Several people were arrested on Friday morning on suspicion of war crimes committed during the conflicts in south Serbia in 2001.
|Dacic holding a press conference on Friday's police action I Photo by Beta|
The police action in the town of Bujanovac and surrounding villages in south Serbia, an area with predominantly Albanian population, started in the early hours of Friday.
Vladimir Vukcevic, the Serbian Prosecutor for War Crimes, said that five people had been arrested so far for war crimes committed during the conflict in south Serbia in 2001. He declined to give any further details of what these crimes were, since “it could harm the investigation“.
Eight people in total have been arrested - five for war crimes, two for resisting arrest and one for the illegal possession of firearms. They have been transferred to a Belgrade police station.
The Serbian Minister of Interior, Ivica Dacic, said that the Special Police Forces had carried out the arrests at the request of the Prosecutor’s Office for War Crimes.
“Acting on the suspicion that they had committed war crimes, the police arrested Elhami Salihi, Mustafa Limani, Sherif Abdiri, Nedir Sefedini and Sevdai Emurlahi,” said Dacic at a press conference.
“I can confirm that one of the arrested worked for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, as a translator, “ he added.
The OSCE Taking the Case Seriously
Reacting to the arrest of an OSCE translator, Head of the OSCE Mission in Serbia, Dimitrios Kypreos, said that the man has been working for OSCE since 2001 and that he has been employed after the consultation with Serbian authorities.
“OSCE Mission still did not receive any evidence related to this member of the OSCE staff. We take this case seriously and we are willing to cooperate with the Serbian authorities on this issue,” said Kypreos.
Dacic also told the media that one the men arrested for obstructing the police is Izet Cazimi, brother of the deceased Ridvan Cazimi, who as 'Commander Leshi' led part of the ethnic Albanian armed forces in south Serbia.
The conflict between Serbs and Albanians in south Serbia started in 2000 and lasted until 2001. In the late 1990s the Kosovo Liberation Army created a special unit, called the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac, whose aim was to join the territory of south Serbia with Kosovo.
This KLA unit chiefly targeted civilian infrastructure in its attacks. The unit was disarmed in 2001 when the Yugoslav Army entered the demilitarized area near the border with Kosovo with the approval of NATO.
|Arrested men transferred to Belgrade | Photo by Beta|
BIRN has learnt that around 10 Albanian houses have been searched, while the majority of those arrested are former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA.
The Serbian public broadcaster, RTS, reported that police units came under the attack during the operation.
Riza Halimi, a member of the Serbian Parliament said that these arrests are “a continuation of state terror” over the ethnic Albanian community in Serbia.
“All this is happening just two days before the elections. The intention is to get cheap political points by playing with the destiny of this state and this region,” said Halimi speaking to the Beta news agency.
He added that the Albanians are worried because Dacic has stated that more arrests will follow.
The arrests came just two days after a Pristina court found one of Kosovo’s top officials Fatmir Limaj not guilty for war crimes committed against civilians and prisoners of war during conflicts in Kosovo in 1999.
Serbia's war crimes prosecution office condemned the ruling, calling it “shameful” and raised “the question of whether anyone in Kosovo and Metohija will ever be sentenced for crimes committed against Serbs”.
The Serbian Prosecutor’s Office has approximately 100 active arrest warrants for former KLA fighters for war crimes committed during the conflict in the 1990s.