Kosovo Ex-Prime Minister Arrested on War Crimes

Kosovo Ex-Prime Minister Arrested on War Crimes

June 25, 2009


PRAGUE — The former prime minister of Kosovo, Agim Ceku, a former rebel commander wanted in Serbia on war crimes charges, has been arrested in Bulgaria, Bulgarian officials announced Wednesday.

The Bulgarian Interior Ministry said Mr. Ceku had been detained based on an Interpol arrest warrant initiated by Serbia as he crossed the border from Macedonia on Tuesday. Kamen Mihov, a Bulgarian prosecutor in charge of international legal issues, said a court would decide by Friday whether to extend Mr. Ceku’s detention by 40 days — during which he could be extradited to Serbia — or to release him.

Serbia has accused Mr. Ceku of committing war crimes during the 1998-99 war in Kosovo, when he was a commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army, a rebel group that used guerrilla tactics to fight against Serbia’s rule of Kosovo. The Serbian Justice Ministry said Mr. Ceku had been indicted in Serbia on charges of “command responsibility” in relation to what it called the illegal deaths of 669 Serbs and 18 other non-Albanians in 1999. He has strenuously denied the accusations.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008. But Serbia, which regards Kosovo as its medieval heartland and is supported by Russia, has refused to recognize it as a country.

Solomon Passy, the chairman of the Bulgarian Parliament’s foreign relations committee, called the arrest “politically motivated.” Mr. Passy said he had invited Mr. Ceku to Bulgaria to discuss integrating Kosovo into international structures like the European Union and NATO.

“The decision of one parochial court does not represent the motivation of the international community,” he said.

Mr. Ceku has not been indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in the Hague, but he has been arrested on two previous occasions on Interpol warrants, first in October 2003 at Ljubljana Airport in Slovenia, and then at Budapest Airport in February 2004. In both cases he was released. He was also deported from Colombia in May 2009 on the basis of an Interpol warrant.

Serbia insists that the extradition of Mr. Ceku is essential to achieve justice for atrocities against Serbs during the Balkan wars of the 1990s. But Balkan analysts said the arrest of Mr. Ceku, a prominent figure in Kosovo’s struggle for independence, was also part of an effort by Belgrade to appeal to domestic public sentiment.

The case is something of a difficult balancing act, however, because Serbia is also seeking closer ties with the European Union, and most of its member countries supported Kosovo’s independence in the face of fierce Serbian resistance.

Mr. Ceku is a folk hero to many ethnic Albanians. If he were to be extradited to Serbia, analysts said, the move could create friction in Kosovo, where NATO peacekeepers maintain an uneasy peace between the majority ethnic Albanian population and a Serbian minority.

As prime minister of Kosovo, Mr. Ceku, who was a soldier in the army of the former Yugoslavia, sought to reach out to Serbs and addressed the Kosovo Parliament in the Serbian language, a move that caused many ethnic Albanians to criticize him.

In May 1999, at the height of the war, a group of Serbian paramilitary and police officers arrived in his home village of Qyshk, in western Kosovo, found his family home, and shot his 69-year-old father, Hasan, before setting the body on fire and shooting the remaining men in the village, according to an account Mr. Ceku told to his aides.

Dan Bilefsky reported from Prague, and Matthew Brunwasser from Sofia, Bulgaria.


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