June 25, 2009 / 5:47 PM / 10 years ago

Bulgaria releases ex-Kosovo PM wanted in Serbia

KYUSTENDIL, Bulgaria, June 25 (Reuters) - A Bulgarian court released former Kosovo Prime Minister Agim Ceku on Thursday, following his arrest two days ago on an Interpol arrest warrant requested by Serbia in 2002.

The court in the southwestern town of Kyustendil, where Ceku was held, ruled that he should not be kept in custody after it looked into documents presented in the case.

Bulgarian police had arrested Ceku, wanted in Serbia on war crime charges, at the border with Macedonia on Tuesday evening on an Interpol arrest warrant requested by Serbia in 2002.

Serbia indicted Ceku, a former top commander of Kosovo Albanian fighters during the 1998-1999 war, and some other Kosovo leaders, including current Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, on suspicion of committing crimes against Serbs.

Serbia’s Justice Ministry said on Wednesday it had filed a request to Sofia for Ceku’s extradition.

The Kosovo government has called on Bulgaria, other countries and on international organisations to ignore Serbia’s request.

Ceku was invited to Bulgaria by former foreign minister Solomon Passy. Passy told local media Ceku was involved in an initiative helping Kosovo move closer to joining NATO.

This is the fourth time Ceku has been arrested, but on earlier occasions authorities in Slovenia and Hungary did not hand him over to Belgrade.

Last month, Ceku left Colombia following an expulsion order from the local security agency after Serbian authorities asked their Colombian counterparts to arrest him.

Kosovo’s Albanian majority, backed by Western countries, declared independence in 2008 and was recognised by 60 countries including Bulgaria. Serbia has said it will never recognise an independent Kosovo.

(Reporting by Stoyan Nenov; editing by Michael Roddy)

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