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news 23 Apr 12

Kosovo Stokes Tensions With More Serb Arrests

Fresh arrests of two Serbs in Kosovo - including Serbia's district chief for Kosovo - seem bound to further wind up tensions between Pristina and Belgrade.

Fatmir Aliu Pristina

Two Kosovo Serbs arrested on Saturday are due to appear in court on Monday after spending 48 hours in police custody.

Police accuse Goran Arsic, the Serbian government's Kosovo District Chief, and Novica Zivic, an employee of the Serbian Red Cross, of violating people's equal rights by intimidating them over Serbia's forthcoming elections, due on May 6.

They say they detained the two men in the Lipljane/Lipjan area after they got into a quarrel with two other Kosovo Serbs during a football game.

"The two suspects threatened some young Serbs that if they did not vote [in Serbian elections on May 6] they will not be allowed to enter Serbia,” the police said in a written statement.

They qualify the matter as a violation of people's rights under Article 158 of the penal code, which is punishable by up to five years in prison.

However, there is some dispute inside Kosovo over the true nature of the men's alleged offences.

Kosovo Serb MP Rada Trajkovic condemned the arrests as ethnically motivated and urged the international community to mediate in freeing the two men.

“This hunt for Serbs is purely ethnically motivated and nothing can justify it, neither false testimonies nor absurd Kosovo police statements,” she said in a letter to the press.

Serbia's Minister for Kosovo, Goran Bogdanovic, on Sunday said the motive behind the arrest of two Kosovo Serbs was to further intimidate the Serb community in Kosovo.

Last week the EU foreign security policy chief Catherine Ashton told BIRN that Kosovo and Serbia should both ease tensions by ceasing to arrest one another's citizens and should refrain from the selective use of the law in such cases.

Tensions between Serbia and Kosovo have risen sharply in recent weeks over a range of issues including Serbia's plans to extend elections to its former province and a series of tit-for-tat arrests on both sides of the border.

Serbian police recently arrested Kosovo trade unionist Hasan Abazi, President of the Metalworkers Union, for alleged espionage carried out in 1999. Abazi was released on Friday, but only after his family paid 20,000 euro in bail.

They also arrested another Kosovar, Adem Murseli, on drug charges, although his family maintain their son has had nothing to do narcotics.

The arrests in Serbia followed the arrests of a number of Serbs in Kosovo, some of whom were detained for bringing in material to be used for Serbian elections on May 6, which Belgrade is extending to Kosovo against the will of the Kosovo government.

Kosovo authorities arrested four Serb policemen, accusing them of issuing Serbian passports in Kosovo and of breaching the constitutional order of Kosovo. They were later released, however.

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