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Kosovo Intelligence Agency Led ‘Illegal’ Deportations, MPs Say

A parliamentary investigation into the controversial deportation of six Turkish nationals last year says the country’s intelligence agency effectively managed the whole ‘prohibited’ operation.
Students, fellow teachers and family members of Turkish nationals who were arrested in March, protested in downtown Prishtina, calling for their release. Photo: BIRN/ Atdhe Mulla

A parliamentary committee in Kosovo investigating the controversial expulsions to Turkey of six Turkish nationals in March 2018 claims that the Kosovo Intelligence Agency, AKI, effectively ran the whole operation.

“The AKI assumed police authority… the AKI entered the police’s offices and completely managed an operation that, by law, was completely prohibited,” the deputy head of the committee, Driton Selmanaj, told BIRN.

He said two AKI agents entered the police offices, took the list of police officers working that shift and took their phone numbers, after which “these police officers did not communicate with their commanders but with the AKI agents”.

Selmanaj said the two AKI agents directed the whole operation. “This is a scandal in itself, because it shows that the secret service has captured other [state] institutions,” he added.

The six Turks deported last March were wanted by Ankara over their alleged links to a movement led by the exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Turkey calls it the “Fethullahist Terror Organisation”, or FETO, and blames it for the failed coup in Turkey in 2016.

On the day the operation was carried out, Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj said the Turkish citizens had been deported without his knowledge.

“As Prime Minister, I was not informed about this operation,” Haradinaj wrote on Facebook after the news broke out.

Claiming that misuse of the police and intelligence agency had taken place, Haradinaj demanded the removal of the head of the AKI, Driton Gashi, and the Interior Minister, Flamur Sefaj.

Despite that, both men remain in high office. Gashi’s name is on the list of senior officials working at the Presidency of Kosovo. Maxhuni was appointed the new head of the intelligence agency.

Selmanaj, an MP for the opposition Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, told BIRN that Police Colonel Rrahman Sylejmani and the other officers involved in the case had confirmed this version of events.

“Nothing was in my hands,” Selmanaj quoted Sylejmani as telling the parliamentary committee.

A report compiled by a US human rights law expert Tiemni Ma, who was engaged by the committee, which BIRN has seen, says that one day before the operation was carried out, on March 28, an important meeting took place.

At the meeting, Valon Krasniqi, director at the Department of Citizenship, Asylum, and Migration of the Interior Ministry, met Shaban Guda, director of the Border Police, Rrahman Sylejmani, director at the Directorate of Migration and Foreigners of the Border Police, and two AKI officers.

The report says the police were informed at the meeting that the residence permits of five of the Turkish nationals in question – who had valid permits to be in Kosovo – had been revoked. The permit of the sixth Turkish national had expired, but at the time when he was arrested he had applied for its renewal.

During the meeting, the AKI officers also told the others that they had “finalized the air transportation arrangements”.

When Guda was asked if the police were involved in ensuring plane tickets for the deported Turks, among other things, the report says he answered: “We did not do that because the intelligence agency had made all the arrangements for them.”

The report points out that the Interior Ministry should have taken care of such logistics.

Colonel Sylejmani is also quoted to have said that the AKI officers “said that … on transport, tickets, everything… you have no reason to involve yourself because we are handling it”.

Two police officers were assigned to lead two teams that would carry out the deportation operation, Sergeant Ibrahim Mustafa and Lieutenant Hamit Rukiqi. They held a final meeting at 6.30am on March 29, the morning of the action.

At this meeting, “Sylejmani instructed the team leaders to exchange telephone numbers with the AKI officers,” the report asserts.

It quotes Mustafa as confirming that he “mainly communicated with the AKI officer… he called me every two or three minutes”.

The chair of the parliamentary committee, Xhelal Svecla, MP from the opposition Vetevendosje party, told BIRN that the secretive deportations had grossly violated the sovereignty of Kosovo.

“The AKI is not an institution that should carry out such operations … [but] in this case they organised and coordinated the operation, as well as the transfer [of the six] into the hands of Turkish secret service,” Svecla said.

Another controversial issue, Svecla and Selmanaj said, is that Shpend Maxhuni, then head of Kosovo Police, denied having any information about the matter until the Turkish citizens were already back in Turkey.

“Driton Gashi, who then was the head of AKI, told us that he had notified Police Director [Maxhuni] three days ahead of it. So, one of them is lying,” Selmanaj commented.

BIRN has contacted the AKI and the police service about the claims made in the report. No answer was received by the time of publication.

Die Morina