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Serb court sentences nine Albanians for war crimes

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Fri, 21 Jan 2011 02:38 PM
Author: Reuters
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* Nine killed at least 32, court says

* Three sentenced in absentia

By Aleksandar Vasovic

BELGRADE, Jan 21 (Reuters) - A Serbian court has sentenced nine former ethnic Albanian guerrillas to a total of 101 years in jail for the 1999 killings of about 32 Serb and non-Albanian civilians after the end of the Kosovo war, a statement said on Friday.

According to the statement, "between June and September 1999, the group killed dozens, at least 32 Serbs, Roma (Gypsies) and other non-Albanians" in Kosovo's northeastern town and municipality of Gnjilane.

"Another 35 civilians are still listed as missing, while another 153 people were arrested, detained, tortured and later released," Belgrade's War Crimes Chamber of the Senior Court said in the statement.

Three defendants were sentenced to 15 years, four to 10 years and two to eight years imprisonment. Under Serbian laws, they are allowed to appeal to the appellate but will remain in court detention.

Three men from the group, former officers of the now-defunct Kosovo Liberation Army which fought Serbian troops in Kosovo were sentenced in absentia. Others were arrested two years ago in Serbia's southern town of Presevo, just outside Kosovo.

"It was proven that the accused ... were torturing their victims, stabbing them, suffocating them with plastic bags, killing them and disposing of their bodies in a lake," the sentence said.

The sentence comes after the European Union's rapporteur Dick Marty issued a report last year accusing Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci of being the boss of an organised crime ring during the Kosovo war which was involved in assassinations, trafficking drugs and organs taken from dead Serbs and other crimes. [ID:nLDE6BD2AY]

Thousands died during the 1998-99 Kosovo war and hundreds of thousands fled their homes. The conflict ended with 78-day NATO air strikes that ousted Serbian security forces from Kosovo.

Following the end of the conflict and the deployment of NATO peacekeepers, according to official data of the United Nations High Commissioner from Refugees, about 200,000 Serbs and other non-Albanians fled Kosovo, fearing reprisal attacks.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008.

Last year, Serbia endorsed a compromise United Nations resolution on Kosovo, and agreed to an EU-backed dialogue with Pristina to promote cooperation.

Earlier this week, the European parliament ratified a Stabilisation and Association Agreement, a stage towards EU membership. It called on Serbia to speed up talks with Kosovo and arrest Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb wartime commander sought by the U.N. court for 1995 genocide in Srebrenica.

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