Kosovo says 3 border police officers 'kidnapped' by Serbia; Belgrade says they crossed illegally

Kosovo police have reported that three officers patrolling a northern area bordering Serbia are missing and may likely be kidnapped by Serbs

Dusan Stojanovic,Llazar Semini
Wednesday 14 June 2023 16:00 BST
Kosovo Serbs
Kosovo Serbs (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Serbian authorities said Wednesday they have captured three “fully armed” Kosovo police officers inside Serbia near their mutual border, while Kosovo police said they have likely been “kidnapped" on Kosovo territory as they patrolled the area.

The latest incident further raises tensions between Serbia and its former province. Serbia had put its troops on the border on the highest state of alert amid a series of recent clashes between Kosovo Serbs on one side, and Kosovo police and NATO-led peacekeepers on the other.

Kosovo police said in a statement Wednesday that the three police officers called for assistance after they had seen gunmen wearing masks on Kosovo territory near the border north of the capital, Pristina.

When other members of the security forces arrived at the location, they found an empty police car and suspected that the three officers had been “kidnapped” by Serb forces. Kosovo authorities didn't provide any other details about why they believe the officers were abducted.

Serbian security forces published photos of three men in uniforms lying face down on a field on the edge of a forest, with machine guns, other weapons and radio equipment placed near them.

A video showed the three blindfolded and handcuffed men being led by Serbian officers to parked police cars.

Serbian state media said President Aleksandar Vucic was informed about the arrest and hastily left a reception at the Russian Embassy in Belgrade.

Kosovo Interior Minister Xhelal Svecla denounced the “kidnapping,” which he said, “violates any agreement and is against international norms.”

The minister called on the international community “to urgently increase pressure on Serbia not only to release our police officers but also stop its provocations.”

Kosovo police have contacted NATO-led international peacekeepers, known as KFOR, and other security institutions and international organizations to call for the release of the officers.

The incident comes a day after Kosovo police arrested in northern Mitrovica — an area mostly populated by the ethnic Serb minority — an alleged organizer of Serb protests in the country’s north, including one in which last month 30 NATO-led peacekeepers were injured. Three police officers were injured in the operation.

Tensions in Kosovo flared anew late last month, including violent clashes.

The tensions escalated when Kosovo police seized local municipality buildings in northern Kosovo, where Serbs represent a majority, to install ethnic Albanian mayors who were elected in a local election in April after Serbs overwhelmingly boycotted the vote.

Serbia and its former province Kosovo have been at odds for decades, with Belgrade refusing to recognize Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence. The latest violence near their shared border has stirred fears of a renewal of a 1998-99 conflict in Kosovo that claimed more than 10,000 lives, mostly ethnic Albanians.


Llazar Semini reported from Tirana, Albania.

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