NATO peacekeeping troops and police fired teargas on Sunday to separate thousands of ethnic Albanians and local Serbs in the divided Kosovo town of Mitrovica during protests against Serbia-backed local "elections".
The elections are being held with the backing of the Serbian government in Belgrade.
Kosovo's Albanian majority backed by the Western countries declared independence in 2008 nine years after Serbia moved ethnic cleansing in a 1998-1999 war. Nato stopped the Serbian forces in a 78-day bombing.
Kosovo is recognized as an independent state by 62 countries from mostly European Union and also Muslim countries around world such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia.
A Reuters eyewitness said shots were fired near the bridge on the Ibar River that separates the southern, ethnic Albanian part of the town from the Serb-dominated northern district.
"We have used a small ammount of teargas and intervened to stop groups of Serbs and Albanians and prevent a further escalation of violence," said Kosovo police spokesman Besim Hoti.
Two people on the Serb side were slightly injured by rocks the two groups of protesters were hurling at each other, health authorities in the Serb part of Mitrovica said.
NATO troops, European Union police and Kosovo law enforcement officers in full riot gear were deployed at the bridge, facing both sides. NATO helicopters and unmanned recconaissance drones were seen flying over the area.
"Together with NATO troops and EU police we are trying the prevent more incidents," Hoti said.
Ethnic Albanians, led by veterans of the 1998-99 war against Serbian forces, rallied to protest against the local election in the three Serb-dominated municipalities in northern Kosovo where Belgrade, which remains staunchly opposed to Kosovo's independence, is backing the election.
The 120,000 Serbs in Kosovo refuse to cooperate with Albanian-run institutions and the EULEX force.
Serb forces killed an estimated 8,000 to 12,000 civilians in Kosovo in 1998-99, the great majority Albanians.
Shortly after the bombing began, more than 800,000 Albanians fled or were driven from their homes.
ReutersLast Mod: 30 Mayıs 2010, 17:11