U.S. Demands Serbia ‘Immediately’ Release Three Detained Kosovar Police Officers

The United States has urged Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic to immediately release three Kosovar police officers detained on what it called “spurious charges.”

“We call on President Vucic and the Serbian government to immediately and unconditionally release the three Kosovo police detained on June 14,” the U.S. State Department said in a statement on June 17.

“Their arrest and ongoing detention on spurious charges has exacerbated an already tense situation,” it added.

The statement said Washington continues “to call on both Serbia and Kosova to follow the three-point plan outlined by the EU and return to the EU-facilitated Dialogue without delay.”

Kosovo said the three police officers went missing on June 14 during a patrol aimed at preventing smuggling. Interior Minister Xhelal Svecla accused Serbia of “entering the territory of Kosova and kidnapping” the three policemen.

Belgrade, meanwhile, said the officers were arrested “deep inside” Serbian territory.

KFOR, the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosova, said in a statement that it was unclear where the police officers were at the time of their arrest.

On June 16, the U.S. envoy for the Western Balkans, Gabriel Escobar, called on Serbia to release the three, saying they did not intentionally cross the border and the “likely scenarios” were that they were abducted from inside Kosova or “inadvertently crossed the boundary.”

The three “had no intention to be in Serbia and should be released,” Escobar told reporters in an online briefing.

The prosecutor’s office in the southwestern Serbian city of Kraljevo on June 16 ordered an investigation of the three Kosovo men and said they were being investigated on charges of unauthorized production, possession, carrying, and trafficking of weapons and explosive substances.

The arrest of the officers came after weeks of tensions following clashes between ethnic Serbs and NATO-led KFOR peacekeepers in northern Kosova that left 30 peacekeepers injured last month.

Local ethnic Serbs have taken to the streets in protest after ethnic Albanian mayors took office following a local election that Serbs boycotted

Earlier on June 17, Kosovar police told RFE/RL that two shock bombs exploded late on June 16 in North Mitrovica, causing no damages or injuries but raising tensions in the already nervous region near the Serbian border. (Radio Free Europe)