The force, apparently Italian carabinieri units, were spotted guarding a bridge across the Ibar river, footage from the scene circulated by local media shows. The bridge splits the city into the northern Serb-populated part, and the predominantly ethnic-Albanian south.
KFOR, the NATO-led peacekeeping mission, said in a statement on Sunday evening that it was “prepared to intervene if stability is jeopardized.”
Reportedly placed on high alert, a large KFOR convoy of some 30-40 vehicles was spotted heading towards the frontier between the breakaway region and the rest of Serbia. Kosovo special forces were also spotted moving equipment and personnel.
KFOR said it would “take whatever measures are necessary to keep a safe and secure environment in Kosovo at all times, in line with its UN mandate.”
Ethnic Serbs have reportedly set up barricades on several roads in Kosovska Mitrovica and its vicinity. At least one Serb has been reportedly hospitalized after being beaten by Kosovo police units as he tried to get through the barricades.
The tensions come as the breakaway region's ethnic Albanian government moved forward with its controversial plan to ban Serb license plates and identification documents. Kosovo prime minister Albin Kurti claimed the move was about equal justice and law in all the territories his government claims.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic accused Kosovo authorities of seeking to “impose on the people in northern Kosovo-Metohija things they have no right to impose,” warning that Belgrade will not stand idly by.
“The atmosphere has been heated up, and the Serbs will not suffer any more atrocities,” Vucic said.
Earlier, the Serbian president stated that the controversial registration plan was a part of an effort to force remaining ethnic Serbs out of Kosovo.
Caroline Ziadeh, head of the UN mission in the province UNMIK, urged both sides “to address issues in good faith through the EU-facilitated dialogue, to strengthen stability and security for all.”
NATO occupied Kosovo in 1999, after a 78-day air war against what was then Yugoslavia. The province unilaterally declared independence in 2008 with support of the US and most of its allies. The breakaway region, however, has not received universal support, with Serbia, Russia, China and the UN as a whole not recognizing it.