Kosovo official goes on trial for war crimes

AP News
Posted: Nov 11, 2011 10:33 AM
Kosovo official goes on trial for war crimes

Senior Kosovo politician Fatmir Limaj went on trial Friday for allegedly torturing and executing Serb prisoners during the 1998-99 Kosovo war.

Limaj, a former ethnic Albanian rebel commander, and eight other defendants were taken into the Pristina District Court under tight security measures. The defendants have denied the charges against them.

A panel of two European Union judges and one Kosovo judge are presiding over the war crimes trial, which is expected to end early next year. The next session is scheduled on Monday.

EU prosecutor Maurizio Salustro said in the indictment that Limaj ordered the killings "with gunshots to the head" and allegedly tortured a Serb prisoner of war "by punching and kicking him while interrogating him."

The crimes allegedly took place in the village of Klecka in central Kosovo between early 1999 and June of that year, when Kosovo came under U.N. and NATO control.

In September protected witness Agim Zogaj whose testimony was essential to the prosecutor's case was found hanged in a German park in an apparent suicide. Zogaj, himself a member of the now disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army, claimed Limaj ordered the execution of two Serb policemen captured by the Kosovo Albanian rebels in 1998.

The ethnic Albanian guerrillas fought a separatist war against Serb forces.

Tensions remain between the former rebels, who are considered heroes by many ethnic Albanians, and the 3,000-member EU rule of law mission that now operates in the area.

In fact, the Veterans Association of the Kosovo Liberation Army has accused the EU mission of "conducting a witch hunt" against the former rebels and of opposing "the Albanian nation."

Limaj is a member of Kosovo's 120-seat assembly and a leading figure in the governing party of Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, which is made up of former ethnic Albanian rebels.

Limaj also is under investigation for corruption.