Kosovo officials arrested after huge weapons haul

Published on December 21, 2006, Washington Post

Category: Organized Crime in Kosovo

By Fatos Bytyci

PRISTINA, Serbia (Reuters) - Two officials of Kosovo's governing coalition have been arrested after police found a minibus packed with heavy weapons and ammunition.

A police source said the haul included a 12.7 mm anti-aircraft gun and more than 100 rocket-propelled grenades.

Local media reports said the find, made late on Wednesday in the Drenica region of central Kosovo, was the largest in Kosovo since the 1998-99 war and the deployment of NATO peacekeepers.

Three men were arrested, including a senior adviser to the Kosovo labor minister and a member of the governing Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK), which emerged from the guerrilla Kosovo Liberation Army. The find sharpened fears of unrest in the U.N.-run province, where major powers have delayed a decision on the demand of 2 million ethnic Albanians for independence from Serbia.

The Kosovo government issued a statement expressing regret for what it said was an isolated case. The AAK, a junior member of the governing coalition, said it was "surprised" that two of its members were involved. The breakaway province, run by the United Nations since 1999 and patrolled by 17,000 NATO-led peacekeepers, is braced for possible violence after the major Western powers and Russia let slip a year-end deadline to decide its fate until Serbia holds a general election on January 21.

An influential Brussels-based think-tank on Wednesday warned against further delay.

The International Crisis Group (ICG) said the temptation to avoid a tough decision on independence must be avoided, or there could be a "major new crisis."

Some Kosovo Albanian leaders have warned of unrest, which would almost certainly target the remaining 100,000 Serbs. Groups of armed men have appeared over the past year, and rioters last month lobbed stones and bottles at the U.N. headquarters in the capital, Pristina.

NATO bombed Serbia for 78 days in 1999 to force out Serb forces accused of causing a bloodbath in a two-year conflict with separatist guerrillas. Ten thousand Albanian civilians died and almost a million were expelled. Diplomats say the United States and its major European allies favor a form of independence supervised by the European Union. But Russian support for Serbia, which opposes independence, is hardening and could scupper efforts to solve the problem in the U.N. Security Council.

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