Ex Kosovo PM retried before UN war crimes court

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Ex-Kosovan prime minister Ramush Haradinaj and two of his allies are to appear before the former Yugoslav war crimes court this week for crimes committed during Kosovo's 1998-99 war, in the tribunal's first ever partial retrial.

On Thursday, Haradinaj, 43, and Idriz Balaj, 39 will be retried on six war crimes charges for murder, cruel treatment and torture before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

A third accused, Lahi Brahimaj, 41, will face four counts before the Hague-based tribunal for his role in the fight between independence-seeking ethnic Albanian guerrillas and Belgrade forces of the late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic.

Together with his two close associates Haradinaj is the most prominent figure in the separatist ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), accused of wanting to establish total military control in an area in western Kosovo during the country's 1998-99 war, by killing, torturing and beating Serbs or those suspected of collaborating with them.

The three are back before the ICTY after its appeals chamber last year quashed their war crimes acquittals, saying they should be retried because witnesses were intimidated during their initial 2007-8 trial, which lasted more than 10 months.

"This is the tribunal's first ever partial retrial. It's being held in order to give the prosecution a chance to read the evidence it was unable to do so during the trial proper," ICTY spokeswoman Nerma Jelacic told AFP this week.

Haradinaj, former prime minister and the most senior Kosovan leader to appear before the tribunal and Balaj, considered his lieutenant and commander of the notorious "Black Eagles" unit, were acquitted in April 2008 on numerous counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Brahimaj was convicted of torture and sentenced to six years in jail.

But on July 21 last year, ICTY appeal judges agreed with a request by the court's prosecutors who said the court refused to give them "additional time to exhaust all reasonable steps to secure the testimony of two crucial witnesses."

Appeal judges said "particularly in the context of the serious witness intimidation that formed the context of the trial, it was clear the Trial Chamber seriously erred in failing to take measures to secure the testimony of certain witnesses."

Haradinaj handed himself in to the tribunal in Kosovo a few days before the appeals chambers' decision. He, Balaj and Brahimaj currently were being held at the ICTY's UN detention unit in The Hague, Jelacic said.

The six charges against Haradinaj include four counts of murder including for his role in the death of Ivan Zaric, a Serb, whose ear was cut off before he and two others were allegedly taken away and killed by KLA soldiers.

The prosecution initially sought 25-year terms for all three of the men.

© 2011 AFP

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