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Yugoslavia: KFOR Continues Hunt For 'Perpetrators Of Extremism'

NATO-led peacekeepers in Kosovo today detained three suspected members of armed extremist groups that the international community believes pose an immediate security threat to the region. As RFE/RL reports, today's detentions came one day after UN police detained a former ethnic Albanian rebel commander suspected of the abduction, torture, and murder of at least five people.

Prague, 12 August 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Today's detention of three unidentified individuals by peacekeepers of the NATO-led Kosovo Force, or KFOR, "was carried out as part of the global fight against terrorism," according to a KFOR statement.

KFOR is maintaining considerable secrecy about the detentions, refusing to divulge the identities of those detained or the circumstances of their detention.

All KFOR will say is that the three detainees are suspected members of "ethnic armed extremist groups" and were detained in Pristina early this morning. KFOR says "the perpetrators of extremism and illegal activities can find no place to hide in Kosovo."

KFOR insists that today's detentions are not linked to last week's detentions of 19 people, 12 of whom it described as "members of ethnic armed extremist groups" operating on Kosovo's tense border with Macedonia.

Similarly, KFOR insists that today's detentions are not linked to yesterday's detention in Pristina of a former commander of the insurgent Kosovo Liberation Army, or UCK. Rrustem Mustafa, better known by his nom de guerre, Remi, was detained by United Nations police backed by KFOR peacekeepers.

A spokeswoman for the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), Mechthild Henneke, announced the detention of the former UCK commander. But in contrast to a simultaneous NATO announcement, she declined to identify the detainee. "The investigation is focused on evidence linking the suspect [Remi] to the torture and murder of at least five illegally detained persons," Henneke said.

Nothing is known about Remi's alleged victims, whether they were ethnic Albanians or Serbs, or when and where the murders reportedly occurred.

Remi was a UCK commander in the Lap region around Podujeva along Kosovo's northeastern boundary with Serbia during the 1998-99 insurgency. After the UCK was banned in mid-1999, Remi joined the Kosovo Protection Corps, or TMK, a lightly armed civil defense force, where he served as commander for the southeastern Gjilane region.

However, Remi was suspended from the TMK after the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush in July of last year placed him and more than 20 other ethnic Albanians on a list of rebel commanders and politicians suspected of threatening stability and peace in the Balkans. Since then, Remi has been engaged in unspecified business activities.

UNMIK spokeswoman Henneke said the arrest was requested by an international prosecutor and was carried out by UNMIK police assisted by KFOR. International prosecutors' names are kept secret in Kosovo for security reasons. Remi will appear before an international judge in Kosovo no later than 14 August. The judge will rule on whether to continue Remi's detention pending the conclusion of the investigation, which Henneke said could last several months.

The commander of KFOR and UNMIK's chief administrator both have the power to extend Remi's detention by executive order until sufficient evidence is found for his possible indictment.

Henneke said that if the case does come to trial, it would be before a panel of international judges. What is not entirely clear is whether Remi would be tried in Kosovo or at the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

The magnitude of the crimes is likely to be insufficient to require the case to be tried in The Hague. Nevertheless, the tribunal's chief prosecutor, Carla del Ponte, has said she intends to indict as-yet-unidentified Kosovar Albanians on war crimes charges by the end of this year.

Remi's detention was welcomed by Serbia's deputy prime minister for Kosovo and southern Serbia, Nebojsa Covic. He told the Tanjug news agency that Remi should be tried in The Hague rather than in Kosovo. Covic said Belgrade authorities had repeatedly called on KFOR and UNMIK to arrest Remi for crimes committed during and after the insurgency and that his detention more than three years after hostilities ended is "better late than never."

Covic praised UNMIK chief Michael Steiner for carrying out his policy of "zero tolerance for crime and criminals."

UNMIK last night also announced the detention on 5 August of a UCK journalist, Tahir Desku, on suspicion of having committed a murder in February 1998 at the outbreak of the Albanian insurgency in Kosovo. At the time, Desku was working for Albanian state television. The Kosovo Federation of Journalists has protested Desku's detention.