Court in Serbia releases three Kosovo police officers seized last week, following intervention by Serbia's ally, Hungary, and calls from both the US and EU.
The Higher Court in Kraljevo, Serbia, on Monday ordered the release of three Kosovo policemen who Serbia says it arrested on Serbian territory – and who Kosovo says were kidnapped inside Kosovo last week.
The court also said it confirmed the indictment against them for alleged illegal production, possession, carrying and trafficking of weapons and explosive materials.
The secretary of Kosovo’s Liaison Office in Belgrade, Fatmir Haxholli, shared a photo with the three Kosovo police officers after their release, writing: “Finally”.
“Every second lost until their return to the Republic of Kosovo, on their duties, constitutes an impulsive and non-rational behaviour with the aim of camouflaging a bizarre act through a medieval standard of justice,” Haxholli wrote before the release.
After their release, Kosovo PM Albin Kurti on Twitter said that “Serbian aggression must be held accountable,” claiming that, “even though we are joyous that they get to return to their families, this abduction consists of a serious human rights violation & must be reprimanded”.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban had publicly asked his ally, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, to release the three policemen. On Monday, he said that Vucic had informed him about the decision.
“We highly appreciate the step of President Vucic, which he took in a period of serious challenges, and whose decision is clear proof of the strategic cooperation between our countries and our mutual commitment to the peace and stability of the Balkans,” Orban wrote on Twitter.
The release of the policemen, “immediately and unconditionally”, was also requested by European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell, as he said after meeting Vucic and Kurti separately on Thursday last week.
The court ordered custody for the policemen on June 16, after the Higher Public Prosecutor’s office in Kraljevo ordered an investigation against them.
The police officers were seized on June 14 in an action that Kosovo authorities called “kidnapping”. Serbian authorities said they were arrested inside Serbia, but Kosovo’s government claims they were arrested inside Kosovo.
Kurti said the “kidnapping” was an act of “revenge” for the arrest of a Kosovo Serb, Milun “Lune” Milenkovic, one day earlier, on suspicion of orchestrating attacks against NATO peacekeepers at the end of May.
US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Balkans Gabriel Escobar said that whether or not the police officers were kidnapped or inadvertently crossed over to the territory of Serbia, they “did not intend to be on the territory of Serbia” and he also demanded their immediate release.
NATO’s peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, KFOR, said it was “not in the area when three Kosovo police officers were arrested by the Serbian police”, urging both Kosovo and Serbia to “reduce tensions & refrain from unilateral actions”.
The incident happened amid calls by the international community for both Serbia and Kosovo to de-escalate the situation in the Serb-majority north of Kosovo. Since May 26, local Serbs there have been protesting against newly elected mayors in elections that they boycotted en masse.
On May 29, Serbian protesters violently clashed with KFOR soldiers, where 30 soldiers and around 50 protesters were injured.
26 June 2023 - 12:33
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