May 20, 2014 / 4:34 PM / 5 years ago

High-profile war crimes suspects escape Kosovo hospital

PRISTINA (Reuters) - Police in Kosovo launched a manhunt on Tuesday for three high-profile war crimes suspects who appeared to have fled a hospital where they were each being treated under guard while standing trial.

They include Sami Lushtaku, a close ally of Kosovo’s prime minister and former guerrilla commander, Hashim Thaci.

“The Kosovo Correctional Services have informed the presiding judge that they cannot locate three out of seven defendants in the so-called Drenica case,” said a spokesman for the European Union’s police and justice mission, which oversees high-profile cases of war crimes and corruption in the young Balkan state.

He said all three had been due in court on Thursday.

Local media reports said the men, veterans of a 1998-99 Kosovo Albanian guerrilla insurgency against Serbian forces, had been resisting plans to transfer them to a detention center in a northern part of Kosovo populated mainly by ethnic Serbs.

Their escape will stir fresh suspicion about corruption in police ranks, in a country where former guerrillas enjoy hero status and often close ties to the political elite.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and has been recognized by more than 100 countries around the world.

Editing by Matt Robinson/Mark Heinrich

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