Serb ex-paramilitaries arrested for Kosovo crimes

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BELGRADE, Oct 19 (Reuters) Serbian police today arrested four men suspected of crimes committed in Kosovo during Serbia's 1998-99 war with ethnic Albanian separatists, local media reported.

The men belonged to the notorious Scorpions paramilitary group.

Some of its members have been convicted of killing Bosnian Muslim captives during the 1992-95 Bosnia war, and one was found guilty of killing ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

Serbia's state news agency Tanjug said the men were arrested in the northwestern town of Sremska Mitrovica. The charges relate to crimes committed in 1999 in Podujevo, Kosovo.

Serbia's progress towards joining the European Union depends on showing it is ready to confront its past by arresting war crimes suspects who are still on the run.

Carla del Ponte, the chief prosecutor of the Hague-based United Nations war crimes tribunal, is due in Belgrade next week to report on Serbia's cooperation with her court.

While her focus is on fugitives indicted by The Hague, such as top fugitive Ratko Mladic, any arrests related to war crimes are likely to help Serbia's case in Brussels.

The Scorpions were the most brutal of the many Serb and Bosnian Serb paramilitary groups active in the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s.

The broadcasting in 2005 of a Scorpions videotape showing the killing of six Bosnian Muslim youths shocked the Serb public and raised awareness of atrocities that until then had been dismissed as anti-Serb propaganda.

Kosovo has been under UN administration since 1999, when NATO bombed to expel Serb forces accused of atrocities against civilians while fighting a guerrilla insurgency.

The province's ethnic Albanian majority is demanding independence and says the legacy of the war makes a return to Serb rule impossible. Talks on the status of the breakaway territory have been going on for months with little sign of progress.

REUTERS ARB PM1530

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