Serbia arrests 10 for 1999 Kosovo killings

December 27th, 2008 - 2:49 am ICT by IANS  

Belgrade, Dec 27 (Xinhua) The Serbian police Friday arrested 10 former guerilla fighters of Kosovo Liberation Army suspeced of involvement in crimes against Serb and non-Albanian civilians in the former Serbian province of Kosovo in 1999, the authorities said.Serbian Interior Minister Ivica Dacic said the suspects had been arrested in the southern town of Presevo, near the border with Kosovo, the official Serbian news agency Tanjug reported.

Dacic said that the suspects had killed more than 50 Serbs and non-Albanian civilians in Kosovo’s Gnjilane after the end of the Kosovo war in June 1999.

The Serbian war crimes prosecutor’s office said the suspects had sought to get rid of Serbs and other non-Albanians from Gnjilane, 47 km southeast of the Kosovo capital Pristina.

“From June 1999 until October 1999, they were involved in at least 51 murders and 159 abductions in the town,” said Bruno Vekaric, a spokesman for Serbia’s war crimes prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic.

He said some of those arrested had entered Presevo, a region of south Serbia with a large ethnic Albanian community, to celebrate the New Year with relatives.

The Serbian prosecutor’s office said the arrests had been made in raids on 17 homes in Presevo after months of preparation because of the “extremely high risk as almost all the suspects were armed”.

Nine suspects were transferred to custody in Belgrade while one remained under further investigation in southern Serbia’s Vranje, according to a statement from the office.

A breakaway province of Serbia, ethnic Albanian-dominated Kosovo unilaterally declared independence in February. However, Serbia has vowed it would never recognize Kosovo’s independence.

Ethnic Albanian militants in Presevo waged an insurgency against Belgrade in 2001 which ended with the help of NATO and EU diplomacy.

Riza Halimi, a parliamentary deputy of Presevo Valley Albanians in the Serbian parliament, said all crime perpetrators must be brought to justice, but accused Serbian police of using excessive force in making the arrests Friday.

“It certainly does not contribute to the stability in the region,” Halimi said.

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