Fri, 1 Jun 2012 10:18 GMT
* Three Kosovo Serbs and NATO soldier hospitalised
* NATO sends reinforcements to northern Kosovo
* KFOR made a very risky move, says Serb government official (Adds details, quotes)
By Branislav Krstic and Fatos Bytyci
ZVECAN, Kosovo, June 1 (Reuters) - At least three Kosovo Serbs and a NATO soldier were wounded in a gunfight on Friday, as peacekeepers tried to dismantle Serb roadblocks blocking traffic, a Reuters witness said.
NATO troops in the Kosovo Force (KFOR) fired tear gas and small arms and some protesters fired back with handguns.
The troops, in armoured personnel carriers, were confronted by hundreds of Serbs who pelted them with stones near barricades in the villages of Rudare and Dudin Krs outside the town of Zvecan in a Serb-dominated northern area of Kosovo.
The roadblocks are among the last on major roads yet to be dismantled by KFOR. They were erected as part of a long-running Serb campaign to prevent the government of Albanian-majority independent Kosovo from imposing its rule in the area.
"One KFOR soldier has been wounded, has been evacuated and he is stable," said NATO spokesperson in Kosovo Uwe Nowitzki.
"KFOR will not allow the situation to escalate and will use a proportional level of force necessary to maintain a safe and secure environment," he said, adding that the operation to remove the roadblocks was continuing.
Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008, is 90 percent ethnic Albanian. But Serbs opposed to independence dominate in a small swathe of the north bordering Serbia which continues to function as part of the Serbian state, resisting efforts by the Kosovo government to extend its authority.
A Reuters witness said KFOR troops from Germany and the United States received reinforcements after initial clashes and were deployed on hills overlooking Rudare. Several NATO helicopters were also flying over the area.
Dragisa Milovic, the mayor of Zvecan which is about 60 km (40 miles) from the capital Pristina, said KFOR had refused to allow Serb medical personnel to help wounded Serbs.
"A (KFOR) commander told me they have the authority to use deadly force on anyone who throws a stone or uses a weapon," he told Reuters.