A French Gendarme was shot and wounded early today during clashes between ethnic Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo’s ethnically divided city of Mitrovica as European Union police fired tear gas to disperse the violent crowd, a European Union official said.
Karin Limdal, the spokeswoman for the 2,000-strong EU police mission said the policeman was shot in the leg and was out of danger.
She said special police units were called in to support local forces in separating the two sides that pelted each other with stones at the foot of the bridge that splits the city into two halves. Machine gun fire and blasts were also reported.
The clashes – sparked after Turkey defeated Serbia in the semi-finals of the basketball world championship – highlight the deep ethnic divide that runs between the two ethnic foes over a decade since the end of the Kosovo war in 1999.
They come as the two sides brace for EU facilitated talks that were called upon in a UN resolution passed Thursday.
The clashes started when Albanians, in the southern part of the ethnically divided city “started celebrating Turkey’s victory,” police spokesman Besim Hoti said.
Hoti said three police cars were damaged in the clashes and one policeman was lightly injured.
Doctors in the Serb-run north said a Serb youth was shot and wounded.
Mitrovica was halved 11 years ago after French peacekeepers moved to protect local Serbs from Albanians seeking vengeance for their treatment by Serbs during the war.
Since then, countless efforts have been made to bring the two sides together, but largely failed.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but Serbia rejected the move and with the backing of Russia has fought to keep nations around the world from recognising Kosovo. About 70 nations, including the US, support Kosovo’s independence.
The Kosovo split came a decade after its 1998-1999 war with Serbia, which ended with Nato bombing Serb forces for weeks in 1999 to stop an ethnic cleansing campaign against Kosovo’s mostly ethnic Albanian population.