Kosovo PM's ally to be tried again for war crimes

Reuters News

11/20/2012 2:25:14 PM - Reuters News

By Fatos Bytyci

PRISTINA (Reuters) - A close ally of Kosovo's prime minister will be retried for war crimes, the Supreme Court ordered on Tuesday, six months after a previous prosecution collapsed due to the suicide of the main witness.

Fatmir Limaj, a senior figure in the Kosovo Liberation Army, whose fight against the rule of Slobodan Milosevic's Serbia in the late 1990s culminated in NATO air strikes against Serbia, is accused of killing and torturing Serbian prisoners.

He remains a prominent figure as a member of the Kosovo parliament and deputy leader of Prime Minister Hashim Thaci's ruling Democratic Party, which led Kosovo to independence from Serbia in 2008.

In May, Limaj was acquitted of ordering the killing of two Serb captives and torturing another at a makeshift prison in the village of Klecka in central Kosovo.

The not guilty verdict came after the chief witness, a former prison guard, died last year in Germany, where he had been sent by the European Union's police and justice mission for his own protection. He was found hanging from a tree in a park in what authorities said was suicide.

The court in the original case ruled that a written testimony by the guard, Agim Zogaj, known at the time as Witness X, was inadmissible. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court overturned that decision and ordered a retrial.

The court, comprised of a panel of judges from Kosovo and the EU mission (EULEX), "annulled the verdict of the first instance," EULEX said in a statement.

"The panel also ruled that the evidence of Agim Zogaj, also known as 'Witness X', is admissible," EULEX spokesman Nicholas Hawton said.

Limaj, who went by the nom de guerre of Celik (Steel), was acquitted in 2005 of similar charges at the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague and was welcomed home as a hero.

Limaj also is facing corruption charges for the time he was a government minister from 2008 to 2010. He was indicted last week. He denies all charges.

(Editing by Matt Robinson and Robin Pomeroy)