Serbia arrests alleged ringleader of Kosovo violence

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 20, 2011 3:49 PM
Serbia arrests alleged ringleader of Kosovo violence

BELGRADE (Reuters) - An alleged fuel smuggler accused by NATO of orchestrating violence against its troops in Kosovo last month was arrested Tuesday in Serbia, Serbian media reported.

The arrest of Zvonko Veselinovic, if confirmed, will be taken as a sign that Belgrade -- under pressure from the European Union -- is trying to ease tensions with neighboring Kosovo.

Serbs in north Kosovo reject the majority-Albanian territory's 2008 secession from Serbia, and since July they have been manning roadblocks to prevent the encroachment of the Kosovo authorities.

The north effectively functions as part of the Serbian state, and the impasse cost Belgrade candidate status for membership of the EU this month.

Western diplomats say Veselinovic provided money and trucks for the roadblocks. Serbia has called on the Kosovo Serbs to remove them, but they have refused.

Investigators in Kosovo describe Veselinovic as a major smuggler of fuel and drugs, but the European Union's police and justice mission in Kosovo and the United Nations mission before it had shied away from arresting him.

This month, NATO's top commander in Kosovo, German Major-General Erhard Drews, named him as the chief organizer of an attack in late November on NATO peacekeepers trying to remove the roadblocks.

Some 30 German and Austrian soldiers were wounded by small arms fire and Molotov cocktails, and days later Berlin said Serbia was not ready for the next step toward eventual accession to the EU.

Serbian radio B92 said police had arrested Veselinovic and his brother in the Kopaonik mountain region of southern Serbia. The Tanjug news agency said Serbia's special prosecutor for organized crime had been informed.

The Interior Ministry could not immediately be reached for comment.

(Writing by Matt Robinson)