Serbian police move PM to 'safe' place after weapons' cache find

October 29, 2016 3:57 PM EDT

Serbia's Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic addresses the United Nations General Assembly in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., September 22, 2016. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz


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BELGRADE (Reuters) - Police said they moved Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and his family to "a safe location" on Saturday after uncovering a weapons cache including a rocket-propelled grenade launcher near his parents' home which he regularly visits.

The weapons, which also included hand grenades and rifle ammunition, were found in bushes in the neighborhood of Jajinci, near a crossroads where Vucic's motorcade normally slows down when taking him to his parents' home, Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic told reporters.

Vucic's parents, Angelina and Andjelko, reside in the house in Jajinci. Vucic and his own family live in downtown Belgrade though Stefanovic made it clear he had been moved elsewhere since the weapons were found.

The discovery, which followed a tipoff police said, exacerbates an already tense atmosphere in the region, which is bearing the brunt of Europe's migrant crisis and where rival Balkan countries routinely swop allegations of interference in each other's domestic affairs.

"The Prime Minister is now safe, as well as his family ... it is worrying that weapons were in the place where his motorcade has to slow down to almost 10 km (six miles) per hour," Stefanovic said.

Serbia's military intelligence agency (VOA) is responsible for the security of the prime minister, while members of Cobras, an elite army unit, serve as his personal bodyguards.

Stefanovic declined to say where Vucic was when the weapons were uncovered. "This is confidential ... in any case he is at a safe location now."

No arrests have yet been made in connection with the incident, which comes five days after authorities detained a number of people over a suspected plot to sway the outcome of Montenegro's Oct. 16 election and after several mafia-style assassinations among criminal groups in Belgrade.

"The key to the safety (of the prime minister) will be to do intelligence work so we can find out ... who has such intentions and and to do everything we can to prevent that," Stefanovic said.

Security around Serbian prime ministers and top officials was tightened after the 2003 assassination of Zoran Djindjic, the first pro-Western head of the government after the ouster of former strongman Slobodan Milosevic in 2000.

In a statement, Ivica Dacic, Serbia's foreign minister and the head of the co-ruling Socialist Party said that many people opposed Vucic and his policies.

"They will always find a Serb hand to do their dirty work for them, therefore investigations ... must be completed and the operators and masterminds arrested," Dacic said.

Serbia is awash with hundreds of thousands of illegal weapons, including assault rifles, anti-tank weapons and explosive ordnance that remained in the private hands after the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, many of such arms are now in the hands of criminal groups.

(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Thomas Escritt and Richard Balmforth)



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