Thirty-two Kosovo policemen and 13 Serbs were injured at a border crossing between Serbia and Kosovo when a group of visiting Serbs was denied entry into the breakaway province.
None of the policemen was seriously injured, Kosovo’s Interior Minister Bajram Rexhepi said in Parliament today. Ten out of 13 injured Serbs were hospitalized with gunshot wounds in Prokuplje in central Serbia, the Serbian state-run broadcaster Radio Televizija Srbije reported, citing the head of surgery, Zoran Vuckovic.
The violence at Merdare, 40 kilometers (25 miles) northeast of the capital Pristina, began when a bus carrying the Serbian group, which earlier today entered Kosovo, was escorted out of the former Serbian province, now ruled by an ethnic Albanian government. The group wanted to attend a ceremony marking St. Vitus day, an anniversary of Serbia’s 1389 battle against Ottoman Turks that took place in the disputed territory.
“They were aggressive” Fisnik Rexhepi, the political adviser of the Kosovo Interior Minister said in a phone interview, referring to the Serb visitors. “In order to maintain security we deported them through the Merdare border point.”
Another 16 Serbs, mostly schoolchildren, were injured when assailants hurled rocks and firebombs at their bus passing through Pristina after the ceremony, Beta news agency reported, citing eyewitnesses and hospital sources. Several hundred Serbs, mostly from other parts of Kosovo, had gathered to mark the anniversary at the site of the historic battle, just outside the city.
Improving relations with the breakaway province is a condition for Serbia in its effort to join the European Union. Around 130,000 Serbs live among Kosovo’s mostly ethnic Albanian population of 2 million.
Serbia lost control over Kosovo in 1999 when NATO bombing forced it to halt its campaign against Kosovo’s pro-independence ethnic Albanians and hand over control to the alliance. Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians declared independence in 2008, with support and recognition from the U.S. and its West European allies.