August 18, 2011 / 4:43 PM / 6 years ago

Kosovo ex-PM back in court for war crimes retrial

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Kosovo’s former prime minister, acquitted of war crimes in 2008, appeared before the Yugoslavia tribunal again on Thursday in the court’s first partial retrial for war crimes.

Ramush Haradinaj, a former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) commander, is back on trial because his acquittal had been overturned to include more witness testimony.

Regarded as a hero by Kosovo Albanians, he is charged with six counts of war crimes for conspiring to seize control of territory and oust ethnic Serbs from Kosovo in a military campaign by forces under his command.

“Collaborators, spies, and those suspected of treachery or opposition to the KLA were targeted, the victims were beaten, tortured and in some cases murdered regardless of their ethnicity” or religion, prosecutor Paul Rogers said on Thursday in his opening statement.

Haradinaj’s case is the first retrial since the tribunal was set up in 1993 to try individuals responsible for genocide and war crimes in the territory of the former Yugoslavia.

He was acquitted of torture, murder, rape and deportation, after judges found prosecutors had failed to prove a deliberate campaign to kill and expel Serbs from Kosovo.

But appeals judges at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia ruled that the trial judges had not given the prosecution enough time to secure the testimony of two crucial prosecution witnesses.

NATO drove Serb forces out of Kosovo in 1999, paving the way for Kosovo’s Albanian majority to eventually declare independence from Serbia in February 2008.

The International Court of Justice, or world court, ruled last year that Kosovo’s unilateral secession from Serbia in 2008 did not violate international law.

Haradinaj, who once worked as a nightclub bouncer, was only prime minister for a few months, stepping down in 2005 when he was indicted by the U.N. tribunal for the murder and torture of Serbs, Roma and ethnic Albanians accused of collaborating with Serb forces.

He was the most senior former KLA guerrilla to be indicted over the 1998-99 war when ethnic Albanians and Serbian forces clashed and Serbia lost control of Kosovo.

Haradinaj, who is in detention, is currently the leader of the opposition party Alliance for the Future of Kosovo.

Lahi Brahimaj, Haradinaj’s uncle and a deputy commander of the KLA Dukagjin Operative Staff, and Idriz Balaj, a former commander of a special KLA unit known as the Black Eagles, are also up for partial retrial.

The court denied Haradinaj’s request in September 2010 to be provisionally freed before the start of a new trial, because it said his release could encourage his supporters to intimidate witnesses.

When Haradinaj was on trial previously, the court expressed its concern that witnesses felt unsafe and highlighted the difficulty of guaranteeing their anonymity given Kosovo’s small, tight-knit family and community networks. (Editing by Sara Webb and Maria Golovnina)

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