Kosovo PM sacks security chief, interior minister over Turkish arrests

PRISTINA (Reuters) - Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj dismissed the country’s interior minister and the secret service chief on Friday because he was not told six Turkish nationals would be deported to Turkey.

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The six were arrested in Kosovo on Thursday over alleged links to schools financed by the Gulen movement, which Ankara blames for a failed 2016 coup.

“The entire operation - revoking their residence permits, detention, emergency deportation and the secret extradition to Turkey of the six Turkish citizens from Kosovo territory - was conducted without my knowledge and without my permission,” Haradinaj said in a statement.

Ankara said the six arrested were recruiters for a network run by the U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen and had helped people accused of connections to the network to leave Turkey. Ankara blames Gulen and his movement for a failed coup attempt in 2016, which Gulen denies.

Turkey has cracked down on the movement since the abortive coup, jailing thousands and sacking or suspending from their jobs thousands more. The European Union says the crackdown violated human rights, a position that complicates Kosovo’s relations with Turkey.

It has been under pressure from Turkey in recent weeks to take action against schools funded by the Gulen movement. But it must balance its historical ties to Turkey, one of Kosovo’s biggest investors, against its ambitions to join the EU.

The arrests of the Turks showed “human rights can be violated” in Kosovo, said Agron Bajrami, editor in chief of Kosovo’s biggest newspaper, Koha Ditore.

“It is absurd and imaginable that none of the (political) leaders had prior knowledge as they are saying,” Bajrami said. “This story does not end with these two dismissals. The only way to apologize to citizens is that all Kosovo leaders resign.”

Kosovo had a responsibility to arrest the six Turks, who had arrest warrants and extradition requests against them, Turkish Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul said. The decision to dismiss the interior ministry and intelligence chief was a domestic issue in Kosovo, Gul said.

“Cracks within Kosovo institutions led to what happened,” said Kadri Veseli, the speaker of the Kosovo parliament. “I want to ensure all those foreigners who are in Kosovo ... that an incident such as this one will not happen in the future. It was a mistake.”

But in a speech during a meeting of his AK party in Ankara on Friday, Turkey’s president, Tayyip Erdogan, said the Turkish intelligence agency MIT had brought the six Turks back “in coordination with Kosovo intelligence.”

It was not immediately clear when replacements would be named for Interior Minister Flamur Sefaj and secret service chief Driton Gashi.

Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara; editing by Ivana Sekularac and Larry King