Kosovo Police takes one Serb arrested in the armed clash near Zvecan at Pristina court on September 26, 2023. Photo: BIRN/Laurant Berisha

Kosovo Serbs Detained for 30 Days for Police Killing; Prishtina Blames Belgrade

Kosovo’s government has produced evidence of what it says is the involvement of the main Belgrade-backed Kosovo Serb political party in an armed assault on police in the north of the country in which one officer died.

Three Kosovo Serbs have been remanded in custody for 30 days in connection with the killing of a police officer in northern Kosovo on Sunday, while the government provided evidence of what it described as the “terrorist” involvement of the main Belgrade-backed Serb political party in the country.

Under tight security, Blagoje Spasojevic and Dusan Maksimovic were taken before Prishtina Basic Court on Tuesday morning, where the judge ordered they be held in custody for 30 days.

The same measure was applied on Monday evening to a third Kosovo Serb, Vladimir Tolic, who remains in hospital having been injured in gun battles with police in northern Kosovo following the shooting dead of Kosovo Albanian police officer Afrim Bunjaku.

All three are being held on charges of terrorism and undermining Kosovo’s constitutional order.

The killing of Bunjaku and subsequent clashes at the site of the Banjska monastery in a northern, predominantly Serb-populated pocket of northern Kosovo has further ratcheted up tensions between Serbia and its former southern province, which broke away in war in 1998-99 and declared independence with the backing of the major Western powers in 2008.

Serbia refuses to recognise Kosovo as independent and continues to wield significant influence among Serbs in the north who have long resisted integration with Kosovo’s Albanian majority.

On Tuesday, Kosovo Interior Minister Xhelal Svecla posted a video on his Facebook profile that appeared to show nearly a dozen armed men in Banjska.

Svecla identified one of the men in the video as Milan Radoicic, deputy leader of the Belgrade-backed Srpska Lista, the main Kosovo Serb political party, and the man widely seen as the chief powerbroker among Serbs in the north.

‘Terrorist activity’

Kosovo Police officer is reflected in a vehicle mirror at Pristina Basic Court on September 26, 2023. Photo: BIRN/Laurant Berisha

Radoicic is wanted by Kosovo authorities in connection with a corruption case concerning illegal construction in the Brezovica mountain resort of southern Kosovo. He is also named in the indictment in the case of murdered Kosovo Serb politician Oliver Ivanovic, as leader of the organised crime group accused of carrying out the killing in early 2018. Radoicic himself has not been indicted in the Ivanovic case and an arrest warrant against him was lifted.

Svecla described Radoicic as “leader of this terrorist group” behind the Banjska attack.

“This is yet more evidence of his terrorist activity against the Republic of Kosovo,” said Svecla. He pointed the finger of blame at Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, accusing him of using Srpska Lista to destabilise Kosovo.

“Srpska Lista sees its participation in Kosovo only through terrorism,” Svecla said. “They have failed.”

Vucic has denied any Serbian state involvement, saying Kosovo Serbs had been forced into responding to what he described as “ethnic cleansing” perpetrated by the government of Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti.

In Belgrade, the Serbian government declared Wednesday an official day of mourning for the three Kosovo Serb gunmen killed during the Kosovo police operation. Summoning the ambassadors of France, Italy, Germany, Britain and the United States – Kosovo’s chief Western backers – Vucic said he had asked that the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo, KFOR, take control “of all security issues in the north of Kosovo instead of Kurti’s police”.

Prosecution documents seen by BIRN accuse Tolic, Spasojevic and a number of unidentified co-conspirators of entering Kosovo “with dozens of vehicles filled with arms, ammunition and military uniforms”, blocking a road and ambushing police, killing Bunjaku and injuring another officer, Alban Rashiti.

Maksimovic is accused of providing surveillance support by videoing the movements of police units. His lawyer, Dejan Vasic, said he would appeal the custody ruling, saying his client was the victim of a “misunderstanding”.

In total, three gunmen were killed and initially six arrested in Banjska after taking cover in the local monastery and being surrounded by police. On Monday evening, the police said they had arrested another two suspects and seized a vehicle containing arms and ammunition.

The government originally said there were around 30 gunmen involved. It remains unclear what happened to the rest.

and 26/09/2023 - 16:00

26 September 2023 - 16:00

Prishtina Insight is a digital and print magazine published by BIRN Kosovo, an independent, non-governmental organisation. To find out more about the organization please visit the official website. Copyright © 2016 BIRN Kosovo.