Kremlin says Kosovo Serbs’ rights ‘must be respected’

MOSCOW (AFP): The Kremlin on Wednesday called for the rights of ethnic Serbs living in Kosovo to be respected, following clashes this week over local election results that left more than 80 people injured.

“We believe that all the lawful rights and interests of the Kosovo Serbs must be respected,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, adding: “We support Serbia and Serbs without question.”

NATO-led peacekeepers stepped up security around a town hall in northern Kosovo on Wednesday, where hundreds of ethnic Serbs gathered again at the scene of clashes earlier this week that left more than 80 people injured.

NATO has decided to deploy hundreds of reinforcements to strengthen Kosovo’s international peacekeeping mission (KFOR) after Monday’s violence in the town of Zvecan.

Hundreds of ethnic Serbs rallied outside Zvecan’s town hall on Wednesday for a third consecutive day and held aloft a huge Serbian flag that stretched over 200 meters (660 feet) from the municipal building to the town centre.

KFOR soldiers encircled the town hall, additionally securing the building with a metal fence and barbed wire, an AFP journalist said.

Kosovo’s ethnic Serb minority boycotted local elections in the north last month, allowing ethnic Albanians to take control of local councils despite a turnout of less than 3.5 percent.

Many Serbs are demanding the withdrawal of Kosovo special police forces, as well as the ethnic Albanian mayors they do not consider their true representatives.

The demonstrators decorated the fence – erected by KFOR soldiers – with Serbian flags.

They also carried a flag dedicated to Belgrade-born tennis star Novak Djokovic, who wrote a message on a TV camera at the French Open on Monday calling Kosovo the “heart of Serbia”.

Three vehicles of ethnic Albanian Kosovo special police – whose presence sparks controversy in Serb-majority northern areas – remained parked outside the town hall.

On Monday, NATO-led peacekeepers used shields and batons in a bid to disperse the crowd but were met by a hail of rocks, bottles and Molotov cocktails.