Kosovo security chiefs sacked over Turkish deportations

Pristina under fire for handing over six alleged critics of Erdogan to Ankara

 Kosovo’s prime minister Ramush Haradinaj:  claims to have known nothing  about a police operation in which six men were seized and flown back to Turkey. Photograph: Hazir reka

Kosovo’s prime minister Ramush Haradinaj: claims to have known nothing about a police operation in which six men were seized and flown back to Turkey. Photograph: Hazir reka

 

Kosovo’s prime minister, Ramush Haradinaj, has sacked his interior minister and intelligence chief after police arrested and deported six Turks to their homeland over their alleged opposition to its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Ankara says the five teachers and one doctor are senior members of a network run by Fethullah Gülen, the US-based Turkish cleric whom Mr Erdogan accuses of masterminding a failed coup attempt against him in July 2016.

Mr Haradinaj and Kosovo’s president, Hashim Thaci, both claim to have been kept in the dark over a police operation on Thursday that saw the six men seized and reportedly flown back to Turkey on a private plane.

The incident stoked concern over Turkey’s growing influence in the Balkans, particularly in Kosovo and Bosnia, where it enjoys major financial and diplomatic sway and has made clear its disapproval of the presence of Gülen sympathisers.

“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,” Mr Haradinaj said on Friday.

“I have requested the immediate removal . . . of Kosovo intelligence agency director Driton Gashi as well as. . . the minister of internal affairs, Flamur Sefaj. ”

Gülen network

Turkish media said the six Turks were involved in helping Gülen network members flee Turkey after the coup attempt, amid a crackdown on the movement that has seen tens of thousands of people arrested and sacked from their jobs. Mr Gülen and allies deny any involvement in the failed uprising.

“Kosovo is a democratic state . . . which above all respects the individual rights of every person regardless of ethnicity, belief or political or ideological beliefs,” Mr Thaci wrote on Facebook.

“Today we are disappointed because our relevant institutions, for reasons that remain to be clarified fully, have failed to defend these principles related to the human rights of foreign nationals who live and work in our country.”

Kadri Veseli, the speaker of Kosovo’s parliament, described the men’s arrest and handover to Turkish agents as “almost a kidnapping”.

“These actions are unprecedented,” he said, adding that Mr Thaci and Mr Haradinaj should take responsibility for the affair.

Students and teachers from schools where the men worked protested against their deportation in Pristina, and rights groups called for their release and an inquiry into the apparent joint operation between security agencies in Kosovo and Turkey. The men’s current whereabouts are not known.

The US-based Human Rights Foundation said “Kosovo should be extremely careful not to act proxy of President Erdogan – an authoritarian leader who does not respect basic civil liberties . . . All six individuals should be freed immediately.”

Visiting Bosnia on Thursday, Turkish prime minister Binali Yildirim urged his hosts to do more to clamp down on the Gülen movement, saying that Ankara sought Sarajevo’s “continuous support for the solution of this problem” especially “in the sectors of education and business”.

Mr Erdogan has pressed countries around the world to shut down elements of Mr Gülen’s network, which ran schools in some 160 countries at its peak.