Prague, 20 September 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Some 300 British and Dutch troops of the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo, KFOR, raided two houses and a bar before dawn yesterday in a Serbian enclave near the provincial capital Pristina. The peacekeepers seized what KFOR officials call "weapons of war" and detained several suspected members of Serbian special forces.
The United Nation's chief civilian administrator in Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner, describes the find as "very serious, an obvious attempt to destabilize Kosovo and to target the democracy, peace and security of Kosovo." He says Yugoslav special forces may be involved:
"Two of those individuals [detained] are believed to be serving or former members of the Yugoslav special forces."
KFOR initially arrested six people, but later released three of them. The remaining three are being interrogated at a UN jail in Pristina.
KFOR officials say the search of two houses and a bar in Gracanica from midnight until just after dawn today yielded one and a half kilos of plastic explosives, as well as remote-controlled detonating devices, an electronic timer, wiring, a Scorpion machine pistol and three other pistols, an AK-47 assault rifle, and a large quantity of ammunition.
KFOR commander General Juan Ortuno says the purpose of the confiscated equipment was to create fear and to intimidate the people of Kosovo.
"KFOR and [the UN] will not allow any external or internal threat to undermine the stability of the province."
The British commander of KFOR troops in central Kosovo, Brigadier Robert Fry, told reporters in Pristina last night the suspects "were in the business of creating an explosive device for use in Kosovo."
He said he believed the incident "is very clearly associated with Serbia." Fry said that, prior to their detention, he had compelling intelligence linking "them to the VJ (Yugoslav Army) and to the special forces organization in [the Serbian city of] Nis." He said the suspects had been operating in the area for several weeks, perhaps as long as two months.
The Reuter news agency quotes a British Defense Ministry spokesman as saying last night the seized weapons and explosives and detonators are believed to be, in his words, "part of a plot to destabilize Kosovo ahead of Yugoslav elections" on Sunday. But the spokesman offered no details to back up his claim.
In addition to Sunday's Yugoslav federal and parliamentary elections, which will also be held in Serb districts of Kosovo, the UN and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, are organizing local elections in Kosovo on October 28. The overwhelming majority of the 50,000 Serbs still in Kosovo are boycotting the OSCE's voter-registration drive and will be unable to vote in October.
The Kosovo Serb National Council, which runs Serb enclaves in Kosovo -- including Gracanica and the Serb-controlled northern part of Mitrovica -- has come out in favor of the opposition presidential candidate, Vojislav Kostunica. Nevertheless, Milosevic supporters stoned Kostunica when he visited the province last week.
House searches and raids by KFOR civilian police are a daily occurrence in Kosovo and occasionally result in large quantities of arms being uncovered. What makes the Gracanica find significant is that in addition to the arms and ammunition, KFOR captured suspected members of Serb special forces.