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Former Albanian guerillas arrested over Serb killings

Serbian police said they arrested ten former members of the Kosovo Liberation army, suspected of crimes against civilians in Gnjilane. The detainees are ethnic Albanians and are accused of more than 50 murders.

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AFP - Serbian police said Friday they had arrested 10 ethnic Albanian guerrillas suspected of kidnapping scores of Serb civilans and murdering more than 50 people shortly after the 1998-1999 Kosovo conflict.

"Ten former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), suspected of crimes against civilians in Gnjilane... have been arrested in Presevo on the orders of Serbia's war crimes prosecutor," a police official told AFP.

Police also searched 17 locations and found arms as well as proof that they had been KLA members, Interior Minister Ivica Dacic told reporters.

The so-called "Group of Gnjilane" is believed to have kidnapped 159 Serb civilians and killed at least 51 people between June and October 1999, a statement from the office of prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic said.

The suspects are also wanted for the alleged "rape, incarceration, mutilation, torture, and plunder" of Serb and non-Albanian civilians, the prosecutor's office said.

Dacic said the leaders of the group remained at large as they were believed to be in Kosovo.

"The three leaders of the 'Group of Gnjilane'... are out of reach of Serbia's security forces. They live in Gnjilane and Serbia will demand UNMIK (UN mission in Kosovo) to bring them to justice as there is evidence against them," Dacic said.

After the end of the Kosovo conflict in June 1999 following a NATO bombing campaign, the southern Serbian province was placed under UN and NATO control.

The Presevo valley, situated on Serbia's southern border next to both Macedonia and Kosovo, is a predominantly ethnic Albanian area where clashes occurred in 2000 and 2001 between Serbian forces and local separatists.

Local ethnic Albanian leader, Riza Halimi, the only Albanian deputy in the Serbian parliament, said the action "does not contribute to the stabilisation of the region," the Beta news agency reported.

The ethnic Albanian authorities of Kosovo declared independence in February in a move that was soon recognised by more than 50 states, including the US and most of EU countries.

Belgrade considers the move illegal and is backed by its chief ally Moscow.
  

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