New War Crimes Trial Starts for Kosovo Ex-PM

Posted August 18th, 2011 at 4:05 pm (UTC-5)
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The former prime minister of Kosovo, Ramush Haradinaj, is back on trial at the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague, in the court's first partial retrial for war crimes.

Prosecutor Paul Rogers told judges at the opening of the trial Thursday that during the fighting in Kosovo in the late 1990s, victims were murdered and tortured regardless of their ethnicity. He said Haradinaj and two co-defendants were fighting a legitimate war, but that they also used illegitimate means to achieve their goals.

Haradinaj, a former Kosovo Liberation Army leader, is being tried with two other ethnic Albanians, Idriz Balaj and Lahi Brahimaj. Haradinaj and Balaj were acquitted of all charges in a 2008 trial and Brahimaj was sentenced to six years in prison.

The Hague Appeals Chamber overturned the acquittals last year, saying that the trial was plagued with intimidation of witnesses.

The indictment against all three defendants alleged they had been involved in a joint criminal enterprise to establish Kosovo Liberation Army control in western Kosovo by removing from the region all Serbs, Roma and other civilians suspected of opposing the group.

The three are accused of having a role in torturing and killing prisoners in the Jablanica concentration camp in 1999. The first trial concluded before all the witnesses could be heard and some of them had said they were too afraid to testify.

Haradinaj became prime minister of Kosovo in December of 2004, but stepped down after the U.N. court indicted him of war crimes in March of 2005. He is considered a national hero by most ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

The southern Balkan region declared independence from Serbia in 2008.