Kosovo claims 3 Border Police officers ‘kidnapped’ by Serbia; Belgrade says they crossed illegally

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbian authorities said Wednesday they captured three “fully armed” Kosovar police officers inside Serbia near their shared border, while Kosovo police said they were likely “kidnapped” “on the territory of Kosovo while patrolling the area.

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

Kosovo police said in a statement on Wednesday that the three officers had called for help after seeing armed men wearing masks in Kosovo territory near the border north of the capital, Pristina.

When other members of the security forces arrived at the scene, they found an empty police car and suspected that the three officers had been “kidnapped” by Serb forces. Kosovo authorities have not provided any further details on why they believe the officers were abducted.

Serbian security forces released photos of three uniformed men lying face down on a field at the edge of a forest, with machine guns, other weapons and radio equipment placed nearby.

Video showed the three blindfolded and handcuffed men being led by Serb officers to parked police cars.

Serbian state media said President Aleksandar Vucic was informed of 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 contrary to international standards”.

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

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

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

Tensions in Kosovo erupted again late last month, including violent clashes.

Tensions escalated when Kosovo police seized local municipal buildings in northern Kosovo, where Serbs make up the majority, to install ethnic Albanian mayors who were elected in local elections in April after the Serbs massively boycotted the vote.

Serbia and its former province of 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 raised fears of a resumption of Kosovo’s 1998-99 conflict. which claimed more than 10,000 lives, mostly ethnic Albanians.


Llazar Semini reported from Tirana, Albania.

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