Page last updated at 16:49 GMT, Friday, 26 December 2008

Serbia arrests 'ex-KLA fighters'

Serbian police escort a suspected ex-KLA fighter in Belgrade, 26 December
Armed police could be seen escorting the detainees in Belgrade

Police in south Serbia have arrested 10 suspected former Kosovo Liberation Army fighters for war crimes against non-Albanians, including murder and rape.

Serbian Interior Minister Ivica Dacic said the suspects had been arrested in the Serbian town of Presevo, near the border with Kosovo.

The 10 are suspected of being former KLA fighters who killed more than 50 Serbs in Kosovo.

The alleged crimes date back to after the end of the conflict there in 1999.

'New Year's visit'

The Serbian war crimes prosecutor's office said the group had sought to get rid of Serbs and other non-Albanians from Gnjilane (Gjilan in Albanian), 47km (30 miles) south-east of the Kosovan capital, Pristina.

"From June 1999 until October 1999, they were involved in at least 51 murders and 159 abductions in the town," said Bruno Vekaric, a spokesman for Serbia's war crimes prosecutor, Vladimir Vukcevic.

He added that some of those arrested had entered Presevo, a region of Serbia with a large ethnic Albanian community, to celebrate the New Year with relatives.

The Serbian prosecutor's office said the arrests had been made in raids on 17 homes in Presevo after months of preparation because of the "extremely high risk as almost all the suspects were armed".

Nine suspects were transferred to custody in Belgrade while one remained under investigation in southern Serbia, according to a statement from the office reported by the Associated Press.

Belgrade still regards Kosovo, which declared formal independence this year nearly a decade after breaking away from Serbia, as its territory.

Ethnic Albanian militants in Presevo waged an insurgency against Belgrade in 2001 which was ended with the help of Nato and EU diplomacy.

Riza Halimi, an ethnic Albanian political leader from Presevo, accused Serbian police of using excessive force in making the arrests on Friday.

"It certainly does not contribute to the stability in the region," the leader told Serbia's Beta news agency.

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