News 04 Feb 13

Kosovo Albanians Cleared of War Crimes Against Serbs

A court in the town of Prizren acquitted seven ethnic Albanians of terrorising Serb villagers and forcing them from their homes during the late 1990s conflict.

Edona Peci

The prosecution said it would appeal after the court found ex-fighters Ejup Kabashi and Sokol Bytyqi not guilty of “war crimes against the civilian population” in July 1998 in Opterusha/Opterusa, a village in Kosovo’s western municipality of Rahovec/Orahovac.

The court on Friday also acquitted Mustafe Hoti, Milaim Hoti, Naser Hoti, Nexhmedin Berisha and Jetullah Kabashi of “assisting the perpetrators after the commission of criminal offences”.

Kabashi and Bytyqi, who according to the prosecution were members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, were accused of intimidating and terrorising the civilian population of Opterusha/Opterusa by forcing local Serbs out of the village.

But the defence said the indictment was based on inaccurate testimony from two ethnic Serbs and the judges concluded that the prosecution had not proved its case.

The KLA took control of villages in Rahovec/Orahovac between July 11 and July 28, 1998.

During that period, more than 40 people were killed and more than 100 Serbs and Roma were kidnapped, although most were released when the Red Cross intervened.

The bodies of some of the men who disappeared were found in a mass grave in 2005.

Kosovo’s Humanitarian Law Centre accused the court of failing to shed new light on the killings.

“This verdict cannot be considered final as this crime is one of the gravest committed against Serb civilians in the area,” the Humanitarian Law Centre said in a statement on Monday.

During the 1998-99 war in Kosovo, more than 13,000 people are estimated to have been killed and more than 1,700 remain missing.

Most of those still missing are considered to be Albanian, while some 2,000 to 2,500 were Serbs, Roma, Bosnians and Albanians who were loyal to Belgrade.

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