Serbian interior ministry troops on Friday morning arrested around ten former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, on suspicion of war crimes in the wake of Nato’s 1999 air war, officials in Belgrade said.
The KLA’s “Gnjilane group”, named for the adjoining municipality in Kosovo, kidnapped 159 Serb civilians and killed at least 51 in an ethnic cleansing campaign against non-Albanians, Serbian prosecutors said.
The raids and arrests around Presevo – an ethnic Albanian area in southern Serbia – could heighten tensions with Kosovo, whose ethnic Albanian majority declared independence from the larger ex-Yugoslav country in February.
Riza Halimi, Serbia’s only ethnic Albanian member of parliament, accused the authorities of “militarising” the economically underdeveloped area, which had its own brief KLA-linked rebellion in 2000-2001.
Police and prosecutors waited for three to four months to pounce, as the suspects came to Presevo “from Kosovo and abroad”, officials said, probably referring to ethnic Albanian “guest workers” in the European Union or Switzerland.
Prosecutors accuse the group of “murder, rape, detention, mutilation, torture and looting” from June to October 1999, the months after Serbian forces withdrew.
International war crimes trials have put the blame on the Serb side for the largest-scale atrocities in the 1990s Yugoslav breakup.
Yet while Belgrade remains under pressure to come to terms with the past, Serb victims have been largely overlooked, Serbian officials say.
Serbian war crimes prosecutors have pressed the United Nations in recent months to reopen old investigations about trafficking in human organs by KLA members with alleged links to Albania and Macedonia.
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