Serbia releases 3 Kosovo police officers whose arrest fueled tensions between Balkan foes

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — A Serbian court on Monday ordered the release of three Kosovo police officers who were detained earlier this month amid heightened tensions between Balkan foes and following demands from states States and the European Union to be released.

A court in the city of Kraljevo in central Serbia said it was releasing the police officers, who will be allowed to return to Kosovo. The court said in a statement that the three men were charged with unlawful possession of weapons and explosive devices. It was not immediately clear if the case would continue in their absence.

Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti tweeted that “we confirm that the 3 kidnapped police officers have been released. Although we are happy that they can return to their families, this abduction constitutes a serious violation of human rights and must be reprimanded. Serbian aggression must be held responsible.

The three men were arrested in mid-June. Serbia said they entered the country from Kosovo, while Kosovo authorities insisted they were abducted inside Kosovo and transferred to a Serbian prison.

The dispute had heightened tensions between the two countries that had erupted in recent violent clashes in Serb-majority northern Kosovo, raising fears of a resumption of the 1998-99 conflict in Kosovo that left more than 10,000 people dead, mostly civilians. Kosovo Albanians.

Last week, the EU summoned the leaders of Kosovo and Serbia to Brussels in a bid to ease tensions. The meeting produced no breakthrough as EU officials urged both sides to make an immediate effort to de-escalate the situation.

Serbia and its former province of Kosovo have been at odds for decades, with Belgrade refusing to recognize Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence.

Tensions erupted again late last month, including violent clashes, after Kosovo police seized local municipal buildings in northern Kosovo, where Serbs make up a majority, to install ethnic mayors Albanian who were elected in local elections in April after Serbs overwhelmingly boycotted the vote.

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