protect institutions there. It was a just action and the right one,” said Kosovan Deputy Prime Minister Hajredin Kuqi. “There can be no compromise when it comes to the rule of law.”
Since their capture of the courthouse on Friday, UN forces have been constantly in contact with the Serbian protesters, asking them to withdraw and leave in peace. It fell on deaf ears. Apparently, they wanted to set up their own court in Mitrovica (they were actually blocking the international and ethnic Albanian judges from entering the courthouse) – which was unacceptable to the international community, NATO and UN.
The protesters were eventually driven away and the courts were freed from captivity.
Serbian President Boris Tadic, in a statement released to the press, expressed his dismay over the incident and believed that the Serbs were driven out through “excessive force.” He urged the UN and KFOR to refrain from doing such and called on his people not to provoke these forces. He also urged Kosovan Serb leaders to restore peace in the region.
“Violence is unacceptable. It is not an option and all parties should work together to build a multiethnic Kosovo based on the rule of law and respect of democracy,” voiced concerned EU spokesman Altafaj Tardio.