Kosovo asks NATO to airlift a Serb detainee as tensions rise

PRISTINA (Reuters) – (This story was corrected on December 22 to say that the police officers were transferred by NATO by road, not by helicopter, in paragraph 7)

Kosovo asked NATO forces to transfer a former Serbian policeman who was detained two weeks ago, but he cannot be transferred to another place because the local Serbs, who demanded his release, erected roadblocks to prevent his transfer.

Dejan Pantek was arrested on December 10 on charges of assaulting serving police officers during an earlier protest.

Tensions have escalated since then, as thousands of Kosovo Serbs protested, demanding the Albanian-majority government withdraw police forces from the north, where the Serb minority is concentrated.

Local Serbs, who number about 50,000 north of Kosovo, stressed at a protest on Thursday that they would not remove the roadblocks unless Pantek was released.

“He (Bantik) should be in a detention center, not a police station, which is why we asked our international partners to transfer him to a suitable facility,” Interior Minister Çelal Svekla told a news conference in Mitrovica, just a few kilometers away. away from the first checkpoint.

The NATO mission in Kosovo, KFOR, is the only force with helicopters. Kosovo does not have any helicopters and you would need permission from NATO to employ one.

KFOR has already transported by road nine police officers in recent days who were sick but unable to get out of the area after the roads were closed.

The NATO force, which has more than 3,000 troops on the ground, said the KFOR commander is the sole authority to decide on Kosovo’s airspace.

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“Every request that was rejected was because, as in the current situation, there were no required security conditions,” Kafour said in a written statement to Reuters, without mentioning the rejected request.

Svekla said his police forces could remove the barricades but he wanted local Serbs or NATO forces to remove them.

“For the sake of stability we are waiting for them to be removed by those who set them up or infidels, but even that wait is over,” he said.

The Kosovo government said earlier that the people on the barricades were armed and that any police intervention could harm people on both sides.

The ethnic Serb mayors of the northern municipalities, along with local judges and about 600 police officers, resigned last month in protest of the Kosovo government’s decision to replace vehicle license plates issued from Serbia with ones issued by Pristina.

(Reporting by Fatos Paitsy; Editing by Depa Babbington and Grant McCall

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