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Serbia Arrests 10 Former Kosovo Fighters

BELGRADE (Reuters) -- Serbia has arrested 10 former Kosovar guerrilla fighters suspected of involvement in killings and abductions in the rebellious Serbian province of Kosovo in 1999, the office of the war crimes prosecutor said.

Interior Minister Ivica Dacic said Serbian police searched 17 locations in the southern town of Presevo and arrested 10 ethnic Albanians.

"From June 1999 until October 1999, they were involved in at least 51 murders and 159 abductions in the town of Gnjilane in Kosovo," said Bruno Vekaric, a spokesman for Serbian war crimes prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic.

Vekaric said the 10 are suspected of torturing, looting, and raping Serbian and non-Serbian civilians in three locations in Gnjilane, close to the Serbian border. "They were all members of the Kosovo Liberation Army," he said.

The Kosovo Liberation Army waged guerrilla war against Serbian forces in 1998-99. Serbia's brutal response, expelling hundreds of thousands of ethnic-Albanian civilians, drew NATO into an 11-week bombing campaign to drive Serbian forces out of Kosovo.

Some of those arrested did not live in Serbia but came to spend the New Year holidays with relatives, Vekaric said.

Presevo region, near the border with Kosovo, was the site of an ethnic-Albanian insurgency in 2001.

NATO and European Union diplomacy helped end the 2001 insurgency in the Presevo Valley, but Albanians in the region are angry at a lack of economic development and investment.

Riza Halimi, an ethnic-Albanian political leader from Presevo, accused Serbian police of excessive use of force during the arrest operation.

"It certainly does not contribute to the stability in the region," Halimi told the Beta news agency.