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Kosovo repatriates 110 citizens from Syria

April 21, 2019

PRISTINA: Kosovo on Saturday repatriated 110 of its citizens from Syria, mostly mothers with their children having followed their partners who went to join Jihadist groups in the war-torn country.

The group also included four men suspected of having fought for the Islamic State group, who were charged upon arrival in Pristina with participating in a foreign conflict, chief prosecutor Aleksander Lumezi told reporters.

Kosovo, whose population of 1.8 million is 90 percent Muslim, is one of the European countries with the proportionally biggest number of jihadi fighters in Iraq and Syria.

The US embassy in Kosovo welcomed the move, calling it an example for others.

"With this repatriation, Kosovo has set an important example for all members of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and the international community to follow," the embassy said in a statement.

"Today, in the early hours of the morning, a very sensitive and important operation was conducted with the help of the United States in which the Kosovar government repatriated 110 citizens from the war zone in Syria," justice minister Abelard Tahiri told a news conference earlier.

Some 300 Kosovars joined Jihadists in Syria and Iraq, according to the interior ministry.

Other countries have been slow to repatriate their nationals involved in the conflict. France brought five children home in March amid massively hostile public opinion.

Of the Kosovar fighters in Syria and Iraq, around 70 were killed and an estimated 120 have come home, with most arrested on their return.

The authorities believe that around 30 fighters and some 50 Kosovar women and children are still in Syria, police chief Rashit Qalaj said on Saturday.

Kosovo, which is a close ally of Washington, passed a law four years ago allowing citizens to be jailed for up to 15 years if they leave the country to join armed groups abroad.

Repatriated civilians "deserve rehabilitation and the hope for a peaceful life far from the conflicts", Tahiri said.

President Hashim Taci in a Facebook post urged their loved ones "to help them reintegrate our society as quickly as possible".

After landing in Pristina, the group was taken to a detention centre usually reserved for migrants, where they were awaiting medical checks.

Health services director Naser Ramadani said that "the women and children have suffered serious trauma".

The exact overall number of children of Jihadist fighters still in Syria is unknown, but the Save the Children NGO believes that some 3,500 children from 30 countries are in camps there.

On Saturday, Bosnia-Herzergovina said it had repatriated one fighter from Syria, with one source in the prosecutors’ office saying he was Ibro Cufurovic, a 24-year old who went to Syria in 2013. He is on a list of 25 Bosnians wanted by Interpol. —AFP