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Kosovo parliament to probe arrest and deportation of Turkish nationals

Kosovo's Prime Minister said he was not made aware of the deportation of the six alleged Gulenists and ordered a separate investigation
Students attend a protest after six Turkish nationals have been arrested in Kosovo on Thursday over links to schools financed by the US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, in Pristina (Reuters)

Kosovo's parliament voted on Wednesday to set up a committee to investigate how six Turkish citizens were arrested and deported to Turkey in a move that activists say violated human rights.

The six Turkish nationals were arrested in Kosovo last week at Turkey’s request over alleged links to schools financed by the Gulen movement, which Ankara blames for a failed 2016 coup.

On Friday, Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj sacked his interior minister and country's secret service chief for failing to inform him about the arrests.

Haradinaj, who described the arrests as a "mistake", has ordered a separate investigation.

Avdullah Hoti, head of the lawmakers from the opposition party the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) that initiated the emergency session in the 120-seat parliament, said he was "shocked" by the arrests of the six - teachers and managers at schools.

"Instead of being interviewed by authorities in Pristina, they were urgently deported to Turkey," Hoti said.

'Kosovo and I have not intervened in Turkey's internal affairs, either in the past or today or in the future. Meanwhile, other people cannot on behalf of Kosovo take care of our own affairs at home. Let this be known to all.'

- Ramush Haradinaj, Kosovo PM

Ankara accuses the six of being recruiters for a network run by the US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, and said they had helped people accused of connections to the network to leave Turkey. Ankara blames Gulen and his movement for the coup attempt in 2016. Gulen denies involvement.

Human Rights Watch criticised the Kosovo authorities over the arrests saying the six men "were sent to a country where they face a serious risk of torture".

Speaking in a live television interview on Wednesday, Haradinaj said he had spoken to Washington and the European Union, its two main economic and political supporters, about the incident.

"I have assured the EU and Washington that this was a mistake and an accident and I have asked them for their understanding and help to fix this," Haradinaj told private Dukagjini television. 

During a ceremony on Monday marking the 550th anniversary of the death of national hero George Kastrioti, who fought against Ottoman rule in the Balkans, Haradinaj warned that he would not allow Turkey to threaten Kosovo's sovereignty.

"Kosovo and I have not intervened in Turkey's internal affairs, either in the past or today or in the future," he said.

"Meanwhile, other people cannot on behalf of Kosovo take care of our own affairs at home. Let this be known to all."

Turkey has been one of the biggest investors in the fledgling Balkan state which suffers from around 30 percent unemployment and a lack of international recognition following the country's split from Serbia

Contractors with close ties to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan were responsible for constructing the country’s airport and are currently involved $2 billion worth of highway building projects.

Kosovan President Hashim Thaci has been less willing to criticise Ankara for the deportations than Haradinaj - although he initially said he was "disillusioned" with the operation, he also accused the six Turks of having been involved in “dangerous and illegal activities” in Kosovo.

Erdogan has also slammed Haradinaj for his criticism of the operation and for dismissing his interior minister and secret service chief.

"My question to Kosovo's prime minister is: under whose instructions did you undertake such actions?" Erdogan said on 31 March.

"Since when have you started to defend those...who attempted a coup against Kosovo's brother country - Turkey? You will answer for this!"