United Nations police withdrew from a Serbian neighborhood Monday after they came under gun and grenade attack by pro-Serb nationalists.
Scenes turned ugly when Serbs from the northern part of the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica in Kosovo were physically removed from the courthouse where they had been protesting Kosovo's independence from Serbia.
"There are reports of possible gunfire and some grenades used against U.N. police and KFOR," said Alexander Ivanko in a phone interview with ABC News from Pristina. KFOR is the acronym for NATO peacekeeping forces in Kosovo.
According to Kosovo Police Service spokesman Veton Elshani, "The police have been ordered to withdraw from the north, after they were attacked by what we believe were hand grenades and other firearms."
Elshani said NATO's troops "will be in charge of the situation."
At dawn several hundred NATO soldiers surrounded the courthouse where Serb judicial workers, demanding to return to their jobs, had been protesting since Friday. U.N. riot police made up of Ukranian and Polish officers stormed the building to evict the protesters.
They first handcuffed the men and then tied the women's hands with ropes. The workers did not resist arrest.
When they moved outside to take the protesters away, a large group of citizens blocked the road and started to throw stones at the police forces, known by their acronym UNMIK. The riot police responded using tear gas and shock bombs.
The protesting crowd managed to stop two vehicles and set the Serbs inside free. Serbia's state-run agency,Tanjug, has confirmed that some 20 Serbs, both men and women, have been set free by the protesters.
Petar Miletic described the chaotic scene to ABC News: "The rioting spread to other parts of the town, where chaos was seen on the streets early this morning. Bombs were thrown and vehicles, including KFOR and UNMIK, were set on fire. Sirens were also heard."
"In total, at least 30 U.N. policemen and NATO peacekeepers were injured, five of them seriously, in clashes with local Serbs in Mitrovica," a U.N. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"Seventy demonstrators were injured, 15 from snipers and other firearms, two seriously," Vladimir Adzic, the head of Mitrovica hospital, told ABC News.
Hundreds of troops are currently on the streets as armored vehicles, and five KFOR tanks have cordoned off the court building.
Oliver Ivanovic, a moderate Serb leader, described the situation as very tense.
"From my balcony, I see a huge convoy of Carabinieri [Italian police], and the reality is they will intervene if the situation does not cool down," he said.
Kosovo's government unilaterally declared independence from Serbia Feb. 17 and has since been recognized by the United States and many European countries. Serbia and Kosovo's Serbs, however, vehemently reject the move.
Today's violence is the worst since the province's ethnic Albanian majority declared independence from Serbia.
It comes on the fourth anniversary of the ethnically motivated attacks by Albanians on a number of Serb homes and churches, which left 19 dead.