Kosovo: Fury Over KPC Arrests

Tensions are running high in Kosovo following arrests of members of the local protection force

Kosovo: Fury Over KPC Arrests

Tensions are running high in Kosovo following arrests of members of the local protection force

Tuesday, 6 September, 2005

The arrest by UNMIK police of six members of the Kosova Protection Corps, KPC, including the brother of a political party leader, has sparked angry reactions, with protests in the towns of Decani and Djakovica (Gjakova). After being dispersed by police, protestors threatened to blockade major roads in the province if the arrested men were not released soon.

The six men, accused of killings and kidnappings of local Albanians as Serb forces left Kosovo after the NATO bombardment, were arrested on June 18 and 19. The local media have published the name of the detainees, but UN has declined to confirm their identity, nor reveal the exact nature of their alleged crimes or where they were committed.

UNMIK spokesman Simon Haselock told IWPR that the arrest warrants were raised by the international prosecutor in the Pec (Peja) court and ratified by the international judge there. He said The Hague tribunal was not involved, "At this point we are not treating the alleged crimes as war crimes. We have to wait on the outcome of the ongoing investigation." Some victims of the alleged crimes are still missing.

The KPC is a civilian organisation formed out of the ranks of the former Kosova Liberation Army, KLA, which was demilitarised at the end of the NATO campaign of 1999. Composed of 3,000 active troops and 2,000 reservists, the body is intended for action in emergencies. Among the Albanian population of Kosova, the KPC is envisaged as a future army and generally regarded as untouchable.

However, this is not the first time that members of the organisation have been arrested. In January of this year, three senior KPC officials were arrested and also charged with crimes against other Albanians. They have not yet stood trial.

Among those reported to have been arrested this week is Daut Haradinaj, former commander of the KPC's third zone and brother of Ramush Haradinaj, ex-KLA commander in the Dukagjin area and leader of the Alliance for the Future of Kosova.

Daut Haradinaj was suspended from the KPC a year ago, when his name appeared on a list of 22 people accused of "supporting extremists" in the Balkans, issued by the US administration and signed by President George W Bush. The list included other members of the KPC.

Daut Haradinaj turned himself in during an investigation into disappearances and assaults against ethnic Albanians at the end of the 1999 military campaign, sources said.

The commander of the Peace Keeping Force in Kosova, KFOR, General Marcel Valentin said that the arrests showed that no one stands above the law. "The international community is not attacking the KPC as an institution, but action will be taken against any individuals who are accused of crimes," he said.

He was backed by Kosova's prime minister, Bajram Rexhepi, who also urged the public to wait for the outcome of the investigations.

Reaction from within the KPC has been less measured. "This is a heavy blow for the entire KPC, not just individuals," said the organisation's commander Lieutenant-General Agim Ceku.

"We object to the manner in which those KPC officials were arrested... there was use of violence," added one of the body's senior officials, Muharrem Mahmutaj. Allegations of excessive force have been rejected by international police spokesman Derek Chapell, but UNMIK chief of mission Michael Steiner has agreed to an investigation into the claims.

The six suspects have been imprisoned for 30 days while more investigations are conducted. UNMIK regulations allow for detention of up to 12 months while investigations are completed against suspects.

Adem Bajri, defence lawyer for Daut Haradinaj, has predicted that his client will be freed without charge. Haradinaj is said to believe he has "nothing to fear".

A few days before the arrests, senior KPC official Gani Ymeri was freed without charge after eight months in police custody. Ymeri has said he will now demand compensation for his time in detention.

Whatever the final conclusion, public and media opinion in Kosova concur that a rapid conclusion of the investigation and any court proceedings arising from it is vital. The truth must be seen to come out as soon as possible.

Fatos Bytyci is a journalist with Kosova Radio and Television, RTK.

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