German agents leave Kosovo after release

1st December 2008, Comments 0 comments

The three men, members of the BND foreign intelligence service, had been in custody since Nov. 17 despite protestations from Berlin and the BND of their innocence.

Pristina -- Three German intelligence agents flew out of Kosovo on Saturday after spending 10 days in detention accused of throwing an explosive device at a European Union office.

The trio took off in a light plane from the military airport in the capital, Pristina, where they spent the night in the German embassy, following their release on Friday evening.

The three men, members of the BND foreign intelligence service, had been in custody since Nov. 17 despite protestations from Berlin and the BND of their innocence.

"The government was always convinced of the innocence of the three Germans," deputy government spokesman Thomas Steg said in welcoming the men's release.

Germany, the second biggest donor to the new ethnic Albanian republic after the United States, was angered by the arrest, which it said was "a breach of the rule of law."

Kosovo police had alleged the men threw an explosive at the office of the EU Special Representative on Nov. 14, but Berlin sources said the trio had gone to the scene to investigate the blast.

A previously unknown Kosovo organization, the Army of the Republic of Kosovo, claimed responsibility this week.

Aged 41 to 47, the three agents were in Kosovo posing as advisers to Western businesses seeking investment opportunities there.

German news magazine Focus said the trio was gathering information on links between the mafia and the Kosovo government, speculating this was the reason behind their arrest.

The report said the BND believed the agents had collected new information on Premier Hasim Thaci, who was criticized in a BND dossier in 2005 for his alleged involvement in organized crime.

Senior BND officials and politicians criticized Berlin's handling of the affair, accusing the government of responding too late and failing to apply pressure for the men's release.

The newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung quoted one BND official as saying Germany had been made to look a fool on the international stage by a country "in which the state and organized crime go hand-in-hand."

A panel of Kosovo judges had declined to release the agents, and asked an international judge appointed by the UN to join in a review of the case. The closed-door hearing lasted nearly 10 hours Friday.

A statement issued by the judges after the review said the "detainees' complaints had been accepted, and their detention should be stopped immediately."

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in February, and a new EU policing operation, Eulex, is due to become active shortly in the country.

Many Kosovo Albanians oppose the EU mission, viewing it as a deal brokered by Serbia that would lead to the partition of Kosovo through separate policing zones in ethnically Albanian and Serb areas.

DPA/Expatica

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