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Serbia releases captured Kosovo officers

PRISTINA (AFP) – Belgrade on Monday freed three Kosovo police officers taken into custody by Serbian security forces earlier this month, easing the latest flare-up between the two Balkan nations.

The move, following a court order, came after weeks of soaring tensions between the two sides, in which rioting in northern Kosovo saw more than 30 NATO peacekeepers injured in late May.

“We confirm that the three kidnapped police officers have been released. Even though we are joyous that they get to return to their families, this abduction consists of a serious human rights violation and must be reprimanded,” Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti wrote on social media.

Kurti’s announcement came as a Serbian court said the three had been indicted but their detention had also been “terminated”.

“The higher tribunal… has confirmed the indictment against the aforementioned and brought a ruling that the detention of the indictees be terminated,” the higher court in Serbia’s Kraljevo, where the case was heard, said in a statement.

The three officers entered Kosovo at the Merdare border crossing on Monday afternoon, according to an AFP journalist, where they were greeted and shook hands with officials.

Their later arrest unleashed a war of words between the Kosovo government and Serbia, with Pristina saying the three men had been kidnapped, while Belgrade accused them of crossing into its territory.

Kurti’s government has sought to crack down on what it says is rampant smuggling across its northern frontier, accusing Serbia of using organised crime and black market trade to control Serb-majority areas of north Kosovo.

The prime minister said the “kidnapping” of its officers was most likely “revenge” for the arrest of an alleged Serb paramilitary leader in Kosovo this month.