Kosovo ex-premier retried by war crimes court

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Kosovo's former 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 Yugoslav war crimes court, 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.

The war crimes prosecutor opened his case by saying he wanted to show how Haradinaj's Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) established control of an area in western Kosovo through the "brutal elimination of those perceived to be collaborating with the Serbs or not supporting" the ethnic Albanian forces.

He added that Haradinaj -- still considered to be a hero by many of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority -- had played a large role in organising those forces.

"He was seen at the time as a person with significant influence in the area and had great respect in the Albanian culture," Rogers said.

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.

One of these witnesses, former KLA member Shefqet Kabashi was arrested in the Netherlands and transferred to The Hague-based court's custody Thursday, the ICTY said in a seperate statement.

He has been charged with contempt of court for refusing to testify twice with an appearance now scheduled for Friday.

Rogers continued his case by running through the charge sheet.

The prosecutor said witnesses told how in one instance, three young men were assaulted at the Jablanica detention compound before being taken away and killed.

"The witness says he saw broken arms. The young men were wetting themselves," Rogers said.

The prosecutor said the witness then saw Balaj allegedly cut off the ears of one of the young men -- identified in the indictment as a Serbian named Ivan Zaric, before poking out his eye.

Another victim, said Rogers, was beaten so bad that "for two weeks, I didn't know where my face was, I didn't know where my neck was."

The Kosovo war ended when NATO forces intervened to drive back Milosevic's troops. Kosovo, Serbia's southern province, unilaterally declared independence in 2008 but it has not been recognised by Belgrade.

© 2011 AFP

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