A respected human rights group on Tuesday accused Serbia's new army chief of staff of war crimes against civilians in Kosovo during the 1998-99 war, but officials denied the claim.
The Humanitarian Law Center, which has been involved in numerous cases stemming from the wars in the Balkans, said in a statement that Gen. Ljubisa Dikovic should be replaced.
The group alleged that "numerous grave and massive" crimes were committed in central Kosovo where Dikovic was in charge as a brigade commander, including executions of civilians, looting and rape.
The group accused Dikovic of personally being involved in the looting of civilian property and insisted that Dikovic _ as a commander _ had an obligation to prevent the crimes, but did not act.
"An officer like Ljubisa Dikovic is not suitable to head the army," said Natasa Kandic, Humanitarian Law Center president.
There was no immediate reaction from Dikovic himself, who in the past testified as a defense witness at the U.N. war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, during a trial against another former army officer charged with Kosovo war crimes.
Defense Minister Dragan Sutanovac dismissed the allegations as "monstrous" and untrue. He said Dikovic's record had been thoroughly checked before his appointment.
"We are absolutely at ease; the allegations are false," he added, suggesting that Dikovic will sue the rights group.
About 10,000 people, mostly independence-seeking ethnic Albanians died in the Kosovo war. Serbia's brutal response to the ethnic Albanian rebellion prompted NATO to intervene and bomb the country for 78 days to force it to pull out its troops from Kosovo.
Former President Slobodan Milosevic, several officials, police and army officers have been tried over the Kosovo crimes at the U.N. tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 _ a move that Belgrade does not recognize.