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Kosovo: Dramatic arrest of Serbian official

March 27, 2018

A senior Serbian politician ignored an entry ban for Kosovo and was dramatically arrested. The issue has sparked tensions between the countries as they attempt to normalize their relations.

Kosovo police escort Marko Djuric a Serb official to a police station in Kosovo capital Pristina after he was arrested in northern Kosovo town of Mitrovica, Monday, March 26,
Kosovo police escort Marko Djuric to a police station in PristinaImage: picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images/V. Kryeziu

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic condemned Kosovo as a "terrorist" and "bandit" state on Monday after it arrested a hardline Serbian government official.

The dramatic arrest of Marko Djuric, Belgrade's chief negotiator for Kosovo, has ratcheted up tensions between the two countries as they attempt to make peace.

Pristina had banned Djuric from entering the country over nationalist remarks regarded as inflammatory. However Djuric ignored the ban and traveled to the volatile town of Mitrovica for a round table conference on normalizing relations between the countries.

Read more: EU expansion: Juncker stresses real progress on western Balkans trip

Kosovo Proteste in Mitrovica
Heavily-armed police fought through ethnic Serb protesters to reach DjuricImage: Getty Images/AFP/Stringer

Dramatic arrest

Shortly after the start of the roundtable began, heavily-armed police stormed the venue, arresting Djuric and dispersing protesters with tear gas.

He was handcuffed and driven to Pristina in the back of an armored police van to be booed by ethnic Albanian onlookers before being expelled from the country.

Kosovo: Independent and divided

'Criminal act'

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic slammed the use of force, saying Djuric's arrest amounted to an abduction, a "brutal provocation and the worst criminal act," in a strongly-worded address on live TV.

"They beat him ... dragged him on the streets of Pristina under boos to complete the humiliation," he said.

"All those who have participated in this abduction will be held accountable before Serbian state bodies," he said. But he stopped short of withdrawing from EU talks.

"We will do everything we can to preserve peace but we will not allow anyone to jeopardize the security of our citizens."

Kosovo split apart from Serbia in the late 1990s after NATO bombings ended an attempt to quash an uprising by ethnic Albanians against repressive Serbian rule. It formally declared independence in 2008.

The European Union has demanded they normalize relations before Serbia can enter the bloc.

Read more: Clocks in Europe are running late because of the Kosovo conflict

EU calls for peace

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said on Twitter: "I deplore what happened today in Kosovo. Need calm & preserve dialogue."

Kosovo President Hashim Thaci said Djuric had entered the country illegally and police responded appropriately. He called for calm and said the normalization process would continue.

Thaci said the incident "should not interfere with ... the dialogue between the two countries, the efforts for normalization, good neighborly relations and reconciliation between Kosovo and Serbia."

Kosovo has a population of 1.8 million people including 120,000 ethnic Serbs. The northern city of Mitrovica has been a hotspot for conflict with more than 50,000 ethnic Serbs living there and holding political allegiance to Serbia.

aw/kms (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)