Serbian security forces detain three Kosovo police officers, Kosovo official says

PRISTINA/BELGRADE, June 14 (Reuters) – Three Kosovo police officers were detained by Serbian forces on Wednesday but officials from Kosovo and Serbia gave different locations for the arrest, accusing each other of crossing the border illegally.

Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti demanded the release of the three officers. He said they had been arrested 300 metres inside Kosovan territory, near the border with Serbia.

“The entry of Serbian forces into the territory of Kosovo is aggression and aimed at escalation and destabilization,” Kurti wrote on his Facebook page.

But Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic said the three were arrested “as far as 1.8 kilometers (1 mile)” inside Serbian territory near the village of Gnjilica. He also accused Kurti of inciting conflicts.

“We are at the crossroads whether we will have peace or not … and there’s one man in the Balkans who wants to incite conflicts at any cost and that is Albin Kurti,” Vucic said in a live TV broadcast.

He rejected Kurti’s accusation that the Serbian police entered Kosovo, saying: “They did not even set a foot there.”

Vucic said Belgrade was willing to submit all the evidence and accept an international inquiry into the arrests and that it could relocate some of its military currently stationed around five km (3.1 miles) away from the boundary to garrisons inside Serbia to defuse tensions.

“It will be difficult to return to normalcy,” he said.

Kosovo banned all vehicles with Serbia’s licence plates from entering its territory in response to the arrests, an interior ministry official told Reuters at mid-evening on Wednesday.

The detentions may further fuel tensions in the predominantly Serb northern part in Kosovo which borders Serbia and which has seen violence in recent weeks.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, nearly a decade after an uprising by the 90% ethnic Albanian majority against repressive Serbian rule.

In 1999, a NATO bombing campaign drove Serbian security forces out of Kosovo but Belgrade continues to regard it as a southern province.

Violence flared last month when 30 peacekeepers and 52 Serbs were injured in clashes in four predominantly Serb municipalities in northern Kosovo just outside Serbia.

It erupted after Serbs rallied against ethnic Albanian mayors who moved into their offices following a local vote in which turnout was just 3.5%. Serbs in the area boycotted the election.

Reporting by Fatos Bytyci, Ivana Sekularac and Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel, Jonathan Oatis, Angus MacSwan, William Maclean

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Aleksandar Vasovic

Thomson Reuters

Reports on the Western Balkans and Ukraine. Previously worked with the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network as editor-trainer. While serving as a correspondent for the Associated Press covered the war in Kosovo in 1998-1999, the 1999 NATO bombing of Serbia and Montenegro, insurgencies in North Macedonia and the Presevo Valley, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine. During the 1990s worked as an editor and correspondent at-large for Belgrade’s Radio B92 covering wars in Croatia and Bosnia and peace processes between Israel and the Palestinian territories and in Northern Ireland. Awarded with APME Deadline Reporting Award in 2004 for the capture of Saddam.