16 December 2009

Seven held in Kosovo after migrants drown

PRISTINA (Reuters) - Kosovo and EU police arrested seven people on Wednesday in connection with the death of illegal migrants whose boat sank in a river between Hungary and Serbia two months ago, police said.

About 15 Kosovo Albanians including a one-year-old baby were trying to cross into the European Union when their boat sank in the Tisza River between Serbia and Hungary.

Eleven bodies were recovered. The fate of the other four is unknown.

"The individuals were taken into custody following a series of police operations on Wednesday morning," the European Union police and justice mission (EULEX) said in a statement.

The suspects were charged with smuggling migrants and organized crime, an EULEX spokesman said. They are suspected of having taken money from the victims and organized their journey.

The raids were carried in five towns across the country.

Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008, is one of the poorest countries in Europe with a 40 percent unemployment rate.

Around 30,000 young people enter the job market every year and many leave the country, most often illegally, by paying 2,000-3,000 euros ($2,900-4,350) to human traffickers in their effort to build a better life mainly in EU countries.

(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; editing by Adam Tanner and Paul Taylor)