BELGRADE, Serbia – Ten former Kosovo Albanian rebels were arrested Friday for allegedly raping, torturing and killing Serb civilians in the aftermath of Kosovo's war, Serbia's war crimes prosecutor's said.
The 10 suspects are expected to be charged in connection with the kidnapping of 159 Serbs and the deaths of at least 51 of them in the eastern Kosovo municipality of Gnjilane in June-October 1999, the war crimes prosecutor's office said in a statement.
They are suspected of "murder, rape, detention, mutilation, torture and looting," the statement said.
Three suspected group leaders are still at large, and Serbia will seek help from the U.N. administration in Kosovo to detain them, Interior Minister Ivica Dacic said.
The 1998-99 war in Kosovo — then a province of Serbia — began with an ethnic Albanian separatist rebellion, and ended after a 78-day NATO bombing campaign forced Serbia's army and police to pull out of Kosovo.
Dacic said the Gnjilane atrocities occurred as the U.N. and NATO peacekeepers were deploying at the end of the war. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in February.
The arrests on Friday were made during raids on 17 homes in the predominantly ethnic Albanian region of Presevo, bordering Kosovo. The area was the scene of a short ethnic Albanian rebellion in 2000-2001.
The prosecutor's office said the police operation had taken months to plan because of the "extremely high risk as almost all the suspects were armed."
Nine of the suspects were transferred to custody in Belgrade, while one remains in southern Serbia during an investigation, the interior minister said.
Kosovo government spokesman Memli Krasniqi said he would not comment on the arrests.