Serbian court convicts 11 Albanians for Kosovo war crimes

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A Serbian court on Wednesday convicted 11 former members of the ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) of war crimes committed against civilians in Kosovo in 1999 and jailed them for up to 15 years.

Six defendants were acquitted, among them Shemsi Nuhiu, an ethnic Albanian arrested in March in Switzerland on a Serbian warrant and handed over to Belgrade to face trial.

The 11 men were sentenced by Serbia's war crimes court for illegally detaining and torturing at least 147 people, 32 of them still considered missing, mostly Serbs, Roma and Albanians, a court official said.

They were also sentenced for rapes.

The crimes were committed between June and December 1999 in the Gnjilane region of southeastern Kosovo.

While explaining the verdict, judge Snezana Nikolic Garotic notably listed the torture and rape of two women who had testified as protected witnesses during the trial.

One of the 11 was sentenced to 15 years in jail, two to 13 years, three to 12 years, one to 10 years, three to eight years and one to five years.

"The prosecutor will certainly appeal on the acquittals, while we will decide whether to lodge an appeal on prison sentences once we receive a written explanation of the verdict," war crime prosecutor's spokesman Bruno Vekaric told AFP.

Nuhiu, who was acquitted, had been arrested in Switzerland in 2011. The Swiss Federal Court decided in March to extradite him to Serbia.

His brother, who attended the trial, told Beta news agency that he was "satisfied with the verdict".

"We had evidence that he was not guilty because at the time of the crime, he had not been there" in Kosovo, Zecceria Nuhiu said.

Although the defendants were also accused of murdering at least 47 civilians who had not supported the KLA's fight against the Belgrade regime during the 1998-1999 Kosovo war, the judge decided to reject the charges as they were based on the testimony of a sole witness, a court official said.

The group was initially found guilty and sentenced in January 2011, but the Appeals court annulled the verdict and ordered a retrial.

Prosecutors said all those indicted were ethnic Albanians who entered Kosovo from southern Serbia and neighbouring Macedonia to join the rebel army's 138th brigade, dubbed the "Gnjilane Group".

Kosovo, whose ethnic Albanians account for an estimated 90 percent of its two million population, split from Serbia in February 2008.

Its independence has been recognised by some 90 countries, including the United States and 22 of the European Union's 27 member nations, but is rejected by Serbia and its ally Russia.

© 2012 AFP

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