KFOR recalls the largest number of injuries of mission’s members in Zvečan one year later

FOTO: KoSSev/Ivan Mitić

Exactly one year has passed since the unrest in Zvečan, which saw more than 100 people injured, the majority of whom were KFOR members. Namely, a total of 93 members of KFOR sustained injuries at the time, which is the highest number of injured NATO soldiers in Kosovo since the arrival of this mission, KFOR later announced.

The incidents began on May 26, when special units of the Kosovo Police forcefully installed ethnic Albanian mayors in municipal buildings in three municipalities in the north.

The events took place on the same day when thousands of Kosovo Serbs, primarily employees of institutions of the Republic of Serbia, were on their way to what the President of Serbia described as „the largest rally ever in Belgrade“.

The installation of the Albanian mayors into the offices of the provisional municipal authorities in Zvečan, Zubin Potok and Leposavić was followed by protests and resistance from the few Serbs who happened to find themselves at the site.

The crisis escalated with the conflict in Zvečan three days later, on May 29, when, after all-day and mostly peaceful citizens’ protests, in the afternoon hours, a small group of militant demonstrators suddenly separated, as KFOR itself had previously assessed, and started attacking KFOR.

KFOR, which deployed its units in front of the municipal buildings housing KP special police, found itself practically stuck between the dissatisfied Serbs and the Kosovo forces.

While the Serbs demanded the return to the municipal buildings and the withdrawal of the special police, KFOR in Zvečan, before the conflict broke out, tried to pull out a couple of armored police vehicles that were blocked among the demonstrators, which the Serbs refused to allow them to so.

In the day-long negotiations between the Serbs and the Kosovo Police, KFOR served as mediator. The Kosovo police demanded the release of their vehicles and the personnel in them, ready to act if this did not happen, and the Serbs demanded that the police first leave the municipal building.

After the warning issued by KFOR that they would „do their job“ and pull out the vehicles, the first ranks of demonstrators under the leadership of Srpska Lista, continued to offer passive resistance by sitting on the asphalt and trying to prevent KFOR from removing the vehicles.

Attacks on KFOR were then launched from the rear ranks, although months later the Serbian side continued to claim that the attacks were carried out by the Kosovo police.

Police vehicles were demolished, one of which was even set on fire. Tear gas and shock grenades were used. Two Serbs were pulled from the front rows and then arrested. Shots were fired, and two more Serbs sustained gunshot injuries, one of whom was at another location in Zvečan. Several members of KFOR were also shot.

On several occasions, KFOR shared the tally of injured soldiers.

In preliminary announcements, KFOR said that 30 Hungarian and Italian soldiers were injured, three of whom sustained gunshot wounds.

Final tally – 93 injured soldiers, including those wounded by firearms, with serious injuries (including one amputation of a Hungarian soldier’s lower extremity). On the Serbian side, official sources declared that around 50 persons were injured in the incident.

Journalists were also under attack, whose equipment was damaged and who faced physical attacks, during several days of reporting on the crisis in the north in May and early June.

According to NATO, the events of May 29, 2023, in Zvečan yielded the largest number of KFOR soldiers injuries since the deployment of this mission in 1999.

KFOR currently has around 4,700 troops.

KFOR: Unacceptable and unprovoked attacks, wounds that changed the lives of some of our soldiers forever

On the one year anniversary of these events, the KFOR mission reminded of the wounding of KFOR troops, repeating the figure of 93 soldiers.

Some of them, they point out, suffered injuries that changed their lives.

A year after the conflict, NATO reiterates that all the facts must be established, but also that the perpetrators must be held accountable.

They also recalled that shortly after the riots in the municipalities in the north, NATO deployed 1,000 additional peacekeeping forces and heavier armour to Kosovo.

„We have increased KFOR’s posture in northern Kosovo, and tripled the number of patrols, including along the Administrative Boundary Line. This has been the biggest reinforcement of our contingent in Kosovo in a decade; and it shows that NATO stands ready to preserve peace.“

Major General Özkan Ulutaş, KFOR’s Commander, honored the injured KFOR soldiers, saying that they „put their lives on the line to discharge their duties for all communities living in Kosovo.“

“In accordance with our mission’s long-standing UN mandate. Their courage helped to stabilise the situation in the area and prevent a further escalation of violence,” he said.

The KFOR commander then higlighted the 1244 resolution.

“Our commitment to contribute to lasting security across Kosovo and to regional stability is steadfast. KFOR continues to take all necessary actions to maintain a safe and secure environment, in accordance with its mandate under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 of 1999, at all times and impartially, for the benefit of all communities living in Kosovo,” Major General Ulutaş said.

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