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Former Leader Of Kosovo Acquitted Of War Crimes

Former leader of Kosovo acquitted of war crimes charges by UN tribunal

3 April 2008 - The United Nations tribunal set up to deal with the worst acts committed during the Balkan wars of the 1990s today acquitted a former prime minister of Kosovo of charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Ramush Haradinaj, 39, who was also a well-known commander in the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) during the conflict with Serb forces in 1998-99, had faced charges that included murder, rape, torture, abduction, cruel treatment, imprisonment and the forced deportation of Serbian and Kosovar Roma civilians.

But judges at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), based in The Hague, found that the evidence presented was sometimes inconclusive as to whether a crime had been committed or, if so, whether the KLA was involved as alleged.

The ICTY also acquitted one of Mr. Haradinaj's co-accused, Idriz Balaj, 36, of all charges.

But a third co-accused, Lahi Brahimaj, 38, was convicted of the cruel treatment and torture of two people at the KLA headquarters in Jablanica/Jabllanicë and has been sentenced to six years in jail.

The three men had been accused by prosecutors of being part of a joint criminal enterprise between March and September 1998 that aimed to consolidate the KLA's total control over the Dukagjin area in north-western Kosovo by unlawfully removing, mistreating and killing Serbian and Kosovar Roma civilians, as well as Kosovar Albanians perceived to have been collaborating with Serbian forces.

But the judges said the evidence indicated the victims may have been targeted mainly for individual reasons rather than because they were members of a targeted civilian group. The acts of ill-treatment, forcible transfer and killing were also not of a scale to conclude there was an attack against a civilian population.

Judge Alphonsus Orie (presiding) said the ICTY had encountered many difficulties in securing testimony from witnesses during the trials of Mr. Haradinaj, Mr. Balaj and Mr. Brahimaj.

"The Chamber gained a strong impression that the trial was being held in an atmosphere where witnesses felt unsafe," he said.

ENDS

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