updated 5/24/2006 9:21:28 AM ET 2006-05-24T13:21:28

A member of an elite Serbian police unit has been detained in the murder of three American-Albanian brothers during the 1999 war in Kosovo, a spokeswoman for the war crimes prosecutors said Wednesday.

The suspect, arrested Tuesday, was remanded into custody for 48 hours pending investigation into charges of war crimes, prosecution spokeswoman Jasna Jankovic told The Associated Press.

Belgrade media have identified the detained officer as Aleksandar Nikolic, from the northern Serbian city of Novi Sad. He is suspected of taking part in the transfer of the bodies of the slain brothers from the southern town of Prokuplje, close to the Kosovo boundary, to the mass grave at Petrovo Selo, eastern Serbia.

Jankovic would not confirm the suspect's identity or give details of his alleged crimes.

The gruesome slaying of Illy, Mehmet and Agron Bytyqi — three U.S. citizens of Kosovo origin — made headlines here and in the United States, but investigation into the killings became possible only after the 2000 ouster of Serbia's late strongman Slobodan Milosevic.

Serbian authorities have since become embroiled in a drawn-out investigation, making slow progress in the case. In March, two other suspects in the case were detained.

The Bytyqis left their home and pizza business in New York to join the ethnic Albanian uprising for secession of the Kosovo province from Serbia. They joined the so-called Atlantic Brigade — a unit of about 400 Albanian-Americans fighting on the side of Kosovo rebels.

Sometime during the war, the brothers are believed to have strayed outside of Kosovo's unmarked boundary into Serbia proper, where they were captured and executed. Their bodies were found in 2001, in a mass grave with over 70 bodies of other Kosovo Albanians. Their remains were later identified by an FBI forensic team.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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