Kosovo blast sends shock wave to Berlin
BERLIN: A small explosion in Kosovo is quickly growing into a much bigger incident after the authorities in the capital, Pristina, arrested three Germans, alleged to be intelligence operatives, in connection with an attack on the building that houses the European Union's special representative there.
A judge in Kosovo remanded the three men - who media outlets there and in Germany have reported are members of the German foreign intelligence agency, the BND - to 30 days of investigative custody Saturday. On Monday in Berlin, a government spokesman, Thomas Steg, called the charge that Germany was involved in terrorist attacks abroad "absurd," but declined to comment on whether the men were intelligence agents or, as has also been alleged, members of the German Army, the Bundeswehr.
The case has provoked an equally large share of headlines and head-scratching here. Germany was one of the first countries to recognize Kosovo after it declared independence from Serbia in February and, according to the Ministry of Defense, has some 2,600 soldiers there as part of the NATO force in the country.
"Germany supports EU policy in Kosovo and as such it would make no sense to attack the EU building in Pristina," said Max Stadler, deputy chairman of the parliamentary commission that supervises the German secret services. Stadler said members of the committee had not received any information from the government about the allegation of BND involvement.
"There are public charges of a grave nature," he said. "Even if, as I hope and believe, there is nothing to this, the government should clarify it."
The German magazine Spiegel reported that the suspects had protested that they were investigating the crime scene when they came under suspicion by the Kosovar authorities. Photographs in the large-circulation Bild daily newspaper showed a photograph of the three accused men in court, their eyes blacked-over to protect their identities.
"These guys are suspects and are being treated as such, nothing more, nothing less," said Veton Elshani, a spokesman for the Kosovo Police. "We believe that they were in Kosovo in a private capacity, with no diplomatic passports; they don't have immunity."
The men are being investigated for committing an act of terrorism, which carries a penalty upon conviction of up to 20 years in prison. No one was hurt in the incident on Nov. 14. A small explosive device was thrown at the International Civilian Office, also known as the Blue Building, a Kosovo landmark that sits on a hill overlooking the city.
The arrests came at a time when the EU has been struggling to deploy a 2,000-strong police and judicial mission to Kosovo amid concerns in Pristina that the mission would undermine its sovereignty.
Last week, thousands of protesters took to the streets of Pristina to oppose a plan to create separate chains of command for Serbian and Albanian police forces operating in Kosovo, with the police in the ethnic Albanian areas reporting to the EU and the Serbian police in the Serb-dominated northern part of the country reporting to the United Nations.
Four days before the attack, the ethnic Albanian leadership in Pristina rejected a plan setting out who has authority over the mission, which had been agreed to by the UN secretary general, Ban Ki Moon; Belgrade; and the EU. At issue is who will control Kosovo. Pristina argues that the arrangement would undermine its independence and entrench a de facto partition of the country by splitting it along ethnic lines. Pristina also worries that Belgrade would use the plan as a pretext to expand its authority over Kosovo.
Since Kosovo declared independence, after nine years of being administered by the United Nations, Belgrade has sought to exert influence in northern Kosovo by holding illegal elections, and entrenching its sway over policies such as education and healthcare.
Many in Pristina initially believed that the attack was carried out by ethnic Albanians angry that the EU was caving in to Serbian attempts to expand its authority over the territory.