Ex Kosovo PM retried by UN war crimes court

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Former Kosovo prime minister Ramush Haradinaj was back in court Thursday on war crimes charges after appeal judges found witnesses were intimidated during his original 10-month trial.

Haradinaj, 43, the most senior Kosovo leader to stand trial at the ICTY, is being retried with fellow ethnic Albanian Idriz Balaj, 39, on six counts of murder, cruel treatment and torture committed during Kosovo's 1998-99 war.

A third accused, Lahi Brahimaj, 41, is facing four charges before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for his role in the fight between independence-seeking ethnic Albanian guerrillas and forces of the late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic.

"Victims were murdered, tortured... regardless of their ethnicity whether they may be Serbs or Roma," prosecutor Paul Rogers told judges on the opening day of the tribunal's first ever partial retrial.

"While they were fighting a war, and thus using legitimate force, they also pursued illegal means to achieve that aim," Rogers told the court as the three accused sat passively listening in the dock.

Haradinaj and Balaj, considered his lieutenant and commander of the notorious "Black Eagles" unit, were acquitted in April 2008 on 37 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, appeal judges agreed with 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 the trial chamber seriously erred in failing to take measures to secure the testimony of certain witnesses, "particularly in the context of the serious witness intimidation that formed the context of the trial."

They ordered a retrial, which is expected to last several months.

The three defendants were prominent figures in the ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), accused of wanting to establish total military control in an area in western Kosovo by killing, torturing and beating Serbs or those suspected of collaborating with them.

The war ended when NATO forces intervened to drive back Milosevic's troops. Kosovo, Serbia's southern province, declared independence in 2008.

© 2011 AFP

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