German 'agents' arrested in Kosovo

Kosovar authorities claim three German secret agents were behind an attack on the offices of the EU's representative.

Three men held by police in Kosovo for throwing an explosive device at the headquarters of the EU's special representative (EUSR) in the capital Prishtina are agents of the German federal intelligence service, the BND, according to Germany's Der Spiegel.

The newsweekly reported on 22 November that the three had been arrested by local police on 19 November on suspicion of having caused the blast, in which the building was damaged. Nobody was hurt in the explosion. Other reports said they were arrested on 20 November.

An international official in Prishtina said the matter was “too hot” to discuss.

A judge reviewed the evidence against the three men on 21 November and ruled that they could be held for 30 days while prosecutors put together a case. They are likely to be charged with terrorism, which could carry a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

The three men said that they were inspecting the blast site. One of them, according to this version, entered a building next door following the blast in order to take photographs, while police allege that he planted an explosive device. The building houses the International Civilian Office, ICO, whose head – the Dutch diplomat Pieter Feith – also serves as the EUSR.

The prosecutor alleges that the three Germans wanted to delay the build-up of the EU's judicial and police mission, Eulex, which hopes to begin operating in December. It was not immediately clear how the blast was linked to Eulex, whose headquarters are in a different building. Eulex has been plagued by a lack of clarity on its legal status as plans for a handover from the United Nations' mission, which has administered Kosovo since 1999, came to nought over Russian and Serbian objections. Diplomats at the UN Security Council are set to discuss the matter, perhaps as early as this week.

The three men are not, it appears, part of the BND's official presence in Kosovo and have no diplomatic immunity but work for a contractor, named by German media as Logistic Assessments. The alleged presence of covert intelligence operatives has led to a deterioration in the cordial relations between Germany and the newly independent Kosovo. The German foreign ministry confirmed that three German citizens had been detained in Kosovo. The BND had no comment.

The BND is responsible, among other things, for providing intelligence to German contingents in military and civilian crisis missions abroad. Its presence in Kosovo was reinforced after Nato and EU countries were taken by surprise by violent attacks on Kosovo's ethnic Serb minority in 2003, in which several people were killed before international peacekeepers responded.

The committee in the German parliament that supervises the work of the intelligence services should convene for an extraordinary session this week, liberal and Green deputies on the committee are demanding. The work of the committee is secret. (europeanvoice, 11.24.2008, Toby Vogel)