Serbia police arrest 8 in tense south

Police on Friday arrested eight people in Serbia's tense, ethnic-Albanian dominated south, five of them on suspicion of war crimes against Serb civilians during a 2001 conflict.

The group was arrested in a police sweep in towns and villages in the region bordering Kosovo, Interior Minister Ivica Dacic said. He said five people were arrested for alleged war crimes, two accused of resisting a police search, and one man on suspicion of weapons possession.

Later in the day, masked special police brought the five war crimes suspects to Serbia's capital, Belgrade, where legal proceedings against them will continue. The arrests were part of an ongoing investigation, Serbia's War Crimes Prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic said.

The official Tanjug news agency reported the five men are suspected of abducting and killing two young Serbs, aged 18 and 19, in 2001. The agency said two main suspects in the killing still remain at large and are probably in Kosovo.

Ethnic Albanians in southern Serbia rebelled against Belgrade's rule in 2000-2001. The clashes between rebel groups and Serbia's security forces ended after several months in a Western-brokered peace plan.

Friday's arrests could fuel tensions in the volatile area, but also in Kosovo, where there are already fears of trouble linked to Sunday's Serbian general election, which is being held in some Serb-populated areas of Kosovo as well.

An ethnic Albanian politician from southern Serbia described the arrests as an act of "state terror" against ethnic Albanians. Riza Halimi suggested the action was designed to coincide with the elections, pitting the pro-EU government against a nationalist coalition.

"The idea is to gain cheap political points," he said.

Nationalist voters in Serbia view the ruling pro-EU camp as too soft toward ethnic Albanians and Kosovo. Most Serbs refuse to accept the 2008 declaration of independence of the former province they regard as the cradle of their national identity.